How to Write a Gratitude Journal

“Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” – Charles Dickens

As humans, we are wired to hold onto and remember things that are negative rather than things that are positive. The ability to remember unpleasant information positively impacts our ability to learn from mistakes and avoid potentially disastrous or unpleasant situations in the future. This same ability can interfere with our ability to truly enjoy and embrace life when it acts as a dark cloud, blocking out the abundance of positive and pleasant experiences in our lives.

There is so much more that is positive, joyous, and pleasant around us at all times than we usually realize. The ability and willingness to express gratitude has an enormous positive impact on our lives. Our expression of gratitude creates a far-reaching ripple effect that extends out to people close to us, our acquaintances, and people we have never even met. One small act of kindness or expression of gratitude can inspire a wave of warmth and kindness in others.

A gratitude journal is a simple and effective way to significantly boost your well-being. In fact, a study found that individuals who recorded things in their lives for which they felt grateful reported feeling better about their lives as a whole and were significantly more optimistic regarding their expectations for the upcoming week (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

Gratitude Journal

Try the following tips to write your own effective gratitude journal:

Get a book/diary in which you can make a daily record.

Ideally, try to select a book or diary that is inviting and appealing to you. Be sure that there is sufficient space to write down things for which you feel grateful each day. This might mean as much space as you would need to write three to five sentences. The idea behind keeping a daily gratitude journal is not necessarily to make a point to write as “much” as you can think of, but rather to write down things/events that create a meaningful experience of gratitude.

Keep your gratitude journal in a convenient location where you are likely to see it each day (i.e., be reminded to write). Perhaps you would benefit from keeping your gratitude journal on your bedside table, where you will notice it at the end of each day and write down things you felt grateful for that day. There is no “right” way to do it – what matters is doing what works for you. Choose a journal and location for that journal that you believe will result in the highest probability of successful daily journaling.

Every evening, before you go to bed, write down three things you’re grateful for.

Be sure that you are writing down things that you feel genuinely grateful for, as opposed to things which you believe you “should” feel grateful for. Try to let go of the belief that you “should” feel grateful for things in your life and begin to open up your heart and mind to allow yourself to experience genuine and authentic gratitude. When you let go of the ideas and pressures of what you believe you “should” feel, you will begin to provide yourself with the emotional and psychological space necessary to feel your own genuine emotional experience of gratitude.

Try to vary in your choice of things for which you feel grateful if at all possible. The idea behind this variation is that it encourages you to open up your mindful awareness to the present moment and notice your experience more fully. If you were to write down the same three things each day, you might begin to lose your emotional connection to the expression of gratitude and may begin to stop noticing the myriad of events that can inspire gratitude each day.

These don’t have to be “big” things. Consider noticing and expressing gratitude for the friendly smile of a stranger on the street, a sunny day, or a delicious lunch. Once you start noticing and appreciating little things more, you will realize just how much there is to be grateful for in each moment.

Notice the effect that writing in your gratitude diary has on your sleep and mood throughout the day.

Really pay attention to any differences that you notice in the quality and quantity of your sleep and your overall mood as a result of your daily expressions of gratitude. When you notice that something that you are doing is having a positive impact on your life, the trick is to keep doing it. Notice what works, what is helpful, what results in a more positive/optimistic mood, and keep it up. See if you begin to notice that writing in your gratitude journal seems to create a greater sense of appreciation in your daily life, increases harmony in your relationships with others, and allows for more restful sleep.

When you mindfully check in with yourself emotionally to see what effect this gratitude exercise is having on your life, you allow yourself greater opportunities to “fine tune” the exercise to work most effectively for you. Begin to observe the differences in your mood before and after writing in your gratitude journal. Notice if particular times of day stand out to you as being more full of gratitude than others. Perhaps you experience more gratitude in particular situations or around certain people. Begin to investigate your own experience with openness, curiosity, and acceptance. Release the need to judge your experience. Do what works.

Continue to write daily in your gratitude journal if you find it to be beneficial.

If, after investigating your experience with your gratitude journal exercise, you recognize noticeable positive differences in your life, well-being, or relationships with others, keep it up! Make the choice to do positive and life-affirming activities for yourself. Use your skills of mindfulness to actively observe and participate in your moment-to-moment experience. If you have experienced benefits (no matter how small) as a result of writing in your gratitude journal, notice how that is something for which to be grateful.

Ask yourself how willing you are to actively engage in an activity that you recognize is beneficial to your overall well-being. Make the choice to get committed to your goals and remind yourself of why you are doing the things you are doing. Notice the things that help keep you motivated toward maintaining the habit of writing in your gratitude journal. Perhaps you notice that you are more likely to write in your journal when it is placed in an obvious location that you see each day. Or maybe you observe that you are more likely to write each day when you begin the day with an affirmation of, “I will notice all things for which to be grateful today.” Become mindful of what works for you, and commit yourself to forming the new habit of writing in your gratitude journal.

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If you would like to assess your own level of gratitude, you may take this free Gratitude Survey at Penn’s Authentic Happiness Testing Center. You will need to register (for free) in order to complete the test.

Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.

Featured image: Gratitude Journal by limevelyn / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. chrislyn abad on March 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    —->>i learned a lot:) tnx:p

    • Laura on March 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Chrislyn – I’m so glad to hear that you learned a lot from this post on how to write an effective gratitude journal! It is truly a simple concept that can have wonderful and far-reaching effects on one’s life. Thanks for visiting and for your comment.

  2. Sheri Lynn Giffords on March 21, 2012 at 3:50 am

    I would like to learn more about effective gratitute journaling, if you could get back to me that would be very much appriciated

    • Laura on April 15, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      Sheri – It sounds like your interest has been piqued by the practice of effective gratitude journaling. A basic idea behind effective gratitude journaling is to maintain it as a regular (daily) part of your routine. No matter how bleak or stressful the present moment may feel, there are always opportunities to express gratitude.

      Part of noticing all that we have to be grateful for in our daily lives involves cultivating a more alert mindful attitude to our experiences and interactions with others. Keeping a gratitude journal by your bedside and making the commitment to yourself to write down a few (maybe just three) things each day for which you feel grateful, can have positive impacts on your quality of sleep and overall sense of well-being. For example, if I had a particularly difficult day and had trouble expressing gratitude, I may take a few moments to reflect back on my day with an open and relaxed attitude. I may notice and experience gratitude for a kind stranger who smiled at me on the street, the way that my partner asked about my day, or the fact that I was given the gift of waking up to another morning rich with opportunities to change my life and make meaningful choices. Please let me know if you have any specific questions about gratitude journaling that you would find helpful. Thank you for your comment.

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