Gratitude journaling has been shown through multiple research studies to improve mental health, happiness, and even sleep quality!
And it can take as little as five minutes a day.
Let’s look at what it is and various ways to get started with gratitude journaling.
What is a Gratitude Journal?
A gratitude journal is a place to track what you’re grateful for throughout your day or life. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you notice the little joys of life that might otherwise slip past you.
You can express gratitude for anything! There are many joys—big and small—throughout the day.
Even Oprah keeps one! Here is a look inside her gratitude journal to give you an idea of what types of things you can write down:
- Walking to and from the gym with Wendy and Steadman
- Watching a movie, Fargo, with Steadman and Wendy
- Having to leave the room 3 times to call Diane to ask her what was going to happen
- Being healthy
- Deciding to focus on only that which is good for myself and others
If you want to hear Oprah read it herself, watch the video here:
Keeping track of the things in life that you’re grateful for can help when hard times come. Even on the most challenging days, there are still things to be thankful for. If you’ve built the habit of choosing gratitude, it will be easier to notice those little things.
What Are the Benefits of Keeping a Gratitude Journal?
Science shows that gratitude journaling can benefit many aspects of life—relationships, ability to adapt to change, mediating conflict, and life satisfaction. Focusing on and celebrating the good things can help your mindset and perspective on life be more positive, which can lead to greater happiness.
In 2017, 21 Turkish university students took part in a study to see how gratitude journaling would impact them in this time of change and transition to university life. Eleven students started writing in a gratitude journal; the remaining 10 students, acting as the control group, did not.
The results? After only three weeks, the students who kept a gratitude journal had significantly higher gratitude, a more positive adjustment to university, and greater life satisfaction.
Another study in Australia examined the impact of keeping a gratitude journal on school leaders. The researchers found that keeping a gratitude journal helped leaders hold the positive and negative events of the day with more balance.
It also helped these leaders mediate with more appreciation and experience positive emotions such as hope, happiness, and optimism.
Another study tracked participants for three months. The researchers randomly divided the participants into three groups: those who kept a gratitude journal, those who kept an interpersonal gratitude journal (gratitude for interpersonal relationships), and a control group who did not journal at all.
The researchers found that both those keeping a gratitude journal and an interpersonal gratitude journal self-reported that their interpersonal relationships and life satisfaction improved.
Other research shows that gratitude leads to better sleep quality, decreases stress and fatigue, and grateful individuals are less likely to feel resentment and envy.
How to Start a Gratitude Journal?
When you start gratitude journaling, remember there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to approach it.
- First, decide how much time you want to spend each day or week. If you don’t have much time, try a bullet gratitude journal – just one or two daily gratitude statements. If you want to deep dive once a week, set aside times on Sunday for longer self-exploration times.
- Second, decide when you want to journal. Is this a morning exercise? On your commute? Before bed? This can help you get started and stick to it.
- Third, decide where you want to write. You can use a plain notebook, a note on your phone, or use this as an excuse to buy a fancy planner. Decide what is easiest now. We have a whole section on types of gratitude journals below.
Try out several different approaches and see what helps you the most. The goal is to help you be aware of and enjoy the good moments throughout your day.
Don’t worry about writing down everything you’re grateful for. That can become overwhelming. Just start with a few things each day and see where it goes from there! 3 to 5 items are a great place to start if you use a bullet point approach or answer one gratitude prompt daily.
Remember that you can be grateful for the same people, opportunities, or things on multiple days. For example, don’t stop yourself from writing down how grateful you are for your partner because “I already wrote that yesterday; I need to think of something new.”
If you notice yourself being grateful for your partner several times in the same week, that’s awesome! It means you’re with someone genuinely bringing joy to your life. Be sure to tell them!
Similarly, suppose you notice yourself writing about the delicious fruit you got at the farmer’s market 2 or 3 days in a row. In that case, you may know to prioritize going to the farmer’s market the following weekend.
As much as possible, be specific about what you’re thankful for. Instead of just writing someone’s name down, for example, write a sentence or 2 about why you’re grateful for them.
35 Gratitude Journal Prompts
If you’re stuck staring at a blank page, a prompt might be the perfect thing to help you get the words flowing.
Here are some writing prompts to help you get started:
- Write down three things that made your day a little better.
- Write about someone you’re incredibly grateful for today and why. Action Step: Once you finish writing about how grateful you are for them, you can also tell them. You don’t have to share everything you wrote about them, but imagine how much you could brighten their day by saying, “I just want you to know that I’m super grateful for the place you hold in my life, and I appreciate you.”
- What are some things in your life that you look forward to?
- Write down 5 of the personality traits that you’re most grateful for.
- What is a space that brings you peace, contentment, or joy?
- What is a memory you have that always makes you smile?
- Write about a book that has taught you something interesting or inspiring.
