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Why a Gratitude Journal Can Help With Anxiety, Sleep, and More—And the Best Ones

Well+Good 12/7/2021 Erica Sloan
best gratitude journals © W+G Creative best gratitude journals Translating a feeling into words on paper is one way to empty your mind of it—to give the idea a physical container, so to speak. But in many cases, writing thoughts down in a gratitude journal can be just as effective a strategy for filling your mind up with them by encouraging you to re-live experiences, and, in turn, remember them more clearly. (If you've ever scribbled a note to self or a grocery list, you already know the power of hand-writing something for memory.) That's precisely where gratitude journaling comes into play, too, as a means for embracing gratitude more readily and deliberately. And the best gratitude journals encourage you to do just that by way of clear prompts and thought-scanning techniques.

In essence, a gratitude journal is just what it sounds like: a place to record whatever it is for which you're grateful. And in the act of doing so, you're both creating a happy time capsule of positive reflections, and also devoting additional brain power to turning those thoughts into words. "Gratitude journaling shifts our attention to the most positive and healing experiences in our lives, and pushes us to stop our tendency to ruminate and fixate on only what's wrong," says psychologist Snehal Kumar, PhD.

It also helps clarify and enumerate the many things we have to be grateful for—which is uplifting in more ways than one. "When we genuinely appreciate what we already have, our brains release happiness neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which can reduce symptoms of anxiety and decrease feelings of loneliness," says Amanda Grant, Chief Wellness Officer at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa, where each day concludes with a gratitude circle that's open to all guests and team members. "The main reason we chose to end the day with gratitude, specifically, is because it can lead to more effective sleep, which boosts mental health," she says.

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Research backs up that assertion: A small 2011 study of 41 college students found that when they adopted a gratitude practice each night for a week, they experienced less worry before bed, as well as improved sleep quality. But the health benefits of practicing gratitude extend far beyond sounder snoozing; a 2013 study showed that more grateful people are also more likely to report better physical health, while a 2017 study found that a gratitude practice may have the power to improve both emotional regulation and self-motivation by way of activating certain brain regions and mediating heart rate.

"Journaling, unlike some other gratitude practices, gives us a lot of hard data, which can be really helpful on tough days." —psychologist Snehal Kumar, PhD

Even beyond these gratitude upsides, though, the specific practice of gratitude writing was shown in a 2016 study to boost the mental health of people who were already seeing a therapist—which just proves how supportive keeping a gratitude journal can really be. "Journaling, unlike some other gratitude practices, gives us a lot of hard data, which can be really helpful on tough days," says Dr. Kumar. "This data can also illuminate themes about what's important to us, which can help us make better decisions for ourselves and our loved ones in the future."

While many of the best gratitude journals make it easy to dive in, adopting a gratitude practice that sticks is about finding an accessible medium for you. If you turn to technology for all the things, gratitude doesn't have to be any different: Apps like Grateful (Apple), Presently (Android), and Delightful (Apple and Android) offer simple tools for engaging with gratitude right from your phone.

"Truly listen to what comes to mind, and give yourself permission to write it down." —Dr. Kumar

To form your gratitude exercise into a habit, Grant suggests picking a specific time of day for your gratitude ritual, whether that's in the morning with a cup of coffee, at night before bed, or during a transitional moment between work and any after-work obligations. And then, when you're getting ready to write, aim to drop any preconceived notions of what gratitude could or should look like—in order to avoid forcing yourself into a practice where you're merely pretending to be grateful, says Dr. Kumar: "Truly listen to what comes to mind, and give yourself permission to write it down, even if it's as simple as, 'I'm grateful I tried this practice today as a way to offer care to myself.'"

In that vein, the positive prompts of the best gratitude journals can provide helpful jumping-off points—so you're not stymied by the utter emptiness of a blank page (which I can tell you, as a writer, never ceases to be daunting). Read on for the gratitude journals for which we're, well, endlessly grateful.

Here are the 11 best gratitude journals for beginning (or continuing) a conscientious gratitude practice:

Promptly Gratitude Journal — $33.00

A blend of weekly themes and daily prompts makes this Promptly journal adaptable to whatever cadence of gratitude practice you like. Not to mention, it has a whole bunch of extra lined pages throughout, in case you’re a fan of going long-form, and it’s pretty enough to leave out on any table or counter for whenever inspiration strikes.

