There’s a lot of information already out there about keeping a gratitude journal.
I won’t give you a generic summary of these benefits. Instead, I want to get specific about exactly how I keep my own journal, and how it’s created a mindset shift in my life that helps me choose better each day in so many ways.
I used to think of my practice as keeping a gratitude journal, but after considering all the things I actually write in it, I’ve decided contentment journal is a better name for it instead.
This is because I realized that my journal is more than just a record of gratitude – it’s also a place where I write about joyful anticipation of upcoming events in my life and set my intentions for each day. While these things do inspire gratitude in me, I think they also help me feel a broader sense of contentment about the things that are happening in my life and what I’m doing each day.
Here’s a look at exactly how I keep my contentment journal:
My process is simple. In my journal, I write the date at the top of the page. Then, I intentionally write out the words “I’m so thankful for” at the start of every new entry, rather than just doing a bullet list of 3 things. This forces my mind to consciously say the words, and helps me slow down and really focus on being thankful instead of seeing this as a to-do list item to check off my “morning routine” list.
I try to make it a habit each day to write thank-you’s in 3 specific categories:
- a person/ relationship in my life
- a physical possession I own
- a memory or event I’m thankful I had
I like choosing something from each of these categories, because all 3 are important parts of life, and it helps me not be overly focused on one to the neglect of the others. Of course, I’m not totally rigid in keeping to this structure – but it’s nice to have it as a general guideline to remind me to think intentionally about what I’m thankful for in different areas of my life.
Next, I write 3 things I’m looking forward to in the near future. I start the entry the same way as above, where I write out the phrase “I’m looking forward to:” instead of just listing things. And like with the first section, I make it a goal to name things in 3 specific categories. I try to intentionally think of:
- one thing I’ll do just for myself – maybe reading for a few minutes after work that afternoon, or painting my nails that night
- one thing I’ll do with another person – like an upcoming date with my husband, or a phone call to catch up with my dad
- one thing I want to do to move forward on a work or passion project – like a marketing project I’m hoping to finish at work that day, a blog post I want to work on, or new listings for my Poshmark business
Writing something that’s just for me helps me to remember to prioritize self-care, and writing something I’ll do with another person in turn helps to remember to prioritize relationships. Purposefully choosing an activity I’m looking forward to that’s connected to work of some kind helps to keep me both focused on my goals and thankful for the opportunity to do work that’s engaging and meaningful to me – what a blessing!
Starting the day thinking about these three categories with a spirit of anticipation helps me feel more engaged with and excited about these key areas of my life.
Last, I write out my intention for the day. As with the first two, I take the time to write out the phrase: “My intention for today is:”
A strong intention can help set the course for my whole day, tying everything I do together with one overarching purpose that gives me clarity.
…That is, if I remember to follow it once I’ve written it!
I’ll be honest, sometimes I write something down and then close the notebook and forget all about it. There have been more than a few times when I wrote some beautiful, lofty intention for the day (something like, “To be centered in God’s Word all day”) and then looked at it again right before bed and though, ‘Oh yeah, I did write that, didn’t I? Whoops.’
Even so, I still like to do it, because on the days when I do remember what I write and carry it with me through the day, it definitely helps me feel more centered.
I sometimes have a tendency to compartmentalize my life to the extreme, wanting all the pieces to be in their own little box: my work tasks, blog tasks, home tasks, relationships, etc. But when I take the time to tie everything together with one overarching intention, like “Today I will be quick to listen”, it helps remind me that across all of those categories and tasks, I’m the same person and I want to bring the same heart and integrity to every area of my life.
While I’m being honest, I should also mention that I do NOT write in my journal first thing every morning, or even get to it every day. Sometimes I go a week without opening it. But still, I try to keep it somewhere prominent and visible, and I make it a point to open it up when I feel my heart tugging at me to stop and reset. I do intend to try and make it a daily practice for the remainder of June, because I know how helpful it’s been to me in the past. (Maybe you want to join me? I would love that!)
How it’s changed me
For me, contentment journaling is not about doing the process just right or following a set of rules I’ve laid out for myself. It’s all about my heart.
It’s about retraining my mind to actively seek out, recognize, and describe the good, lovely, beautiful things in life. It’s about framing my day from a place of recognizing the abundance and acknowledging the beauty in front of me. It’s about re-aligning my attitude to a default of grateful instead of entitled. When I consciously shift my thought process to dwell on all I’ve been given, instead of scanning the landscape for the next thing I think I want, my heart is renewed and brought closer in line to the heart of my God.
When I can look at every good thing in my life not as something I deserve, but as a lovely gift I haven’t earned but get to enjoy anyway, it’s a beautiful thing. It makes me more gentle and patient with others and with myself.
It helps me remember that everything is not about me.
(This is a reminder I need daily, sometimes hourly!)
Want to try it with me?
I encourage you to find your own cute little notebook (or app, or whatever works for you) and begin the habit of intentionally seeking out, recognizing, and naming the aspects of your life you’re most thankful for and what you’re most looking forward to, as well as the intentions you want to carry with you through the day. As you make it a habitual practice to think about and dwell on these things over time, you may notice that more and more things stand out to you as lovely gifts – things that you otherwise may have passed by without much thought.
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you try this experiment with me this month!
Use the hashtag #choosingcontentment on Instagram so I can see glimpses of the gifts you’re grateful for and the joys you’re anticipating this month!
If you already do a writing exercise like this regularly, I’d love to know the specifics of how you keep your journal and any positive changes you’ve noticed since you started. Share with us in the comments below!