Writing Glossary

What is a Gratitude Journal? – Definition, Tips, & Benefits

May 14, 2023 by

You wake up feeling anxious and stressed, dreading the day ahead. Your mind is racing with negative thoughts, and you can’t seem to shake the feeling of overwhelm.

Sound familiar?

It’s easy to get bogged down by the challenges and stressors of daily life, but what if there was a simple tool that could help shift your focus to the positive?

Enter the gratitude journal.

A gratitude journal is a simple yet powerful tool that can help cultivate a more positive mindset, reduce stress, and increase happiness. In this article, we’ll explore what a gratitude journal is, what to write in it, and how to get started. So, grab a pen and paper, and let’s dive into the world of gratitude journaling.

We often focus on what we want, rather than being grateful for what we already have.

This is where having a gratitude journal can help us.

In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about gratitude journals.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What is a Gratitude Journal?

A gratitude journal is simply a journal used to express your appreciation for the positive in your life. It forces a mindset shift that pays life-transforming dividends into the future.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that can not only uplift general well-being, but when you combine it with journaling practice, you stand to gain greater perspective and resilience in life.

There are so many things we should feel grateful for, but feeling gratitude isn’t something that comes easy if you don’t consciously practice it.

A gratitude journal is simply a journal used to express your appreciation for the positive in your life. It forces a mindset shift that pays life-transforming dividends into the future.

It’s natural that we are fixated on the negative in life; negative thoughts run on autopilot. Gratitude, on the other hand, is the most positive feeling out there. It is central to the whole positive psychology tradition.

To keep your mental health and well-being in check and to keep it from being hijacked by negativity altogether, it’s important that we practice gratitude.

The best way to express gratitude is through writing about the things, people, situations, events, etc., you are grateful for.

That’s where gratitude journals come in. A gratitude journal forces you to ponder on the positivity when you sit to write in it.

Usually, people who keep a gratitude journal make regular entries in the morning or evening and try to write at least three things they are most grateful for having.

gratitude example

What is a Gratitude Journal Used For?

Gratitude journals are used to write about the things you are grateful for in life.

It’s easy to lose track of gratitude with all the humdrum of life, but a gratitude journal helps to remind us of that positive emotion and to deliberately practice it.

Gratitude journals help us to focus on the positive thereby enriching our lives and altering our mindset for the better.

The journals are used to express feelings of gratitude. Each entry is an item, someone, or a situation that you would like to appreciate for being in your life.

What Do You Write in a Gratitude Journal?

According to Robert Emmons, the most respected authority on the science of gratitude, it is better to focus on people rather than things when expressing gratitude.

It pays a greater dividend in terms of happiness to feel gratitude towards your fellow humans than towards inanimate objects.

But, what do you write in a gratitude journal?

Long-time practitioners have developed routines about what to write in a gratitude journal.

The most famous of these routines is making three entries each time you sit to write in your gratitude journal.

Three entries are not overwhelming, and, at the same time, it is just the right number of entries to help you put yourself in a more grateful state of mind.

Moreover, it helps to be specific when you write about your feelings of gratitude. For example, it is not enough to say, “I am grateful for my husband.”

You should rather specifically mention what your significant other did for you that made you feel grateful for having them in your life.

So a better way of expressing gratitude in a gratitude journal would be to say, “Today, my husband remembered that it was our anniversary, and we went to dinner and movies to celebrate.”

The more expressive you are, the better your gratitude practice.

While expressing gratitude, you should try to remember the minute details of the scene you are trying to describe. This can actually accentuate emotions by involving all of your senses.

How to Start a Gratitude Journal?

Here is a list of steps you can do to start gratitude journaling:

  1. Pick a journal (this can be paper-based or app-based)
  2. Set out a day and time to write in your journal. If you miss a day here and there, don’t beat yourself about it. Move on.
  3. Write the three things you are most thankful for.
  4. Imagine the feeling of gratitude to yourself while you write about the things you appreciate having in your life and let that emotion wash over you.
  5. Be expressive.
  6. If you suffer from writer’s block, use gratitude journaling prompts.
  7. Strive to make it a habit. The transformational effects of gratitude journaling take time to show.

To further explore how to start a gratitude journal, we also recommend this video by Caren Baginski:

How Often Should You Write in a Gratitude Journal?

Humans tend to develop immunity to any amount of joy or sorrow over a period of time. This is known as hedonic adaptation.

It is advised by psychologists over at the Greater Good Science Center that when it comes to gratitude journaling, a once-a-week practice is more than good enough for reaping the benefits that come with keeping a gratitude journal.

The website argues that people who scribble daily in their journals tend to have a diminishing level of well-being or return to the baseline level of happiness after the initial phase.

So, based on the expert opinion, it is advised not to journal more than two days a week. This makes gratitude journaling less overwhelming and easier to maintain activity over time.


When Should You Write in a Gratitude Journal?

There isn’t a specific time conducive to journaling. You can pick morning or evening; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you journal on the days that you should be journaling.

If you are an early riser and you want to kickstart your day with a little more positivity, go ahead and journal in the morning.

But if you are not a morning person then by all means journal in the evening when you are free to unwind from the day’s work.

The important thing is to keep journaling on the specified days. If you can develop a habit of journaling then you are well on your way to realizing its long-term effects.

What are the Benefits of a Gratitude Journal?

According to empirical evidence, if we recount our blessings, we feel happier about ourselves.

Gratitude journaling is a writing exercise favored by leading experts for fostering a gratitude habit.

Here are some of the benefits that could be experienced from a gratitude journaling habit:

1. Better Sleep Quality and Duration

Practicing gratitude increases the quality and duration of our sleep.

2. Staves off Depression

According to Emmons, “We now know that gratitude is related to fewer frequent episodes of depression and quicker recovery from depression, as well as lower levels of loneliness.”

3. Ability to cope with stress

A study on students’ ability to cope with stress incorporated the use of gratitude journaling as a method of reducing stress and enhancing engagement in class.

The students that used gratitude journaling were more engaged in the classroom at the end of the semester-long study.

Final Remarks

Gratitude journaling is a great way to grow your gratitude practice. Start with writing three things you are most grateful for.

Focus on making journaling into a habit and let gratitude fill you and wash over you as you write in the journal. Soon you will be reaping the transforming benefits of gratitude journaling.

If you want to learn more journaling tips, check out our guide on journaling for beginners!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a gratitude journal and a regular journal?

While a regular journal is a place to record your thoughts and feelings, a gratitude journal specifically focuses on cultivating gratitude and appreciation in your life. The main difference is that a gratitude journal encourages you to reflect on the positive aspects of your life and express gratitude, while a regular journal may include both positive and negative emotions and experiences.

What is the disadvantage of gratitude journal?

There aren’t necessarily any disadvantages to keeping a gratitude journal, but it’s important to remember that gratitude isn’t a cure-all for mental health issues. While it can be a helpful tool, it’s not a substitute for professional help or treatment if you’re struggling with a mental health condition.

How often should you write in a gratitude journal?

There’s no hard and fast rule for how often you should write in a gratitude journal, as it depends on your personal preference and schedule. However, many people find it helpful to write in their gratitude journal daily or at least a few times a week to help make gratitude a habit and see the benefits.