My Gratitude Journal Changed My Life
Updated: May 18
An effective and powerful tool that I practice in my own life and encourage my clients to do so as well, is to have a daily gratitude journal. Keeping a gratitude journal has been a life changing experience for me over the last decade.
What does this look like practically? Start with the little things, the teeny-tiny moments each day brings.
Let me explain.
The Teeny-Tiny Moments
Keeping a gratitude journal is about the mini-moments of happiness, not just the significant successes or milestones. As you get in the habit of looking for the itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny moments of happiness throughout your day, you will learn to find the good in everything.
When I wake up in the morning, I check my phone for any urgent issues and then I put it on silent mode, make my tea, and find a cozy place on my sofa with my gratitude journal in hand. I look outside at the beauty of God’s creation, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and I let my mind wander to yesterday. I think about all the things that made me smile and brought me joy and I thank God for those things as I write them down. I take the time to unwrap each precious gift and savor them one at a time.
When I first started my gratitude journal, I felt silly because what made me happy seemed insignificant, frivolous, and maybe even weird. Now many years later I can say with absolute certainty - I cannot live without it.
Here's some examples from my gratitude journal:
Fun statement earrings
The smell of homemade chili
Opening the Bible at random and landing on the exact scripture I needed
Dan's messy morning hair
Sipping iced coffee as I walk home from my favorite neighborhood cafe
Discovering a new fiction book
The faint sound of bells ringing from the church down the street
Flower petals from the trees falling around me during my run
The UPS delivery person thanking me for my book and how it's helped him
You get the idea.
Now it's your turn to incorporate this practice into your life.
Each day, write down in your gratitude journal 3 things you are grateful for and be as detailed as possible. Be very specific...the teeny-tiny moments you experience. I'm not taking about general things like, “my job, my children, my home, my spouse, my friendships, my career, my ministry." Instead write something specific about each one that happened during the day. Like, "my husband unloaded the dishwasher because he knew I had a work deadline, my daughter gave me a hug even though we just had an argument, I received an email from somebody who shared how my work helped them get through a difficult time, or the person who does my hair felt comfortable sharing her story and I prayed for her."
I would encourage you to write first thing in the morning. Take at least 20 minutes after you wake up to sit in silence, pray, and create space by yourself before the chaos of the day begins. Make a choice to set aside focusing on what you didn't do and focus on what you did do and the unexpected moments that brought you joy. Get grounded in Jesus' love and allow Him to speak to your heart first before hearing from everyone else. Instead of anxiously having feelings of foreboding about all the things that could go wrong, you are intentionally setting yourself up to expect good things because you are focusing on the good things that did happen yesterday.
Although it is important to be specific about the little moments, it is equally important to write down the significant ones. Writing down the big milestones and dreams coming true in your gratitude journal is essential because doing so allows you pause and celebrate them before quickly moving on to the next thing. If you are in an especially busy season, it allows you to put words to them and come back to savor them later.
Speaking of dreams...
Living Your Dream Does Not Mean...
We need simple joys even when we are living our big dreams. This is because having success and accomplishments does not leave you immune to life stressors. Living your dream does not mean life's daily responsibilities come to an end - like the carpool, laundry, pet responsibilities, exercise, emails, or household chores. Your loved ones still desire to spend time with you. Your deep-seated insecurities, unhealthy coping mechanisms, people-pleasing tendencies, or anxieties do not just go away either.
Over the last couple years, I celebrated huge dreams and milestones – I published my first book, moved into my dream home, and after much prayer and patience, got married to the love of my life. During those seasons, I was not as diligent with my gratitude journal. Mostly because quite suddenly my heart's desires and wildest dreams had come true, all at once. I did not pay as much attention to finding the teeny-tiny moments and simple joys because I was living my big dreams. So, I stopped keeping a gratitude journal for a while.
Gradually I realized living my dream did not solve all my problems and fix everything.
Talk about a humbling and convicting revelation!
In fact, life was harder in many ways, not easier. A bunch of new stressors occurred. Turns out, living your dream requires a lot more time, effort, and energy. Including, managing others' expectations, finding a new work-life balance, and multitasking on all the projects.
