The Ultimate Guide to Keeping a Gratitude Journal

by Kevin Evans — 8 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Keeping a Gratitude Journal

Imagine how it would feel starting every day in a positive mood, energized, ready to take on the world. Instead of mentally replaying all your life’s problems and pulling the covers over your head, you chose to take control of your mind and focus on the good.

Day by day you appreciate life more and find yourself feeling happier. Stop rolling your eyes. It is not that crazy of a concept. Today, we will show you how using a gratitude journal.

If you ever considered keeping a gratitude journal or currently keep one, we’ve compiled the Ultimate Gratitude Journal Guide based upon our years of research, from thousands of customers, from our very own gratitude journal, The Five Minute Journal.


  1. Why should I keep a Gratitude Journal in the first place?
  2. What exactly is a Gratitude Journal?
  3. When should I write a Gratitude Journal?
  4. How to keep a Gratitude Journal?
  5. What should I write in a Gratitude Journal?
  6. Putting it all together

Why should I keep a Gratitude Journal in the first place?

On Amazon, if there are 9-five star reviews and a single one star review for a product, which do you view first?

If you are like us, we are guessing you most likely view the one star review first. We do not want to be the sucker who falls for a lousy product, right?

As science has shown, you are more likely to remember bad events than good ones. It is called the negativity bias.

If someone compliments your new haircut or outfit, you will likely not remember it beyond the moment in question. If someone disses your style, however, you will likely remember it forever. Ask any couple trying to pick a name for their new baby. Parent #1: “How about Steven for our new son?” Parent #2: “Steven? Steven? Are you insane? Steven is the name of the boy who dumped me in Grade 5.” Old wounds run very deep.

In other words, heartbreak stings more than the passion of a new relationship. The disappointment of losing fifty bucks last longer than excitement of sticking your hand into your pocket one morning and finding that same fifty. It is often easier to list the negative qualities of a coworker than think of their assets.

negative gratitude What do you focus on?

To automatically appreciate and not criticize we have learned you have to consciously work to shine the light on the good. You have to start practicing gratitude.

This is where a Gratitude Journal comes in to save the day.

What exactly is a Gratitude Journal?

On a very basic level, gratitude journaling involves writing about things for which you are grateful.

grateful jessica

On a deeper level, gratitude journaling helps unwire any negative patterns you may have. By keeping a journal, you develop a practice that keeps you accountable to getting the results you want while developing appreciation and enjoying happier days.

Many people struggle with writing things down and figure they can just think good thoughts and that will do the trick. Not.

Translating thoughts into concrete language—whether oral or written—has advantages over just thinking the thoughts: It makes you more aware, deepening the emotional impact.

A 2003 study by Emmons and McCullough found that keeping a daily Gratitude Journal leads to an increased sense of wellbeing and, something we all crave, better sleep. A willingness to accept change will become the norm. Giving thanks in this manner can also help lower symptoms of physical pain. That is powerful.

Writing a Gratitude Journal will make being grateful as natural as breathing. It just happens without you realizing. It is like using a toothbrush, daily, for your mind.

When should I write a gratitude journal?

Before mentioning the how of keeping a gratitude journal, it’s important first to get down the timing of whenyou do it.

In short, we are big fans of writing what you are grateful for first thing in the morning and reflecting on the good things that happened throughout your day right before going to sleep.

Here’s why.

Wisdom from ancient and modern times teaches that the beginning and the end of the dayaretimes to think, evaluate, and correct course.

Contrary to popular opinion, such established positive rituals are not restricted to the domain of ultra successful CEOs or Buddhist monks.

Have you ever had a day when you woke up and it felt like everything was going your way? Everything was effortless, and all you wanted to do is smile?

By starting each day off with gratitude, you get a “hit” of those good feelings first thing in the morning. You are fresh, still waking up and have the precious opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the day with a strong morning routine. Think of it as a hit of caffeine for the soul.

Similarly, what do you typically do before you go to sleep?

Do you have a nightly routine?

The average American watches over 4 hours of TV per day and, depending on the source, we spend between 90 minutes to 4 hours a day on our cell phone. We are glued to our screens. Many people barely look anyone square in the eye anymore….

Much of this happens just before sleep.

What if you chose to use this time to invest in yourself? In your well-being? Never underestimate the benefits of self-care.

You will find that gratitude journaling instantly helps you shift your focus on the positive and short-circuit negative thought loops. No matter how intense your day was, you will sleep a bit better having shown some gratitude. It is that simple.

How to Keep a Gratitude Journal

Many people have great intentions when wanting to journal, but unfortunately they do not go about it the right way.

We hear people say they are grateful the weather is nice, for their partner, or their new iPhone,and then quickly carry on with their day. The gratitude stays very general and does not sink in.

very thanks

Here are two key ways to effectively practice gratitude in a powerful way - so all those good feelings stick at a core level and you actually become happier!

1) It matters less what you write; It matters more what you experience and feel:

We had a friend who was writing the same things he was grateful for every day and got tired of the repetition. He asked us if he was doing it right. We told him, “It has nothing to do with what you write down. It matters how you feel.”

We asked him what he is writing about.

He said, he writes that he is grateful for his girlfriend, dog etc.

When asked where he feels that gratitude he said that it is right in the chest. That place we feel the intensity of a new love and excitement.

When we ask ourselves what we are grateful for, we close our eyes, put our hand on our heart, and wait for the feeling to kick in before putting pen to paper. By waiting a bit longer for that sensation, we know it is coming from a deeper place where we are able to affect our body and mind.

