Friday, January 04, 2008

Keeping a Gratitude Journal: Fuel for the Activist Life

An activist friend of mine recently asked, "How do you get over it when life is unfair in a really big way?" I told her, "Keep a gratitude journal." I can't remember where I first saw this idea. Maybe Oprah? It certainly isn't mine, but it definitely works.

One of the things I've come to realize is that in order to create positive social change, you have to create positive personal change at the same time. Our personal challenges, in combination with the world's challenges, can feel overwhelming and paralyze us. To have the energy to help others, we have to keep ourselves balanced and happy too.

One tool to help keep life in perspective is a gratitude journal where you write down a few things each day that you are thankful for. They can be big things, like I'm thankful that I have a warm, dry place to live in the midst of this crazy California rainstorm, or small things, like I had a really yummy hot chocolate the other day.

Thethirtydayyear kept a gratitude journal when her mom was dying:

"I have recently resurrected my earlier habit of keeping a gratitude journal. I did this after I came across an old entry I did before my mom died, about how thankful I was that she had come through her surgery, and how grateful I was for having her here as my mother.

There were so many things going on in my life back then, and if not for that journal, I likely would have had a very different, very negative view of everything. I was losing my mom, and I knew it, but rather than focusing on that loss, the journal helped me stay focused on how fortunate I had been that she had been there for me for forty four years. I wrote in that book first thing in the morning, then again before I went to bed at night."

Corrie Haffly describes what she does when she doesn't feel grateful for anything:

"Usually my list involves many things from the previous day that I’m thankful for, but sometimes a couple items are things I’m thankful for in general; “the best hubby ever” and “Nutmeg the very cute cat” are ones that frequently turn up on my lists.

There are some days when I really don’t feel very grateful about much. In that case, I don’t force myself to write down five things, but I write down what I can. Usually, however, I’m able to find five things that I’m truly thankful for!"

Philippa Kennealy of The Entrepreneurial MD shares the story of how one of her clients, a doctor, used a gratitude journal to move through depression in her post, Can a Gratitude Journal Be An Effective Business Tool? She also links to a New York Times article, Let Us Give Thanks. In Writing which has a quote from the author of Happier, that speaks to why I think a gratitude journal can be effective:
"“If we’re not aware of the good things in our lives, then as far as we’re concerned they don’t exist.”
Have you ever used a gratitude journal? If so, what was your experience while using it?

Photo Credit: January First by Crystal.


  1. I need to do this daily to keep myself in check. Ironically, I just thought of the same one you mentioned about the rain storms here today!

    Now I'll draw from my English lit background to add one of my fave mantras:

    "For each new morning with its light,
    For rest and shelter of the night,
    For health and food, for love and friends,
    For everything Thy goodness sends."
    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

  2. Britt, I think Oprah mentioned this idea when Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance books first came out. It's a terrific idea that works wonders, literally! K.

  3. Prayer comes from the word praise so anything done with appreciation spreads the gift of gratitude. The critical element that balances that action is the reaction of complaint. The minimal form (of criticism) is the observation factor of journaling, so thank you for advocating this therapy (as alternate thought patterning of appreciation.)

  4. More than a gratitude journal (though I've written about it in this page, I keep an agenda where I reflect upon my day and my experiences, and include a "thank you" for every day I live, since my birthday two years ago.

    Writing "thanks" every day reminds me of the so many things that I am thankful for, every single day.

    Thank you. :-)

  5. Anonymous1:57 AM

    Gratitude journals are great yet one can say in one's head each day what one is thankful for or share one's gratitude ponderings with a friend or loved one. Gratitude in prayer is good too. Sarah Ban Breathnach, on an Oprah show, started me off on my positivity' heal thyself through optimism' journey a few years ago. Live with a chronic moderate severe condition called M.E/C.F.I.D.S- in my 11th year- yet have found that positivity plus humour truly helps with pain relief as well as coping with the condition on a daily basis. When we practice gratitude it is good for our health as well as the health of society as a whole- it is a way of passing kindness forward. Love this web site- truly inspirational :-)
    Writing/piecing together a book full of positive snippets at the moment inspired by the likes of Oprah Winfrey,Gary Zukav, Dr Phil McGraw, Patch Adams, the late Helen Keller, the late Norman Cousins, the late Beatrix Potter and the late Christopher Reeve- to name a few of my heroes.

    Thankful for all loved ones in my life, for positive web sites, for inspirational individuals in my life directly as well as indirectly, for this wondrous day, for having a wonderful God in my world who loves me very much, for my sweet loving pets, for living in a warm house and for finding a job can manage with my condition.

    Dolphin smiles,


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