One of the easiest ways to foster an attitude of thankfulness is to create a thankfulness journal: a separate place to record the simple everyday things for which you are grateful. Even though you already make daily entries in a prayer journal or spiritual diary, keeping a thankfulness journal is an essential exercise to develop a heart that gives thanks in all circumstances. Unlike other forms of journal writing, a thankfulness journal is for the specific purpose of recording the things for which you are thankful. It serves as both an acknowledgment of what God has done for you and as a daily challenge to look for things to be thankful for, even on bad days. Perhaps keeping a written list of “What I am thankful for today” seems too simplistic to be effective, yet studies have proven the positive impact of maintaining a thankfulness journal. Researchers have discovered that those who keep thankfulness journals on a daily basis exercise more regularly, have fewer health problems, make greater progress toward important personal goals, experience less depression, handle stress more effectively and have more energy and vitality. They even sleep better at night! Here are some basic steps to help you get started.
Start It Now. Any kind of notebook will do for a thankfulness journal. The important thing is that your gratitude pages are bound together and kept in a safe place rather than randomly scribbled on loose pieces of paper scattered here and there. Some folks like to decorate the cover of their thankfulness journal; others like to draw pictures that describe the things and events for which they are thankful. A stationery store, an arts and crafts retailer or scrapbook supply store will have ideas for customizing your journal. The more unique and personal the pages, the more likely you are to visit the journal consistently. Most people find that they want enough space in their journal to record two to three month’s worth of gratitude affirmations.
Keep It Simple. Unlike other spiritual journals, a thankfulness journal is not a place to process your feelings, cry out in lament or pour out your heart to God. The whole purpose of a thankfulness journal is to thank God for blessing you in ways too numerous to adequately recount. The pages will consist largely of one or two sentence statements beginning with “I am thankful for . . .” You can add drawings, mementos or small photographs to enrich your simple words. Try using colored pencils to add color and texture, or experiment with stickers or glitter. Your creativity is a precious gift from God that you are called to use in expressing your thankfulness to Him. Place a Scripture heading at the top of each day’s page to remind you exactly Who you are thanking. Searching the Scriptures for thankfulness verses each day and committing some of those verses to memory will play a key role in developing a lifestyle of thankfulness.
Keep It Private. This is your journal, with your personal thoughts recorded for your benefit and God’s glory. If you write thinking that others might read your words, you will tend to write what you want them to hear! You can share your thoughts with trusted others, but the pages of this sacred journal are intended for your eyes only. God, who sees what you write on these private pages, will reward you (see Matthew 6:6).
Keep It Honest. Only you and God are going to see what is written on these pages, so there is absolutely no reason to exaggerate, minimize or force your feelings. List only those things for which you are genuinely grateful. God knows your thoughts before you even write them on the page (see Psalm 139:4). This is not a place for pious platitudes or lofty idealism. Heart-felt gratitude is always about the truth as it applies to your life in the present moment.
Keep It Personal. Comparisons and judgments have no place in your thankfulness journal. This journal is about you and your relationship with God, not about your neighbors. Remember, the Pharisee whom Jesus criticized prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like all other men” (Luke 18:11). We never need to fill our cup of thankfulness by devaluing another human being or feeding our ego at another’s expense. Gratitude is about giving thanks to God for the wonderful things He has done for us, not telling Him what wonderful things we have done for Him.
Keep It Specific. Rather than writing generalized statements such as, “I am thankful that God is faithful,” write about a specific instance that reminded you of God’s faithfulness. Perhaps you saw or heard something today that brought God’s loving-kindness to memory. For example, rather than being thankful for the sun, write about how the sun touched your skin and brought warmth to your soul.
Keep It God-Affirming. We should only be grateful for sources of health and healing, never for anything that erodes our relationship with God, damages His creation or harms our neighbor. Likewise, we can never be truly thankful for anything that offends God’s Holy Spirit who resides in our heart, or that destroys our body, His earthly temple (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). With this in mind, you can use your thankfulness journal as a type of accountability partner. Ask yourself, “Is this something I can write about in my thankfulness journal?” If the answer is no, then it is not a beneficial endeavor.
Keep It Consistent. Make adding entries to your thankfulness journal a daily habit. Begin by writing down five simple pleasures for which you are thankful each morning when you first wake up. Before you go to bed that night, record another five things for which you are thankful. Five each morning, five each evening—seven days a week. Perhaps you are thinking, I couldn't possibly find 70 things to be thankful for each week! Remember, we are training our minds to develop a lifestyle of thankfulness. We must fight the scarcity mentality that makes us fear that we will not have enough thankfulness to write 70 “I am thankful” sentences each week. Just write down five in the morning and five in the evening today and trust that there will be five in the morning and five in the evening tomorrow.
Review It Often. Reread your thankfulness entries often, especially on days when you need to be reminded of God’s faithful love. Once a month, carve out time to read all 280-plus entries that you made during the month and bask in the warmth of God’s love and care. As you notice a gradual shift in your outlook and attitude, be sure to thank God for that too. Each time you thank God, He will give you even more reasons to thank Him! You will be amazed at how God will bring health and healing as you faithfully practice giving Him thanks in all circumstances. God delights in those who delight in Him, and He showers them with His abundant blessings.
“You are my God, and I will give you thanks.” PSALM 118:28