The One-Minute Gratitude Journal — $7.00

The whole premise of this gratitude journal is simplicity: Each entry prompts you to write down three to five things you’re grateful for in just a few short lines, which are followed by an inspirational quote for moral support. And on the top of each entry, the date line is left blank, so you can add it in, rather than having a designated slot for each day; that instantly helps take the pressure off of missing a day here or there, since you won’t have to skip any pages if you do.

A Life of Gratitude — $12.00

If you’re looking for more guidance—and you’re willing to devote more time to your gratitude practice—you’ll vibe with this comprehensive gratitude workbook. Beyond prompting you to record what you’re grateful for, it has suggestions for more introspective thinking, like “How does the color grey make you feel? And what are your favorite grey things?” to “What books have most shaped who you are?” The idea behind this creative tack is uncovering the things you may not have realized are most supportive to you in life.

The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal — $15.00

Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin developed this gratitude journal as a way to reflect on singular positive moments each day for five years—effectively creating a time capsule of entries that can take on a particular feeling or meaning over time. “Because you’re limited to writing a single sentence each day, keeping up the practice feels very manageable, even if you’re busy,” says Rubin, who recently launched the Happier App focused around positive habit-building (try it free with the code HAPPIERNOW).

The Great Gratitude Journal — $25.00

Get organized about your gratitude (we see you, Virgos) with a journal that breaks its prompts into four sections: Self, Family & Friends, Health, and Wealth. You can follow in order or flip to the section that feels most aligned on any given day—or, if a random additional thought percolates, find one of the blank pages to jot that down, too.

Papier Grateful for Everything Gratitude Journal — $33.00

The morning and evening prompts of this Papier gratitude journal encourage you to start and end your day on a grateful note, while the end-of-month recap sheets push you to reflect on broader-strokes themes. And for when you’re just not feeling it, flip through the pages to find a gratitude activity, which will guide you through simple thought-reframing techniques to uncover a silver lining.

The 90-Day Gratitude Journal — $10.00

This is a journal that’ll keep you on your toes. It has three prompts for each of 90 days, but while two remain the same each day, the third is a wild card centered on a particular aspect or element of your life—like “What’s one thing you learned this week?” or “What is one thing you like about your city?” The range of questions keeps you coming at gratitude from all different angles.

Alleyoop Grateful Duo — $24.00

You might know Alleyoop as a beauty brand. But true, radiant beauty starts with self-care, right? (Right.) And cultivating gratitude is just one way to practice that, which brings us to this chic duo of a slim gratitude journal and three black ink pens. The daily exercises are super simple (record three things you’re grateful for), but sprinkled throughout are some more comprehensive prompts, encouraging you to record a “reverse bucket list,” consider the people in your life whom you’re grateful for, create a gratitude vision board, and more.

The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal — $11.00

Striking a balance between the more streamlined one-sentence or one-minute version of a gratitude journal and the more involved workbooks, this option is unique mostly for its varied daily prompts. The four thought-starters on each day’s entry are slightly different from the next (e.g., “A quality of one of my closest friends that I absolutely love,” or “Something that worked out much better than I’d hoped”) but cover recurring themes, so they tell a cohesive gratitude story by the time you’ve completed them all.

The Gratitude Explorer Workbook — $16.00

As its explorer name signals, this gratitude journal takes you on a true journey, from start to finish. A series of writing prompts gets more introspective and focused as you move through the book, and they’re interspersed with guided meditations, gratitude exercises, and inspirational messages to offer a thoughtful, reflective break amid all the writing. It also comes with postcards, affirmation stickers, bookmarks, and other paper goods, making it an ideal gift for a loved one who could use a little more positivity in their world.

Tiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal — $18.00

Anyone with an artful bent will vibe with this gratitude journal, which includes not only writing prompts but coloring (!) pages. Designed to get your creative juices flowing, these images depict everyday things worth being grateful for—but that are all too often overlooked. And they’re accompanied by space for written reflection, too, to complement the prompts sprinkled throughout the rest of the book.

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