Can a Gratitude Journal Make You More Hopeful?

When my first book proposal was turned down, I submitted it to another publisher, and another, and another, until eight publishers later, my manuscript finally found a home. That’s when I decided to re-read my manuscript, and felt immediately dismayed.

You see, every time my proposal got returned, I simply wrote a new cover letter, put everything in a new envelope and mailed it off to the next publisher on my list. Then–well over a year later!–when a publisher finally said yes, I re-read my manuscript. That’s when I realized how much I had changed, how much my writing had changed, and how much re-writing I still had to do!

Even after a piece is published, I sometimes wish I could re-write or add to it or deepen it in some way–sometimes because I’ve found a better way to say the same thing, and sometimes because my thinking and my life have moved on since then.

That’s how I feel about my most recent article for Christian Century, published this month and dated August 16, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, but written a few months ago. In it, I reflect on King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom (1 Kings 3) and Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive, which defines success in terms of well-being, wisdom, and wonder. In June, I wrote:

Perhaps the most important lesson I’m learning about wisdom, from both Solomon’s story and Huffington’s book, is the practice of gratitude. In our hurry-sick society, it’s all too easy to rush through life without thinking or stopping to give thanks. Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness helps me slow down and be more mindful of my surroundings and of other people. It helps me to be more positive in the face of challenges and to ask myself, Where can I be thankful in this situation? What can I learn?

And so I’ve added a simple gratitude list to the end of my day: just five people, things, thoughts, or experiences that I can offer back to God with thanks. Sometimes I write them in my journal. More often I just mentally list them and let them go. My gratitude list seems oh so ordinary, nothing on the order of a visit from the queen of Sheba. It’s the wonder of sunshine in the morning after days of rain, an actual letter in the mail, a church potluck, reading a good book, hearing a song on the radio. Simple pleasures, really, since I’m no king or celebrity.

You can see the rest of my Christian Century article as published here.

What I’d like to add now is that since then, I’ve started writing my gratitude list in my journal every evening, and my husband has started a gratitude journal too, thanks to this quote that I discovered after I had submitted my article:

As the months pass and you fill your journal with blessings, an inner shift in your reality will occur. Soon you will be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. – by Sarah Ban Breathnach

After a week of gratitude lists, I asked my husband,

Keeping a Gratitude Journal that shifts your inner reality

“Has your reality shifted yet?” I meant it as a teasing, inside joke between the two of us because of the quote we read which seemed to promise too much. To my surprise, he said, “Yes, I really think it’s working.

Now after almost a month of gratitude lists, we’re still going strong. For me, it’s definitely been a positive practice, a kind of examen of consciousness to express my thanks to God, and I like the way my lists serve as a diary of my days too. So hmmm, in these simple ways, maybe my reality really is shifting.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What do you think? Do you keep a gratitude journal, and has it made you more content and hopeful? I’d love to hear your experience. Try it for yourself, and let me know.

11 thoughts on “Can a Gratitude Journal Make You More Hopeful?

  1. Thanks for the reminder, April. One of the first stories I read about using a gratitude journal is in the resource, Living Life Backwards, from Mennonite Foundation of Canada Writing in the journal during a really challenging time Patty and her husband found a spring of hope from the process. She reflected, “At times I felt like I had lost everying. My choice was either to be angry or to find another purpose…It was the gratitude journal and the positive attitude it seemed to cultivate that nurtured my soul during those two years…”

    1. That’s a great example, Dori, of how a gratitude list can help us pay attention to the positive even during challenging times. Thanks for sharing that story and also for the link – Mennonite Foundation has a lot of great resources for life and financial planning.

  2. I love it that you asked your husband if his reality had shifted yet, for fun, and that he turned serious on you.

    Both of those things are good. I’m grateful for your voice, April.

    1. As I am grateful for yours, Shirley. I continue to find some great connections between our blogs although our focus is different.

      Some say there’s a grain of truth in every joke, and that was certainly our experience in this case. I love it when humour and truth come together like that!

  3. April, I like it that you and your husband did this together. It tells me something about the strength of your relationship.

    1. I’m glad we’re experimenting with this together too. When we first started, one of us would sometimes forget and be reminded by the other, so doing it together was a good way to encourage one another.

  4. Gratitude can be a wonderful thing. I have made gratitude lists, in the past; they did make me have a more positive, healthy attitude towards life, towards my family and friends–towards most everything.

    The first thing I thought of when I read the title of this post was . . . recovery! I have a certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling, and I’ve volunteered at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab for more than ten years. Gratitude lists are high on the list of possible things to do, especially for people early to recovery. There is a reframing of nearly every aspect of life that goes on for a number of months, for most people in recovery. Gratitude lists help so much!

    I hope the lists really help you and your husband as you reframe your lives and support and encourage each other. @chaplaineliza

    1. Thanks for your encouraging word, Eliza – I can see that keeping a gratitude journal would be useful for recovery, and I’ve heard of studies that indicate the positive effect it can have on those dealing with depression and anxiety and other chronic illnesses. It has wide application and is so simple to start with just pen and paper.

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