Gratitude Journals: Make a small change for a huge impact

If you’ve been following my Instagram stories this month then you may have noticed that I post a list of 3 things that I’m grateful for each day. The list ranges from big things like events I’m looking forward to or frivolous things like vacuum cleaners. So why do I share these publicly? Well, this (showing gratitude) is a practice that I adopted nearly a year ago, and along with meditation, is one of the most significant changes I’ve made in my life.

A little over a year ago, I was very frustrated in my career. I was feeling under-appreciated, I hadn’t been staffed on any new and exciting projects in my role, I had applied for and gotten turned down for some new roles - it just felt like things weren’t going my way. I was doing all the right things on paper to grow my career and getting increasingly frustrated with how long it was taking to see any sort of results.

I was unhappy, and candidly, whiny. I would meet with friends, and all I could talk about was things that I wanted but didn’t get.

I felt like a shitty friend and an inferior version of myself.

It was time to change.

It was right around this time that I started consuming more information on mindfulness and the benefits of meditation. As I explored the habits of highly successful, happy people, two themes stood out repeatedly. Every single one of these people who I aspired to be had a daily meditation and gratitude practice. And they all claimed that the combination of meditation + gratitude was life changing.

Scientists have been studying the benefits of gratitude, and turns out that a simple gratitude habit can have tremendous psychological effects.

Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

~ Psychology Today

I figured I had nothing to lose. I started off with the 5 Minute Journal app recording something I was grateful for every day. And these were NOT complicated or particularly profound - sometimes it was reading a book, or the puppies being well behaved on their walks. And they’re still not profound, and that’s the BEAUTY of it. I was thankful for simple things, and over time, I found myself less frustrated each day.

In fact, I found that I wasn’t dwelling on things that I couldn’t control and slowly found myself returning to the kind of person I am when I’m happy.

I still continue this gratitude practice today - some days the list comes to me easily, others I have to think about for a minute, but I can always ALWAYS find three things that I’m thankful for reach day.

I’ve taken my practice public in the hope that it may encourage you to start your own. Lately I find that I’m thankful for specific people, and I like acknowledging them publicly.

So, if you would like to join me, I have gratitude templates saved in my highlights on Instagram that you’re welcome to use - tag me if you like, but you certainly don’t have to. You could use good old paper, or even the notes app on your phone. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but I promise you that if you spend just a couple of minutes each morning being thankful for what you HAVE, you will start to feel a whole lot better about the things you want, but maybe don’t have yet. It may not be immediate, but you will definitely notice a change over time.

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If a daily gratitude journal isn’t your thing, there are other alternatives. Harvard Health Publishing from the Harvard Medical School offers a few recommendations:

Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.

Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.

Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).

Do you have a daily gratitude practice? I’d love to hear your experience with it in the comments below!