Practicing gratitude on a daily or weekly basis has undisputed benefits. When you write down the things that you are thankful for in your gratitude journal it just starts your day off on the right foot. Practicing gratitude shifts our mindset from what we don’t have to what we do have. It stops the cycle of comparing ourselves to others and shifts our focus inward.
While this idea sounds lovely, I know that you, like me, are probably pressed for time! I know that writing things down in my journal does not happen every day because of all the other demands on my time. So, when I do sit down to write out a gratitude list, I want to do it in the quickest and most effective way possible. Let’s see if we can optimize our gratitude list together!
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How do you Approach Your Gratitude List?
Get the Gratitude List Done Fast, and Mark it Off the To-Do List
Does this sound like how you approach your gratitude list? In all honesty, it is for me on some days! I have days that I have an overstuffed schedule and don’t feel there is time to make a gratitude list. I know that I should, so I whip out my journal, scribble a few things down. Then I’m off to the rest of the day! I check it off my to-do list like I do running to the grocery store or doing the laundry.
While making a gratitude list this way is certainly better than nothing, when I do it this way, the benefits don’t last very long. My brain is too busy thinking about all the other things that I need to do. Approaching your gratitude list this way is kind of like the difference in a quick shower and a long hot bath. Yes, they both get you clean, but which one relaxes you the most? Don’t get me wrong, I take plenty of quick showers! But if I really feel like I need some self-care and relaxation, the long hot bath is the way to go.
Why Are You Making a Gratitude List?
Why do you make a gratitude list in the first place? If your gratitude list is simply something you do because you feel like you “should,” then you might not be getting much benefit from it at all. Gratitude lists are not something that you can do just to say, “Ok, I crossed it off my to-do list, now why am I not happy?! Why is my magic happy task not working?! This is no good! It’s all a bunch of fluff!” That’s like taking a frantic 3-minute shower and wondering why you are not completely relaxed.
The purpose of a gratitude list for me is to shift my mindset from the things that I do not have to the things that I do. My gratitude list also makes me remember how far I have come in my personal journey. For me, it entails specifics and my why. The list does not have to say everything on my mind, it just has to remind me of my thoughts.
Tips for your Gratitude List
Think about it what you want to say beforehand.
When I try to express gratitude on a piece of paper, I try to find a quiet time. For me, it’s after the kids get on the school bus in the morning. I have had time to wake up a bit and think. By that time, I have had time to plan my day and focus my thoughts.
I find that I am more effective at writing pretty much anything if I take some time to think about what I want to say beforehand. This does not mean that I have everything planned out. I do not. It simply means that I have taken the time to give the subject some thought. For me, writing is a creative means of expressing my thoughts on paper (or in a digital form). It helps me to focus my thoughts. As you go about your tasks of the day, let your thoughts wander to the things that you are thankful for.
Your gratitude list should help you focus your thoughts on the good things in your life right now.
In the Facebook group that I admin, called “The Inspiration Ladies” we have a Thankful Thursday thread. ( If this sounds like a group you would be interested in joining, you can find us here. We would love to have you!) It’s one of my favorite threads for the week. This group of ladies is quite amazing at lifting one another up and supporting each other.
I have noticed a trend in the answers in response to this thread. Often, when I respond, I will not be very specific and I will not tell my why. I might answer something like “My family.” However, I find that when I am more specific and I DO tell my why, I get more benefit from it. Going into detail makes me think harder about my answer and has a longer lasting effect on my mindset.
I loved what happened when I asked the ladies in the group to be specific when they replied to the Thankful Thursday thread. The ladies’ thankful list turned into shared real-life inspirational stories. Then the thread turned to them supporting one another for the trials that they had gone through. I was so touched when I went through the thread to respond and read them. Being specific led to some heartfelt connections and inspiring one another.
Use details and examples
To further illustrate, instead of saying “my family” I get more benefit when I say something like “I am so thankful for my oldest son this week. He had a birthday and I can’t believe how fast he is growing. He is maturing and turning into a nice young man. He’s a hard worker, he is incredibly conscientious and always tries to do the right thing. He goes out of his way to be nice to everyone. He’s funny, smart, cute, but more than that, he is kind. He feels things deeply and has a very tender heart. I love that he helps me so much and so cheerfully. He also still lets me kiss him on the top of the head before he gets on the bus in the morning. I’m thankful for that too.”
Can you tell the difference between the two responses? One is very broad and general and does not require nearly as much thought as the second response. The second response is very in-depth and specific. Writing it out makes me think about WHY I am thankful for one specific member of my family.
If you are writing this down in a journal and you have limited time, then a short-hand list of notes will be more time-efficient. You don’t have to give all the details that I gave in the paragraph above. You just have to write down enough in your gratitude list to jog your memory. If I was going to write a gratitude list in my personal journal, it might look something like:
- Hard worker
- Tender heart
- Kiss head
Making that list did not take long when I already had my main points in mind. When I look at the list, it tells me everything that I wrote in the paragraph above. Gratitude lists are personal. You might be grateful for the same things on multiple days. That’s great! That means that you are enjoying God’s blessings yesterday, today, and a month from now!
