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Cultivating Gratitude

Updated: Mar 25



“The root of joy is gratefulness… it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”- Brother David Steindl-Rast


You’ve probably already heard the suggestion of keeping a gratitude journal to improve your mental health. Science backs the idea- we are happier and more resilient when we notice and appreciate good things in our lives, even in dark chapters. It’s almost so obvious it hurts! In many ways it provides us some solace to recognize and remember to utilize things going “well” in our lives, as we can often quickly point out things going not so well and think narrowly on those aspects. Gratitude for the good does not have to invalidate the bad, but just helps us hold all parts of our lives in perspective.


The issue I have had with gratitude journals is that mine tend to get pretty stale, pretty quick. I usually can rattle off the same list of ten things I am grateful for almost mindlessly, which really defeats the purpose of a gratitude list, in which you are supposed to thoughtfully think, recall, and appreciate these items. I would usually end up quitting on my journal, sometimes within days, because of how robotic it could become. That said, it always bugged me because I knew how powerful cultivating a grateful attitude could be in managing mood. I would preach about it to my clients even and feel guilty myself for underutilizing the same advice. Gratitude is like a muscle- you must work it to build it, and it can become atrophied from lack of use, too. I knew that the more I intentionally noticed good in my life, the greater good I would see as my gratitude muscle grew.


I searched online for exciting prompts to keep my list from growing stale and force true thoughtfulness. I also began to set a 2-3 minute timer once I read the prompt and forced myself to truly think and reflect on the question past my immediate answer, so that I did not just scribble down the most accessible thought and miss many others that could also be powerful if I gave myself more time. I decided my gratitude practice would have to be one that I could complete within ~5 minutes, because I knew I could dedicate that amount of time daily to the task, so there would be less excuse as to why I didn’t stick with it!


Below, I am going to list several thoughtful prompts that I found helpful for my practice, and ones I hope you find helpful too whether you are new to gratitude journaling or very familiar! I would love to hear your prompts in the comments as well if you would like to share!


· A second chance I’ve been given…

· One way I am already living the life I want…

· A privilege I have that, until now, I have taken for granted..

· A valuable lesson from a difficult situation…

· Someone who helped me get where I am today…

· Something that worked out much better than I had hoped…

· Someone I get to spend time with today..

· A new door that opened for me recently…

· A reason to smile right now…

· Someone I don’t want to miss an opportunity to say thank you to today…

· A time when I felt I was in the right place at the right time…

· Something I have that makes it easy to love my life…

· A choice that I can make that not everyone gets to make…

· A great quality about a close friend of mine…

· Something great about today that I may have overlooked yesterday…

· One of the best parts of being me…

· The moment I felt most alive and fully myself this week…

· Something about myself that I would never change…

· One clear reason to appreciate the person I have become…


I hope these prompts have provoked some grateful thoughts for you and are something you could consider building upon for a daily practice!



Written by: Kelly Birkhold, LCSW (offering individual, couples, and family counseling)



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