Now there is more to manage. More responsibility. More planning. More engagement. More deadlines. More obligations. More boundary-setting. More people to disappointment. And the most difficult for me—more to lose. There's also a greater risk of failure and rejection. Living mostly outside my comfort zone. Not wanting to lose momentum.
Along with my dreams came complexities I was not quite prepared for. This meant less self-care and less Andrea time. The time I had previously set aside to journal at the beginning and end of my day was replaced by answering one more email, crossing off one more thing on my to-do-list, and jotting down one more idea.
Internally at times, I was struggling with comparison and internal pressure to do more, be more, and produce more. My perfectionistic tendencies to do all things well came flooding back. If I was spending time with my husband and friends, I felt like I should be working and if I was working, I felt like I should be spending time with my loved ones. The daily tension I felt of not wanting to disappoint others and not give them my whole heart was difficult. All the while I was becoming increasingly disconnected from my own heart.
I found myself missing the simple joys and a slower pace of life when I would make time to write in my gratitude journal every morning and sit with myself. It was the best part of my day.
The constant thread of gratitude in my life was what kept me from unraveling when things became stressful.
I realized how with increased responsibility and obligation, there needs to be increased stillness and solitude, not less. Whether you received a promotion, a new home, a platform, a ministry position, a new baby, or you got married - whatever you dream looks like for you, be intentional about your gratitude journal.
Jesus models a lifestyle of making solitude and connecting with himself and his Father a priority, especially when his ministry was expanding:
"Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him...But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:15-16)
Jesus says to his disciples: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. For there were many coming and going." (Mark 6:31)
I made the life-changing decision to yet again set aside time each morning to sit with Jesus, my gratitude journal, and be still. I realized in all my ambitious endeavors I was operating in a state of busyness where perfecting, pleasing, and performing were drowning out the simple joys and the still small voice that whispers. I slowed down and began to pay attention. Now these sacred mornings with my gratitude journal have become a non-negotiable time for me (like exercising or eating breakfast). I protect them now with a passion and from an inner confidence that has continually given me peace and strength to face whatever the day brings.
You do not have to run on fumes, neglect yourself, and be driven by internal pressures. It's OK to live in the teeny-tiny moments AND celebrate the big, impressive dreams and milestones. The difference is that you experience a deep-seated joy of the soul regardless of what season of life you are in.
The Science of Gratitude
There's a science to gratitude. We re-wire our brain when we write down specific things we are grateful for because you will train your brain to have a positive bias. Meaning, you look for good things and so you find good things. This practice is important especially when you encounter painful and difficult circumstances because there is always something to be grateful for.
To rewire your brain in this way, it needs a lived experience to pair with it over just words and thoughts.
By writing down what you are grateful for, you are experiencing the joys all over again and reinforcing the truth that good things happen to you.
You are being intentional about creating space to document a lived experience rather than having fleeting thoughts about what you're grateful for that quickly disappear.
365 Days of Reminders
The primary reason my gratitude journal is a life-changing experience for me is because when I go back and read my journal from the previous week, month, year—I'm reminded of the precious gifts of everyday life. Most importantly, I'm reminded that God is always with me.
This practice of going back in time is my absolute favorite thing to do.
I'm in awe. I smile. I’m surprised. I laugh. I cry, and I’m grateful to God all over again. I re-live every gift, each moment, and it feels like Christmas morning. It's an overwhelming feeling of joy as if I am surrounded by so much beauty and don't know where to begin.
This exercise dramatically increases my faith because as I read 365 days full of mini-moments, I am powerfully reminded of God’s faithfulness. His goodness. The importance of His timing. How He provides for me in unexpected ways. How He takes care of me. How He protects me from myself. How He pursues me in the most intimate manner possible. If I did encounter hard and painful things, I gained the wisdom to deal with them and had the resiliency to overcome obstacles.
I gain a powerful perspective on what is truly important in this life and a reminder that no matter what happens, it is going to be OK. I'm reminded of how resilient I am. How Jesus is my very present help in time of need. How joy is my constant companion no matter the circumstances. I'm reminded of how far I've come. How much I've changed since this time last year. How much I've grown. I'm reminded of the things I was so worried about and how they never happened and how the desires of my heart did.
The photo accompanying this article was sourced from istock and is in the public domain.