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This Is What a Gratitude Journal Really Looks Like

What are you grateful for? Bet it's actually a longer list, than you think. If you're wondering how keeping a gratitude journal can get you in touch with the good in your life, plus increase your health, and happiness to boot, be grateful you're reading this article.

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8 gratitude journalMatthew Cohen/rd.com

Gratitude gives your brain a new assignment

Everyone, no matter their situation, has many things to be grateful for, every day. Plus, gratitude offers some serious relationship benefits. Being able to access those feelings is one of the key bonuses of keeping a daily gratitude journal. “That’s the great thing about gratitude. It makes your brain start looking for things you are grateful for. A gratitude journal is an assignment you’ve created for your brain. We’re born with a natural negativity bias, which helps us predict what could go wrong, or threaten our survival. That helps us stay alive. So, keeping a gratitude journal changes the way your brain looks at the world,” says Paula Felps, science editor for Live Happy magazine. Felps, who has kept a daily gratitude journal for nine years, recommends paring down your gratitude statements to small, very concise bits of information, and writing three new things into your journal, every day.

For example:

Monday

  • I am grateful that my two silly, old dogs don’t know they’re old, and act like puppies.
  • I am grateful that my daughter called me from another country, and told me about her day.
  • I am grateful for the long walk I got to take with the (formerly mentioned) puppy-acting, silly old dogs.

According to Randy Sansone, MD, and Lori Sansone, MD, who analyzed the results of multiple gratitude studies for the journal Psychiatry, “Gratitude is appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.” They found that participants who did gratitude exercises and expressed thanks for the small things in life enhanced their well-being and life satisfaction, compared to people who didn’t emphasize gratefulness.

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7 gratitude journalMatthew Cohen/rd.com

Gratitude is not always happy gratitude

When Felps lost her brother-in-law, she was devastated. And yet, she kept up her daily practice of gratitude journaling. Her writings that fateful day included her gratefulness that her brother-in-law was no longer suffering, and her thankfulness for their wonderful years together.

Not every day is filled with happiness. Digging deep for things to be grateful for, is a powerful way you shift your thinking, which may have significant health benefits, even when you are facing a crisis. Here are 5 ways counting your blessings can increase health benefits, and improve your life—and, in fact, a study on psychological health in cardiovascular patients revealed that gratitude, happiness, and optimism, led to better health habits and and a good prognosis in patients with heart disease.

Having a bad day? Your gratitude journal might look something like this:

Tuesday

  • Even though it will result in a large amount of extra work, I am grateful that my coworker—who I didn’t like—left the company.
  • Even though I hit every red light on my way to work, I am grateful that I got there without having an accident.
  • I am grateful that this day is over! And that tomorrow will bring another opportunity to be grateful.

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Gratitude is calming

You may have heard the old adage, “Action displaces anxiety.” This is very true for people who keep gratitude journals. The act of writing down what you are grateful for, can help reduce feelings of anxiousness, as well as depression. As reported in Psychology Today, studies indicate that a grateful brain is one less likely to succumb to anxiety, and that gratitude also improved the quality of sleep. So if you’re having a stressful day, or are feeling anxious, and can’t quite put your finger on why, your gratitude journal entry might look something like this:

Wednesday

  • I’m grateful I remembered to pay the rent, and won’t get charged a late fee.
  • I’m grateful I was able to keep my cool and say “good morning,” when my neighbor was smoking a cigarette in the hallway—again (so gross).
  • I’m grateful I was able to face my fear, and ask for a raise. Yay me!

Gratitude journaling may be a great start, but not quite enough, to help you de-stress. Here are an additional 11 tips from therapists which can help you to calm down, and alleviate anxiety.

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9 gratitude journalMatthew Cohen/rd.com

Gratitude provides balance

Filling your life with gratitude does not mean you’ll never again be upset, or have something to complain about. If only! Keeping a gratitude journal can, however, help you balance the good with the bad, on a daily basis, in a way that supports optimism. “My personal practice is, if I complain about something, I have to find one thing that I’m grateful for, about that complaint,” shares Felps. Here are seven other daily habits of naturally grateful people. And if your day was filled with lemons, here’s how your gratitude journal might help you turn them into lemon-drop martinis.

Thursday

  • It was SO annoying to stand on that long grocery store line, but at least it gave me a few minutes to reconsider my purchase of a gallon of rocky road ice cream—which I and my waistline are grateful I left the store without.
  • Very upset that my budget wasn’t big enough to include a new book to read this week. Very grateful to have finally gotten it together to get a library card—who knew how cool this place is?
  • Mother-in-law nastiness almost ruined my day again! I’m grateful I have a friend to turn to, who always makes me feel better.

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4 gratitude journalMatthew Cohen/rd.com

Gratitude helps heal the pain of divorce

If you’re in awe of the divorced people you know, who are able to speak well of their exes (or at least without murderous expletives), you may need a gratitude journal more than you know. And by the way, these are the things you should never to a divorced person. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you get past old hurts, and feel better about your old spouse, as well as about your current life. As reported in Divorce Magazine, writing down what you are grateful for on a daily basis, can help you recognize the good parts of your life. It also helps to shift you away from feeling like a victim. Recognizing, and being thankful for what you have today, will help you be happier, and more in control, even if it’s tough to make ends meet, or you are struggling with the realities of being single. Feeling grateful for the small things, enables you to bring a healthier, more vibrant you, into all of your relationships—including the new, exciting ones you are pursuing, and the ones which caused you pain. So if you’re struggling with a new, newly-single reality, your gratitude journal entries might look like this:

Friday

  • I am grateful that no one interrupted me while I was taking a very long bubble bath.
  • I am grateful that the house is no longer decorated with three-week’s worth of dirty laundry, that a certain someone would never help me wash.
  • I am grateful that I get to see the movie I want to see tonight, instead of having to sit through you-know-who’s favorite—again.

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Expressing gratitude helps you feel gratitude

Gratitude journaling is a very private exercise, but you may benefit the most if you go public with your feelings. Just check out these 16 famous and powerful quotes about gratitute. According to a study, reported in the Clinical Journal of Psychology, people who express the gratitude they feel towards others, derive the most benefits. Writing down what you are grateful for, can help you appreciate life, and the people who touch your life, in a more positive way. If you’re looking for people to thank, hug, or acknowledge, these gratitude journal entries might help to get you thinking:

Saturday

  • I am grateful that the garbage men picked up my trash today. Can you imagine what the street would be like if they didn’t?
  • I am grateful for the smile on my child’s face.
  • I am grateful that my co-worker covered for my ten-minute lateness this morning.

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Gratitude brings (and keeps) people in your life

According to HealthyPsych, gratitude helps support deeper, more sustaining relationships. Getting in touch with gratitude, can also turn you into someone that others want to have around. Felps suggests flexing your gratitude muscles weekly, in a group, as well as daily, through a journal. “Starting a gratitude group, that gets together once a week, and shares some journal entries, can be a powerful way of expressing gratitude, and creating deep relationships,” she explains. You might even have a few laughs (and tears), going over each other’s entries, and realizing how similar the issues we all face are. No need to share every single entry, but some you might wish to bring to your gratitude group include:

  • I am grateful for the sunset today. Isn’t it amazing how gorgeous sunsets are after heavy rains?
  • I am grateful to have dodged a bullet, and said no in a grown-up, respectful way, to a second date with that weirdo I met on a dating site.
  • I am grateful for all of you here, in this room with me, right now. Thank you for becoming my friends.