- Write about someone you admire (this could be anyone from a historical figure to a family member to a literary figure).
- Write about the foods you are most grateful for and why.
- What physical item in your household are you most grateful for, and what memory or quality makes you cherish that item?
- List 3 people you hope you’ll see soon and why you enjoy being around them.
- List 3 challenging people for you to be around and name at least 1 quality of theirs that you admire.
- When was the last time you laughed without being able to stop?
- What is your favorite part of the day and why?
- When was the last time you happy cried, and what made you cry?
- What is your favorite time of year, and why do you love it so much?
- Write down what you love about where you live.
- Who has done something kind for you recently, and how did it make you feel?
- Name ten things in nature that make you smile.
- Write about a random act of kindness that someone else did for you or you did for someone else. Action step: If you can’t think of an act of kindness, look for an opportunity to be kind to someone else this week! Science shows that doing random acts of kindness releases serotonin in your brain, making you feel happier.
- Write about something challenging in your life, and then find 3 things you are grateful for in the midst of this challenge.
- What are your favorite hobbies right now, and what about them do you enjoy?
- What do you love about your current job or career?
- Who is someone you regularly interact with who is difficult for you? What are 3 character traits of theirs that you admire?
- What is a struggle you have overcome, and how did you become a better or more resilient person through it?
- Describe your perfect day, and then think about what you can do to incorporate elements of that into every day.
- What 5 things improve your quality of life (technologies, life hacks, tools…)?
- Write about a smell you love and why you love it.
- What professor, mentor, or teacher taught you a valuable lesson you regularly think about?
- What day of the week is your favorite, and why do you enjoy it so much?
- Write a paragraph about your favorite holiday tradition.
- What was the last thing you purchased for yourself that brought you a lot of enjoyment (this could be treating yourself to a cup of coffee, getting a new pair of slippers, or attending a new workout class)? What about it did you enjoy?
- What’s the last thing that you got excited about?
- List 5 things you are looking forward to this month.
- List 5 unexpected joys you experienced last week.
As you journal, notice if there are themes of things you’re commonly grateful for and think of ways to incorporate more of those things into your life.
For example, if you notice that a certain person often pops up in your gratitude journal, ask them if they’d like to set up a weekly coffee date or call them the next time you go for a walk.
Or you might realize that spending time alone in calm and peaceful spaces is a common theme in your gratitude journal. Prioritize setting aside time for yourself and consider splurging on a few nice candles or cozy loungewear set that you’ll enjoy.
Reflecting on what you’re grateful for can allow you to prioritize making space for that in your day-to-day life.
It can be easy to get swept up in the motions or feel you need to do what others enjoy. Gratitude journaling can help you realize what is life-giving to you so you can make more space for that in your daily life rhythms.
Types of Gratitude Journals
There are many different ways to approach gratitude journaling. Try a few different approaches and see what works best for you!
Here are the main approaches in alphabetical order.
If you’re looking for something that combines multiple purposes, a bullet journal might be the right fit for you!
Bullet journals combine a planner, goal tracker, and gratitude journal all in the same space.
Typically, people will start with an empty notebook and design their spreads. This way, it can be tailored specifically to your needs and be a creative outlet.
If designing your bullet journal sounds fun, Claudia Kai, who has been bullet journaling for over 4 years, uses this video to walk you through how to set one up.
Bullet journals are great for those who enjoy being creative and artistic to create beautiful designs. But remember, you don’t have to spend much time designing the page. Focus instead on creating a journal that will tangibly help you reach your goals.
A gratitude journaling app may be a more realistic way for you to incorporate it into your daily rhythms. If so, here are a few different apps designed to help you do that:
- Three Good Things—As the name implies, this free app encourages users to write down 3 good things that have happened that day. You can choose to keep them private or create groups with family and friends and share your 3 things with others. If you want, you can set a time every day for it to send you a reminder to log on and write down your 3 things. (Available for iOS and Android)
- Presently: A Gratitude Journal—Presently keeps things simple and easy to use. It gives you a daily prompt, and you can reflect on past entries with the calendar option. Unfortunately, it is only available for Android users at this point. (Available for Android)
- Day One Journal—This app was named “app of the year” in 2012 by Apple. It goes beyond being a gratitude journal and lets you store the app’s photos, videos, and audio files. The multi-faceted aspect of this app might be great for some, while for others, it might be overly complex if they want to use it simply as a space for gratitude journaling. (Available for iOS and Android)
- Grateful: A Gratitude Journal—This app keeps gratitude journaling simple and straightforward. Users can choose from various prompts or write their own. (Available for iOS)
Try downloading one of these apps to help you keep on track with gratitude journaling!
Several notebook companies combine space with writing with prompts and tips on building gratitude.