My oldest son will forever be on my gratitude list. Most of the things that I wrote on there will stay the same, at least that is the hope in my heart. Everything except the letting me kiss him on the top of the head. I know those days are numbered. If he grows to the same height as his Dad, I won’t be able to reach up there forever! But for now, I can drop a quick kiss on the top of his head every morning before the school bus comes to pick him up.
Write Your Gratitude List in Spurts
Who said that you had to complete your entire gratitude list in one day? You don’t! For me, I actually like to space it out a bit. Since I am trying to be more specific and tell a why it takes longer to think about. I like to focus on one main theme at a time. Doing it this way feels much like eating a slice of chocolate cake every day. I could eat the whole cake in one sitting, but I enjoy it much more if I space it out a bit. It might take you a week, month or more to make your gratitude list. That’s great!
Unlike the cake, gratitude never grows stale. It means that you have remembered to stop and be grateful every day that you have sat down to write. The writing part might not take all that long but think of how your thoughts have been focused each day on the things that you are thankful for and the blessings in your life.
The real power in keeping a gratitude list is not the list itself, but on how it focuses your thoughts and changes your mindset.
Benefits of a Gratitude List
Makes You Happier
When you focus your thoughts on what you have, how do you feel? On the days that I write down a gratitude list, I feel much happier. Who could not use some more of that? I don’t think that you ever get too much happiness in life.
Stops the Comparison Cycle
Oh boy! Here’s another major benefit! Comparing ourselves to others is a very easy trap to fall into. (I posted about that last week). Most of the time, if you stop to closely examine the people you are comparing yourself to, you will find that you don’t want their mosquitos. (The things they have to deal with to get where they are.) Making a gratitude list can be a powerful tool when you find yourself getting sucked into the comparing yourself to others trap because it turns your thoughts inward.
If you keep a gratitude list for a long period of time, you will most likely see it grow. That growth in your gratitude list is a blessing in itself! You will have more and more to be thankful for as time goes by because you keep living your life! You will have more and more experiences. Some of them will be good, some will be not so great, but you can find things to be grateful for in both situations. Even if something happens that’s not so great, it can be an important growing experience.
Reduces Stress and increases Mental Strength
I love things that reduce stress. Who doesn’t?! When you make a time for a gratitude list, or just to be grateful in general it fosters resilience. According to this article that I found on Forbes, lots of research has been done on gratitude that scientifically backs its benefits. I can’t imagine having gone through anything more traumatic than war or the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, but the studies that she references looked at people who had gone through both those events. They found the people that practiced gratitude had lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Physical Health Benefits, Self Esteem, and Better Relationships
That same Forbes article, written by a psychotherapist, pointed out these little tidbits as well. The correlation between mental health and physical health never ceases to amaze me. The more research that I do on it, the more I find that they are directly proportional. (There is my inner science teacher coming out again.) When one goes up, the other seems to follow.
If you practice gratitude, then you will be happier. (A gratitude list is only one of many ways to practice gratitude, by the way.) When you are happier you take better care of yourself, so your physical health improves as well. When we feel sad, we are much more prone to indulge in things that are harmful to our physical health.
In the same breath, when we practice gratitude, whether it be with a gratitude list or something else, we are much more likely to appreciate the people around us. People love to be appreciated! It can be as simple as saying “thank you.” All those little things add up! If you practice gratitude, and you are happier, you will smile more and you will become a more pleasant person to be around. Happiness and confidence are very attractive to anyone! It makes you a person that people want to be around. When people want to be around you, better relationships with your friends, family, and others are a natural by-product.
A gratitude list is not a magical cure-all, but there are many benefits including physical health, self-esteem, better relationships, reduced stress, and mental strength. Gratitude lists are growth focused and can help you avoid the trap of comparing yourself to others. They are growth focused. As you live, you will have more and more experiences and things to be grateful for. Gratitude increases your overall happiness.
Even with all these benefits, it can be hard to find the time in everyday life to actually stop and write out a list. Give it some thought beforehand. Be specific in your lists and remember to list your why. You do not have to write out a whole paragraph. For me, I find it works best to write it in my journal because it’s one place where I compile all my thoughts instead of chasing around random notebooks. My journal is not fancy, it is very much like this one except mine is teal. If you like journals, then, Amazon has some in varying styles.
Gratitude lists can be done in bullet points and can be an on-going list. It’s not something that has to be done in one day. Think of it like eating a cake one slice at a time. The enjoyment lasts much longer when you space it out. The real benefit comes from shifting your mindset and your thoughts to the blessings in your life and the things that you are thankful for.
Let Me Know What YOU Think!
What are you thankful for today? Leave me a comment with one thing. Be specific and tell me your why! Then, pay attention to how you feel the rest of the day. See if this simple exercise can help you. If it did, you might consider a gratitude journal as part of your daily life. ?
An “Attitude of Gratitude” can do great things for you!
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