Start a gratitude journal with your family {live happier}


This couldn’t possibly be a better time to start a journal of gratitude.  The leaves have all blown from the trees, the snow is falling, kids are indoors a little more than before.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, or have boredom run rampant.  TV and Video Games may be the entertainment your children are choosing.

When we were younger, in an effort to prevent us from wanting to watch tv my parents made us write down what we did that day and if we liked, or disliked the day.  We didn’t realize what was going on but after a couple of weeks they had us go through our books and notice what we had done each day.  It was easy to see that the days that we liked were the days we had played outside, had a friend over, played a game, did a craft etc.  They weren’t the days that we watched tv.  Interesting right?  It was their version of a good old fashioned gratitude journal before they were the thing to do.

A family gratitude journal is a diary of things for which one is grateful. They are used to focus your attention on the positive things in your life, the lives of your children and, in the case of a family journal, the life of your family as a whole.

Typically, gratitude journals have been used by individuals but Gratitude journals are perfect for families too. Dare I say even better?  Sure, you can keep one by yourself but keeping one as a family is a great way to bond, start conversations, learn more about each others day, and spend some happy time together. Keep your journal in the kitchen.  Set a time every day where everyone can write something they loved about the day.  This could be before or after dinner or even at bedtime.

Children that are old enough to print can make their own entries and younger children can either draw a picture or have you, or an older sibling do the printing for them.

Did you know that keeping a gratitude journal can increase your happiness by 25%?  Twenty five percent!  That’s huge.  If your salary was going to increase by 25% or your family was going to grow by 25% that would make you stop to think (or maybe panic) wouldn’t it?  It’s a lot and if your family can be happier, wouldn’t that be great?

I recently read an article about research on the brain.  Studies show that neural pathways in the brain can be physically altered by our thoughts and behaviors.  Our brains are made of billions of neurons.  The neurons connect to one another and form pathways that relay information.  If you can strengthen the pathway by repeating the behavior, your response will start to become automatic.  How many times have you actually completed a task and not really remembered doing it? Case in point.

This is where keeping a gratitude journal comes in.  Keeping a journal of things you are thankful for will help to create more automatic patterns in your brain which will, ultimately, increase your happiness and decrease your stress in life.  Not only that, you’ll have all of these wonderful memories to look back on and you’ll be teaching your child too see the good in everything.  Take some time each week to look at the journal together and reflect on past entries.

Tips for starting a gratitude journal with your family

Have a plan

  1. Choose your mediumWould you prefer handwriting in a beautiful or whimsical journal or a simple notebook.  Or is using a computer, tablet or iphone more your style?  Some type of paper journal might be best for families but an electronic version would work well for individuals.  If you are a creative type you may also like to paste in some photos, doodle, or add a quotes.
  2. Have a planWill you make a list or write full paragraphs and elaborate on why you are grateful? Will your list have one or five things? Remember, it will get easier every day and nothing is too small.  It could be something you did, or someone else did, that made you smile. Or it could be a simple activity or gesture that made your day.  If you are just starting out with a family gratitude journal start with one thing per person per day and graduate from there if you wish.  Each day can be different too.  A list one day, pictures another, a full paragraph the next.
  3. Tell the storyInstead of “I’m thankful for christmas” you could write “I love watching the kids barrel down the stairs on Christmas morning. Older ones tripping over each other, laughing, and helping the younger ones as they eagerly look for the note left by Santa. The scents of homemade cinnamon buns, the real christmas tree, and the wood fireplace in the air. Instead of  “My baby brother makes me happy” your child could write “I love tickling my baby brother on his tummy,  he’s so warm and soft and it makes him laugh”. Obviously your child may need help with this at first!Instead of “I had a great trip in to work today” it could be “I offered my seat on the subway to an elderly lady and she was so grateful she was still smiling when I got off”
  4. Sometimes you may have to look for the positiveAs you get better at this new way of thinking you’ll start to do this automatically.  Maybe you didn’t want to go out to the grocery store because it was raining or snowing but you ran in to an old friend and you had a great chat.  Maybe one of your children stayed home sick from school and you were irritated that you had to take the time off work but you got to spend quality one on one time with them snuggling on the couch and reading stories.
  5. Choose your scheduleChoose to either write every day, every second day or once a week.  Whatever, it’s your journal!  You may choose to jot a few notes throughout your day when something nice happens or even keep a voice recording.  At the end of the day you can choose your favorites.  You might start to notice great things that are happening with your children too.  Take note of them in case you need to remind them later when it’s their turn to write. You may choose to start your day off on a positive note by writing as soon as you wake up in the morning.  Whatever.  It’s a good idea to commit to thirty days in a row to get a good start.  The important thing, is that you get in to the habit of noticing the amazing moments that happen every day and that you children start noticing more great things.

A quick peek in to our totally random gratitude journal.  No dates, no times, just pictures, words, drawings, whatever goes.  We don’t even write on each page in order!

Need help getting started?

Fifteen questions to prompt your gratitude.

Looking for an app?

Happy Tapper iphone app, as seen on Oprah,

My Daily Journal – Love this one because you can use one of your own photos for a background and choose from tons of different fonts.  Great for creative types!

Gratitude Journal 365  Simple and easy.

Looking for a journal?

Mine, shown above is a Smash Book

Etsy has tons of cute journals.  Just one I love by AlyBirdArt

 Leather Bound Guided Gratitude Journal
I’m sure there are many more out there!  If you have one you love to use let me know by commenting below.  Don’t forget that most bookstores have a wide variety of journals and that a simple notebook will work just as well!

Do you already keep a gratitude journal?  Has it changed you?  Give some encouragement to others by telling us your story in the comments below.

Positive emotions can create happiness, ease stress and change our thinking patterns.  


Be sure to check out these additional articles in the “how to” series this month…

How Do You… Date Your Spouse by Julie Miller

How do You… Listen to Music by Lindsay Nicols

How do You… Stay Stylish While Pregnant by Virginia Holst

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  • Janet - Hmmmm, when I am going to start?!?! I’m going to have fun just picking out the notebook we use … Imagine it with all it’s entries?!?! Thank you!!

  • Nadine Nicholson - Michelle, I loved this article after reading just the title. What a great resource for families and individuals! Our son is turning five in two months – what a perfect time to start to involve him in something like this.

  • Laurie McGowan - Thank you Michelle! What an inspiring way to capture those good feelings while sharing with your family! This is going to on our family time list!

  • Laura Buckholz - I love this idea! Brings to light my youth as my Mom would never let a day go by without writing in her diary to reflect on the day- highlights,lowlights and so many kindred stories.

  • Nikki Jackson - I’m so excited to check out those apps! Thanks for sharing and reminding us that there don’t need to be any special rules to recording memories and gratitude.

  • Kirsten Wreggitt - Hello Michelle,

    This is so timely. 2013 is all about gratitude in our family. We are exploring different ways of be grateful and it has already begun to affect how we see the world and each other. Brene Brown – author of Daring Greatly – says the most joyful people have a gratitude practice. Thanks for sharing a way to involve the whole family!

  • Dana Goldstein - This is truly a fantastic idea! My kids are at just the right age for this. And I can’t help but think this is a lovely keepsake for the future!

  • Danna - oh wow Michelle. I LOVE this idea! on it!! thank you.

  • Shannon - Love this, Michelle. I use the Gratitude Journal by Happy Tapper, but love the Family journal idea!

  • julie - Thank you for this amazing idea!! I am totally starting this with my kids. I think I will make an entire evening out of it where I read them your post and then we will get it started. I love this!