Here are a few different ones to consider:
- Pockitudes—The founder of Pockitudes started making gratitude notebooks to support mental wellness that could easily be taken on the go. These notebooks are small enough to fit into a pocket or purse, so you can use small moments to express gratitude. They include prompts, quotes, and scientifically backed tips for improving wellness.
- The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal: A Five-Year Record—This notebook encourages short and sweet reflections. On any given page, there is a date and then five sections. Each year, you’ll write in one of those, making it easy to compare what brought you happiness on the same day over several different years.
- The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal: Give Thanks, Practice Positivity, Find Joy—This journal gives you three to four prompts every day that you answer briefly, which is helpful, especially if you’re starting.
If the thought of a blank page full of possibilities feels overwhelming, try one of these journals out!
Pen and paper
You don’t have to use a specific type of journal to build a gratitude journaling practice. You can keep it simple with a classic pen and paper. This allows you to write as much (or as little) as you want.
If this sounds like the right fit, find a notebook and pen with which you enjoy writing. Keep them somewhere you can easily find, and spend 5 minutes daily writing down something you’re grateful for.
If you hit a block and don’t know what to write, try using one of the above gratitude prompts to get the ideas flowing!
How to Fit Gratitude Journaling Into Your Life
It might sound overwhelming to add another activity to your day. But a gratitude journal doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and focusing on the positive things can help brighten your day.
Think about the pockets of time you may have in your day and consider using as little as 3-5 minutes to jot down a few things you’re grateful for.
Here are a few times to consider as you’re trying to think of how to fit gratitude journaling into your day:
- In the morning, before you roll out of bed. Some people wake up ready to take on the world, while others… aren’t. If you’re not a morning person, try keeping a pen and notebook on your bedside table. Instead of pressuring yourself to jump up and start being productive immediately, reach over and grab your journal. Use the first few groggy moments of your day to remind yourself of things you’re grateful for. This can also be a great time if you have young children who will probably need your help and attention for the rest of the day!
- While your coffee is brewing, it takes a few minutes for the coffee pot to brew in the morning—why not use those moments to write down some things you’re grateful for?
- While on the porcelain throne (if you catch my drift). You only need a few minutes to write in your gratitude journal, so why not use a few minutes you’ll be sitting around anyway? If this becomes your journaling location, opt for an app or a note on your phone rather than a physical pen-and-paper.
- While on a break at work. At the beginning of your lunch break or on a shorter mid-day breather, pull out your phone and jot down a few things you’re grateful for. Try doing this on days you’re having a hard time keeping a positive outlook on work. It can help boost you as you head into the remainder of your work day.
- When someone is 5 minutes late to a meeting. Just think—how often do you sit around waiting for an appointment to get started throughout your week? The next time this happens, try jotting down a few things you’re grateful for. Even writing it on the corner of an old receipt or napkin can help you keep a positive outlook on the day instead of getting frustrated.
- While dinner is heating up. Whether you throw a frozen meal into the microwave or cut up fresh veggies from the farmer’s market and saute them with herbs and spices, there are almost always moments of waiting while preparing a meal. Use these little pockets of time to pull out a gratitude journal and take stock (*food pun intended) of what you’re grateful for.
- Before falling asleep. If you get to the end of your day and haven’t yet had the chance to write down what you’re grateful for, take a moment to reflect on the day. This can help you remember the positive moments you experienced and feel content as you fall asleep.
From time to time, try asking your loved ones what they’re grateful for.
For example, you could call your best friend on the drive to work and say, “Hey! I’m experimenting with gratitude journaling. I was curious, what are some things you’re grateful for today?”
Or the next time you sit down to dinner with your family, try saying, “This food looks delicious! Once we have our plates dished up, I thought it could be fun to go around the table and have everyone share one thing they’re grateful for. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for a few weeks now, and it makes me interested in hearing what others are grateful for.”
Action Step: Keep track of your well-being and mood to see how gratitude journaling affects you. Seeing your progress can be incredibly encouraging as you work to establish a new routine.
Before starting a gratitude journal, answer the questions in this gratitude quiz developed by psychologists Mitchel Adler and Nancy Fagley.
After taking it, set a recurring monthly reminder on your phone to take the quiz.
Write down how you score and see if keeping a gratitude journal is helping you!
Remember, growth isn’t always linear. There may be months when you score lower than the previous month. The goal is to be able to see change over time.
Gratitude Journal Examples
Here are some examples of how to make your gratitude journal bullet points more specific.
- I’m grateful for my morning cup of coffee.
- I feel calm and stable when holding my morning coffee in my hands. This rhythm helps me start my day feeling more centered and excited about what’s to come.
- I love the flavor of my morning coffee—the chocolate notes mixed with the citrus help me feel energized and ready to tackle the rest of the day.
- Stopping by my favorite coffee shop on the way to work is a fun treat. I love starting my day chatting with the baristas, and the general hustle and bustle of the space make me happy.
