When it comes to the week of Thanksgiving, we know the drill. Whether you’re in school, at a company get-together before everyone takes a few days off, or sitting around the table with family and friends, chances are you’ll go around the group, allowing each person to say something they’re thankful for.
But when we allow gratitude to only be a theme one day a year, it ceases to have the same power. It’s when you integrate it into your daily life (often through writing) that it can have a life-changing impact.
Research has shown time and time again that a regular gratitude practice can have a measurable, scientific effect on your happiness. According to Harvard Health Publishing, gratitude helps people “feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
Sounds great, right? But starting a regular gratitude practice can be harder than you would think. It takes consistency, and sometimes even a little creativity, especially when you’re going through a tough season.
But writing can be an incredible tool as you build a consistent habit of gratitude in your life. The most important thing to remember is that this does not have to be rocket science. You won’t need to wax poetic for 10 pages every single day, or keep a relentlessly rainbows-and-unicorns attitude. A gratitude practice in writing is often simple, and is about seeing the little silver linings, even when you least expect them.
Some tips to get you started:
1. Buy a specific journal to use.
If you’re like most writers, you probably are more motivated when you have a fresh notebook or a new pen. It can also be helpful to keep a gratitude journal separate from any other notebooks you use for writing, notetaking, or to-do lists. That way, you can train your brain to immediately think gratitude when you open the cover.
2. Start SMALL.
The benefits that science has shown gratitude to have on your happiness often don’t even have anything to do with grand, awesome things happening in life. It’s about seeing the joy, hopefulness, or positive experience out of the small things (or even the bad things that happen). As you start a regular writing practice around gratitude, it can be helpful to start simple. Every morning or every night, write down two or three things you’re grateful for that day. They can obviously be bigger things, like your health or your friends. But they can be things as small as a perfectly-made mocha at your favorite coffee shop, the sun peeking through the clouds after a week of rain, or a funny group-text conversation that has been in your inbox that morning.
You can always start with the big things. But as you continue with your practice consistently, you’ll find that if you stick with only the “big” things, you’ll start running through the same topics over and over again. It will be at that point that you’ll start thinking more creatively, looking a little deeper, and finding a myriad of tiny moments and things to be thankful for.
3. Set aside time.
This doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time. Something as small as 5 minutes each morning, or 5 minutes before you go to bed at night, can be all you need. Most people shy away from a regular gratitude writing practice, because they think they don’t have time. But that’s not the case! The benefits of squeezing a tiny window of gratitude into even the busiest days can far outweigh the five minutes of time you spent with your journal.
4. Figure out what works for you.
Some people choose to look for gratitude when they first wake up in the mornings so they can start their day on a positive note. Others use gratitude as a grounding practice in the evening right before bed. And some may do a combination of both! Write when it feels right to you. Try out a couple different routines to see what works best for you.
5. Expand on the items that you feel like you need to.
It’s important to start simple if you want to make any habit a consistent one in your daily life. No one runs a marathon on day one; they just run a mile. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t eventually build up to that marathon.
Start with your short daily list of two or three items you’re thankful for. But when you start to feel more comfortable, or when you hit on a topic that you feel particularly passionate about, write more! There’s no limit on gratitude, fortunately. The more you start looking for gratitude in your daily life, the more you’ll see, and the more you’ll have to write about. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy!
6. Carry your practice with you.
Something that can be helpful for you as you begin re-training your brain to find gratitude in everything is actually carrying your gratitude journal with you everywhere you go. Take it in your bag to work, carry it in your purse on your way to a friend’s house, and throw it in your suitcase for vacation. If you randomly come across a situation or person that makes you think about how grateful you are, you’ll want to write that down immediately so you don’t forget it. Having the journal on your person throughout the whole day can also be a trigger for your brain to automatically look for things to fill the pages.
Looking to write even more in addition to your gratitude practice? Sign up for Monday Motivation for a weekly, reflective writing prompt. Follow the Find Your Voice Instagram account for another weekly writing prompt, plus plenty of other inspiration.
And if you need more help writing during the holidays specifically, check out our holiday blog series: