Getting Started on Keeping a Gratefulness Journal

BY
22 Nov 2022
Parenting

As Jews we are familiar with the trait and acts of gratefulness. Being grateful means noticing the good in your life, in the world around you and being thankful for it.

We are called Yehudim- The root of the Hebrew word is Hodah- thankfulness. It is ingrained in us. Most of our prayers involve some reference to gratefulness. In almost everything we do as Jews, in every aspect of our lives, we strive to acknowledge and notice G-d’s involvement and kindness, by being thankful.

Modern neuroscience has caught up with this idea. Researchers have found that  gratitude helps because when you experience difficulty the part of your brain that controls your emotions,  the amygdala, shuts down the pre-frontal cortex, the rational, problem-solving part of the brain. Practicing gratitude actually calms the amygdala, moving the blood flow back to the pre-frontal cortex, allowing you to solve your challenge in a calm and logical manner.

The field of psychology also touts the benefits of gratitude and encourages people to have a set gratitude practice. People who do are more joyful and hopeful and have reduced instances of depression/anxiety. Their overall physical health is good; they have better social lives. They are generally more resilient and have a positive self-image.

Research has shown that one of the most powerful forms of gratefulness practice is to keep a daily gratitude journal.

Professors Emmons and McCullough found that people who kept gratitude journals reported being more satisfied, optimistic and energetic than the control group who did not keep a gratitude journal.

Full disclosure, I do not keep a gratefulness journal, but have been wanting to start one for a while. I figured that by writing this article I would have to commit to doing it.

Here are 10 simple ways to get started:

Buy a notebook:

I love a fresh new notebook. If creating a new habit includes buying office supplies, I am usually in. Buy yourself some nice pens while you are at it.

Just get started and start small:

If you are a morning person, (I am) the change can start then. When you say Modeh Ani, keep your notebook nearby and stop and just write down just one thing that you are thankful for.

If you are a night person, keep your notebook on your night table. Reflect on your day and again write down just one thing that you are grateful for.

As you get better and better, increase the amount of things that you are thankful for. The research of Emmons and McCullogh had participants writing 5 things that they were grateful for each day.

Take it one step further:

If you want to deepen your practice, think of what you are grateful for and why it happened. For example, you can be grateful for your increased endurance that allowed you to run a mile. This happened because you have been committed to working out more. Perhaps you reconnected with an old friend, and it felt as I you had never parted. This may have happened because the bonds of your friendship withstood the test of time.

Need a nudge?

Are you having a hard time getting started? The internet is replete with gratitude writing prompts.

Here are some examples:

  1. What’s your favorite color? Why is it special to you?
  2. What’s your favorite song? How does it make you feel when you hear it?
  3. Write about your hobby? What about it makes you feel happy?
  4. Who is your favorite person? List the qualities that you love about them?
  5. What’s your favorite childhood memory? What lessons did you learn from that time?
  6. What’s your favorite time of day? Why?
  7. What’s your favorite flower? What do you love about it?
  8. What color do you prefer to wear? Why?
  9. Which month of the year do you prefer? Why?
  10. Which day of the week do you prefer? Why?
  11. What’s your favorite holiday? Why?

These were taken from: https://www.happierhuman.com/gratitude-prompts-kids/

Find a thankful friend:

When starting a new habit, it is always good to find someone that will hold you to it. An accountability partner can help you practically, just reminding you to stick to your task.

However, sharing your thoughts on gratefulness with another person can be rewarding and valuable in itself. Having them tell you what they are grateful for can be inspiring and spur you to discover things that you would have never thought about yourself.

You don’t need a notebook:

Obviously, with technology being what it is today, you don’t need a physical notebook. You can use voice notes to yourself, or a dictation app to create a journal on your phone.

This is perfect if you want to involve your new accountability partner.

If you don’t have time to talk, you can create a Gratefulness whatsapp chat, jotting down your 1-5 gratefulness points there. Alternatively, you can take a picture of your notebook each day and post it to your whats app chat.

Get your kids on board:

It would be great if you can make this a family activity. When we teach to others, we learn better ourselves. Journal with your children. If they are young, they can draw pictures of the things that they are thankful for. If they are older, some writing prompts can be used. (These prompts are also good for adults):

The above were taken from: https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-exercises/

There’s more:

Caren Feldman-Baruch in her book, The Resilience Workbook for Kids, recommends the following: (these can be used by both you and your children)

  1. Write down 3 big or small positive things that happened to you that day:

For example:

  1. Be specific:

Instead of saying, “I am grateful that I had ice cream today.” Add information:

“I am grateful that I had chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, my favorite.”

  1. Make a movie in your head about it and replay it when needed.

Review: 

Baruch-Feldman also recommends taking the time to review your notebook periodically, especially when you are feeling down. It can also help inspire you for  your next journal entry.

Mindful photography:

What if you’re not much a writer, you’re more of a visual person? One study has shown, that a gratitude picture journal can be just as effective as traditional journal writing. Participants were asked to use a camera to help them identify and capture things in their lives that are meaningful or positive and to share their images and ideas on the images with others.

This idea can also work well with an accountability partner.

It is also a great way to get your children and particularly your teen involved in a gratefulness project.

So, there you have it, 10 ways to get started on your gratefulness journal. Wish me luck on mine.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.