One of the most commonly referenced ideas for personal development is the act of regularly recording gratitudes. Said to boost mood, build confidence and generally improve the quality of your life, the act of writing down 3 things every day that you are grateful for is the bread and butter of the self-care armoury. Sometimes to the point that it almost feels like a cliche to suggest it…
But the reason that gratitude practice is so often cited as a self-development tool is simple: It works.
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It’s easy to see how focusing on what you have rather than what you lack is a beneficial practice. Cultivating an appreciation of all the positive aspects of life that you perhaps might have overlooked encourages you to focus on feelings of satisfaction, contentment and plenty instead of longing, frustration and bitterness.
Those who regularly reflect on what they have to be grateful for are more upbeat, better able to make decisions to improve their situation and less prone to depression. Indeed, people who suffer from depression who begin recording daily gratitudes often report improved mood.
It’s a simple act which requires very little input but offers big results, and it’s for this reason that gratitude lists are such a popular practice.
Related reading: 10 Tiny Steps Towards a BIG Life
What is a gratitude list?
A gratitude list is simply the act of writing down at least 3 things you are grateful for every day. You can write it when you wake up, as a boost for the day to set you off on the right foot, or at the end of the day, recording things that may have gone well that day. You can even write it throughout the course of the day as things occur, anything which causes you to stop and pause or make you smile.
What are some examples of gratitude?
Gratitudes can be big or small.
You might be grateful for your body, your heart, your lungs, working tirelessly to keep you alive. You might be grateful for the roof over your head and the bed that you sleep in. Or you might feel happy about a conversation you had with a friend or catching your cup of tea at exactly the right temperature. (I LOVE it when that happens..)
I often find it helpful to think in terms of ‘good things’ rather than gratitudes. Any good thing, however big or small:
- The sound of birdsong
- The smell of freshly brewed coffee
- The love of my family
- The fact I am alive
- A freshly made bed
The thing is, there is always something. Even on days that don’t go so well, or you feel a little hopeless. If the only good thing that happens to you in a day is just that you woke up, that is enough: You are alive – That is HUGE!
Don’t skip your gratitude practice on the bad days, this is when you need it most!
If you are struggling to come up with good things for the day in question, it’s useful to consider instead 3 things that simply exist in the world which bring you joy (even if you didn’t encounter them that day.) For example, you could list your 3 favourite songs, books or movies, or your 3 favourite things to eat. Anything that you can bring to mind that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Expressing gratitude is about being mindful and appreciating what you have, recognising the good, even in the bad and counting your blessings. It’s learning how to really focus on what there is to be joyful about, however seemingly insignificant. It’s celebrating the small wins as well as the big ones. It’s paying attention to the world around you and your place in it.
You can work through a mixed bag and write down 3 (or as many as you like) good things, or divide your gratitudes into sections, maybe tackling one each day:
- 3 things about your home that you are grateful for
- 3 people you are grateful for
- 3 things about your job you are grateful for
- 3 things about yourself you are grateful for
- 3 smells you love
- 3 sensations you enjoy
Personalise your experience and tailor it to what works best for you today.
Creating a Gratitude journal
It is commonly recommended that you invest in a beautiful notebook and handwrite your gratitudes. The act of having a notebook dedicated solely to your daily gratitudes helps to elevate this simple daily practice to a special event.
Designated bullet journal pages or spreads are also popular, and good if you also use your journal as a daily planner, as you always have your gratitudes with you.
Many find that handwriting reinforces the feelings of appreciation as it stimulates the brain to mentally engage with the information as you record it, but don’t feel put off if you aren’t a pen and paper person, you can, of course, record them digitally.
For a long time I have incorporated my own gratitudes in a brief daily routine, which involves noting my gratitudes down in a Trello board (you can get a free link to that board below if you are interested! Check out Daily Dedication Routine for more info!)
Alternatively, there are plenty of great apps available, such as ‘Gratitude – Personal Growth and Affirmations Journal‘, a nice, simple app which allows you to record daily gratitudes and photos, affirmations and also provides you with a daily inspirational quote.
Related reading: Affirmations – A Beginner’s Guide
One of the benefits of having a designated notebook or space that you use only for your gratitude practice is that in time you will become easier for you to slip into a grateful frame of mind just by the act of going to that book or digital workspace. Writing on post its and scraps of paper left, right and centre won’t feel the same as the sense of ritual created by having a designated gratitude tool. It is also good to have the ability to easily look through a collection of gratitudes as it grows.
Monthly gratitude practice
You might like to create a kind of monthly review in addition to your daily gratitude practice, sitting down at the end of each month and looking back over everything you have had to be grateful for. Just the act of looking back on all the good things in your life can be a powerful reminder of just how much there is to be thankful for.
You might like to recap and make a note of highlights, like a quick journal entry of the best 5 things that happened or moments you had which made you feel amazing.
How does gratitude change you?
Regular gratitude practice helps to rewire the pathways in your mind and alter your mindset. If you have always been predisposed to thinking poorly of yourself or circumstances, if you’ve struggled to see the good in situations, then it causes you to adopt the same pattern. Repeated use of gratitude practice helps to disconnect those negative associations and help you to adopt a more positive growth mindset
Practicing gratitude is a habit. You may not even feel it at first, particularly if you are prone to depression, anxiety or have a negative disposition.
For example, you know you should be grateful to be alive, to have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in. You are aware that there are others in the world who don’t have these things, and yet for whatever reason, bad mood, or circumstance, you just aren’t feeling it. You say the words, but you aren’t truly grateful. Not really.
But the more you repeat this practice, the more you will connect the dots and start to see how much there really is to appreciate. You will see how your life is blessed and begin to realise every moment. Gratitude practice is called so because it takes practice. Like so many things. You might not get it first go, but you get points for trying and eventually, it will all come good!
Gratitude is, at its core, the art of being present and awake to your experience. The more alive you are to the experience of your own life, the more connected you will feel, and this, in turn, will enable you to live your life in a way that is best for you.