- I’m grateful for my family and loved ones.
- My mom called today to tell me she loved me and asked how I was doing. That was so kind and brightened my day.
- My partner finished work before I did today. When I got home, he had cooked dinner, washed the dishes from breakfast, and tidied up the living room. I know he was tired, but I felt loved when I returned to a tidy apartment and dinner in the oven.
- My best friend just had her 30th birthday! We got to celebrate together with her family and a few close friends. I’m so grateful she invited me to celebrate with her, and her birthday has given me another chance to reflect on the years we’ve known one another and how grateful I am for her.
- I’m grateful to live in a fun city.
- Today, I took public transit to work instead of driving. I was able to read a book, people watch, and get in a walk, all while commuting to the office.
- I had a free afternoon today and decided to go for a walk and pop into a few small boutiques I’ve never seen before. They were locally owned businesses, and I was grateful I could support them and get some fun decorations for my apartment.
- As I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner, I drove down a street I’d never been to before and saw the coolest mural. I love living in a city that supports the arts and discovering new locations.
As you build more specificity, see if you can find themes of things that you’re often grateful for. Once you identify themes, build your schedule in such a way that prioritizes those things.
If you are having a hard time finding things to be grateful for, try re-framing life’s challenges to gratitudes.
It’s important not to be dismissive of your feelings, but re-framing challenging or stressful aspects of life can help you realize that although it’s not ideal, there is a silver lining.
Here are some ways to re-frame challenges into gratitude:
- I’m grateful for my little brother and how he makes me laugh, even if he distracts me from completing my homework.
- Even though it’s not my dream job, I’m grateful for my work and how much it is teaching me about myself.
- I’m grateful that this challenging roommate situation is helping me learn how to navigate conflict with people from different backgrounds.
- Missing my flight wasn’t ideal, but I’m grateful I’m in an airport with dependable WiFi so I can contact my family and let them know I’ll be arriving later than expected. And maybe I can get some coffee and start that book that I’ve been excited about reading!
And if you want accountability, encouragement, and motivation as you build a habit of gratitude journaling, join our free goal-setting class, where we’ll look into the science behind setting achievable goals!
Watch our video below to learn Vanessa’s secret tips to motivation:
What Makes a Gratitude Journal Different Than a Planner, Diary, or Journal?
A gratitude journal is unique in that it is reserved for expressing gratitude about things that have happened or experiences you’ve had. Though it may seem similar to other note-taking types, it focuses on gratitude.
Planners are where you can schedule your day, week, month, or even year. They help you keep track of logistics and accomplish your goals for the day.
Diaries are a great way to track what happens throughout the day. Diaries tend to focus on data collection—whether keeping track of your side-hustle growth or focusing on your fitness progress. Having your journey documented can be a great thing to look back on later if you’re feeling discouraged and want a reminder of how far you’ve come.
Journals shift the focus from data collection to emotional processing. They’re a great place to write out what you’d like your future to look like, the things you’re excited about, or what’s been disappointing you recently.
Gratitude journals are a subsection of journaling that focus simply on things you’re grateful for. They can be an excellent option for those with busy schedules but still want to cultivate a practice of thankfulness.
Final Thoughts: Cultivate Gratitude
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
So many little moments of everyday life can make life beautiful if only one will stop for long enough to notice them.
Keeping a gratitude journal can help you catch these small acts of kindness and love. This can help shift your perspective to become more aware of the good moments throughout the day.
If you’re unsure how to get started with a gratitude journal, here are a few tips:
- Start small. Getting caught up in an all-or-nothing mindset around journaling can be easy. You feel like you have to journal for at least 30 minutes—but who has an extra half-hour to spare every day? Instead of feeling like you need to reorganize your entire life, try to find a random five-minute window in your day. This could be as you wake up, while your coffee is brewing, or while you’re waiting for your takeout dinner order to be ready for pickup.
- Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate a gratitude journal. Find what works for you! You might choose to start by sectioning off a part of your planner and writing down three things you’re grateful for that day. If you prefer having more structure, try downloading an app on your phone that gives you daily gratitude prompts or writing a prompt in a journal and then following it up with one to two short paragraphs.
- Pay attention to yourself. While it’s great to have scientific studies that showcase the benefits of gratitude journaling, seeing the change in your well-being can be one of the most encouraging motivators as you establish a new habit. Take note of any shift in perspective, confidence, or happiness you experience as the days pass.
- Bring others along. Invite a loved one to join you as you start gratitude journaling! This can be a helpful way to stay motivated as you build a new habit. It can also be a great way to check in with your partner, friend, or coworker. Text them a few things you’re grateful for, and then ask them what they were grateful for today.
Remember, building a new habit won’t happen overnight! Read this article to learn more about the science behind building good habits and breaking bad ones.