This is the way to do gratitude journaling.

Take a moment to experience this yourself.

What are you grateful for? Really. Right now.

Hand on your chest, right over your heart. C’mon. Feel that sensation deep inside.

THAT is gratitude.

The thinking usually comes rapidly, but the feeling takes a little bit longer. Waiting for the emotion—the wonder and awe—makes all the difference when the pen hits the paper.

But what if you still cannot connect with the feeling of gratitude?

2) Connect with something specific

The more detailed you can get while writing what you are grateful for the easier it is to connect with the emotion.

Think about your favourite book. Authors do not just generally describe something bluntly but get into detail to help the reader visualize the scene. Novelists do not just say, “he drove a car,” they say, “he drove a black Mustang that sounded like it held a grudge."

For example, today you may write, “I am grateful for John.”

Do you actually feel good writing that down? If not, get specific. What is it about John that makes you grateful?

john gratitude

If you do not rush through writing your gratitudes and take a few extra moments to dig deeper, you will see much greater and lasting results. The more you practice this, the easier and quicker this process will become.

PRO TIP: We also highly recommend you keep your journal by your bedside. It’s amazing how easy excuses appear when your journal is not within arm’s reach.

What should I write in a Gratitude Journal?

When you first begin it may be easy thinking of gratitudes to write at random, but despite having the best intentions to write soul fulfilling lists, you will inevitably face “gratitude block.”

From here you have a choice: either quickly write a general intellectualizedgratitude (world peace!), take a moment to ‘feel before you write’ (but I have to get out the door for work!) or option 3.

What is option 3 you may ask?

It’s how Tim Ferriss (best-selling author of the 4 Hour Work Week, 4 Hour Chef and 4 Hour Body) writes gratitudes. He’s a type-A personality who finds the Five Minute Journal, our Gratitude Journal, the best way to get the job done.

So how does Tim practice gratitude?

Instead of thinking of random gratitudes each day, he uses categories:

  1. Relationships: An old relationship that really helped you
  2. An opportunity that you have today
  3. Something great that happened or you saw yesterday
  4. Something simple near you (clouds outside, pen you are holding, etc)

Instead of trying to color with every gratitude crayon in the box, he uses just a few. What if today you just focused on relationships you are grateful for? Or things you are grateful for about your health? Or all the shows on Netflix you cannot live without?

We usually find that having a day where you select a "category" helps generate gratitude ideas more quickly.

Bonus: Recapping the amazing things that happened during your day

Aside from writing gratitudes first thing in the morning, we highly recommend reflecting on all the good things that happened during your day. It’s a powerful way to end your day and helps combat negative thought loops before sleeping.

Here’s the thing, if the day was incredible, the gratitudes will write themselves.

But if the day sucked, you might feel conflicted when you reflect on your day. Let’s resolve that conflict.

Say Alice finishes a sub-par day with many distractions at work, traffic delays, and a cancelled dinner she was looking forward to.

What is she going to write as she reflects upon her day?

rough day

As entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.”

The important thing to understand here is that ‘amazing’ does not necessarily mean buying your dream house or finding your life partner.

It can also mean that the stoplight turned green at just the right time or the barista flashed you a wonderful smile. If you truly look for it, you will find amazing moments in your day. Sometimes an amazing moment can be avoiding a problem or conflict. That too is a success. The “things could have been a whole lot worse” scenario.

At first glance, when Alice reflects on amazing things that happened, she thinks, ”Nothing amazing happened today”. That is just the first layer of the mental response. She knows that there are more layers and all she needs is a little more time to dig a little deeper and peel away the disappointments.

Alice starts to review her day from the moment she wakes up, looking for gems of amazing moments. It takes her some time but she remembers three wonderful parts of her day and jots them down:

alice amazing day

The critical factor here is connecting with what you write down. The more specific you get, the easier it will be to connect with the emotion. Keep going with finding the amazing moments and you will find some great ones.


Great! You just learned how to effectively keep a Gratitude Journal. Now, let’s look at what it looks like in action:

*Use a blank notebook, use your phone or computer, or better yet, use our very own Five Minute Journal.

  1. As soon as you wake up, you grab your Gratitude Journal from your bedside table.
  2. You begin thinking of what you are grateful for. You get specific, which helps you connect and identify with the emotion behind it all. Once you feel that warm feeling, you write what you are grateful for.
  3. Before going to bed, you once again grab your gratitude journal from your bedside table.
  4. You think back on your day and reflect upon the good things that happened, no matter how small. Once again, you get specific and wait to connect with those special feelings…..and then… go to sleep in a good mood. :)

Congratulations! You’ve established an amazingly productive routine which helps you start and end your day on a positive note. You cannot ask for more than that!

Having consistently good days = having a consistently good life and having consistently good days begins with changing your beliefs of where your focus lies. Keeping a Gratitude Journal is an excellent, simple tool to create a profound positive impact in your life.

So what do you have to lose? Begin a Gratitude Journal today! Happiness awaits you.

PS: If you found this post helpful, join our Five Minute Journal Tips email list to receive weekly inspiration!

Written by: Kevin Evans

Head of Growth and Marketing at Intelligent Change. I have my hands in all things from emails to product creation. Passionate about improving mental health education, fitness, and nutrition. Sucker for donuts. You can find me in sweet home Chicago.

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