December 17, 2019
As a guy with one foot planted in the realm of ancestral living and the other foot planted in the realm of modern biohacking, my own personal morning routine is a complete mash-up of the woo-woo and the scientific.
For example, I start every morning with a dark, black, muddy cup of coffee, just the plain old stuff like my Grandpa used to drink. But my own cup o’ joe is created with a structured water device and (sorry Grandpa) occasionally topped off with dual-extracted medicinal mushrooms or Chinese adaptogenic herbs like Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang to jumpstart my natural boundless energy flow. It seems every month I'm discovering some new kind of coffee recipe, and love to “toy” with that morning brew – but always keep it “calorie-free” (no butters, fats, oils, etc. until my morning fast is complete, thank you very much).
Perhaps the best example of marrying the woo-woo to the scientific would be my daily gratitude routine. Each morning, I wake up, roll over, strap on a Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor and open a the NatureBeat smartphone app to measure my nervous system strength (the Oura ring Readiness score works well too, but I like to take a real-time measurement also) and, at the same time, grab the weathered gratitude journal from my bed stand and begin to write down what it is that I am grateful for that day. Usually, I don’t write down what I think I am supposed to be grateful for—like being alive, having food in the refrigerator or my loving family, but rather something small and meaningful that is right there in the moment like the softness of my pillow, the smell of my wife’s hair, or the sunlight peeking through the curtains.
As I engage in this daily gratitude practice, I not only feel an intense sense of well-being and positive emotions wash over my body, but I can—using the heart rate monitor and smartphone app—self-quantify a remarkable increase in the strength and resilience of my nervous system and the tone of my vagus nerve.
But the benefits of daily gratitude go far beyond simply feeling good or experiencing a significant increase in nervous system strength and resilience.
In today's article, you're going to discover what gratitude is, why gratitude is one of the most prized and protected parts of my day, four astonishing physiological and psychological benefits of a daily gratitude practice, and how to practice gratitude with step-by-step instructions for my exact morning personal gratitude journaling method.
What Is Gratitude, Anyway?
In pouring through the writings and teachings of Dr. Robert Emmons, who I consider to be the world's leading authority on gratitude, I've discovered that throughout history, gratitude has been categorized as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, and a coping response.
Gratitude seems to defy easy classification.
The word gratitude itself is derived from the Latin root gratia, which means “grace,” “graciousness,” or “gratefulness,” and all derivatives from this Latin root have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving or getting something for nothing.
This means that the object of gratitude is other-directed and that gratitude stems from the perception of a positive personal outcome, not necessarily deserved or earned, that is due to the actions of another person. According to Emmons, gratitude results from a two-step cognitive process:
- Recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome.
- Recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.
A consensus among the world’s religious and ethical writers is that human beings are morally obligated to feel and express gratitude in response to receiving a benefit, which is likely why gratitude is a highly prized human trait worldwide and across a host of religions, from Jewish to Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and beyond. This also means that gratitude is part of the essence of what it means to be a human being.
But even when we understand the actual power of gratitude and the deep, primal roots we have tied to this emotion, it's all too often tempting to instead prioritize rushing, achieving, worrying, complaining, grumbling and engaging in every other aspect of life that seems to easily distract us from simply stopping to be grateful. At least that's been the case for me in the past.
So now that you've learned what gratitude is, allow me to highlight the power of gratitude by exploring four ways in which gratitude enhances your mind, body, and spirit, including scientifically proven facts about gratitude. After that, I'll teach you how I personally tap into this powerful emotion—an emotion I now consider to be crucial to life force, energy, health, well-being, and a well-balanced human.
How Gratitude Improves Your Physical Health
According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also far more likely to take care of their health.
They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors—not because they are sick, but because they have a greater sense of self-awareness and care about their bodies, which is likely to contribute to enhanced longevity.
Psychology Today has cited several studies that back this up, showing that people who report being more grateful also report feeling less muscle and joint pain and are far more likely to take care of themselves. Another 2015 paper in the Journal of Religion and Health found that those who are more grateful for who they are and what they have are not only more hopeful but also physically healthier.
Sure, some of this can possibly be attributed to the fact that those who feel better physically tend to be more thankful and happy—but this is not always the case. As a matter of fact, dozens of studies have shown that when people actively take the time to list the things they are grateful for, they feel far better mentally and physically than participants who haven’t done the same.
In other words, gratitude’s benefits are not only correlational but, in many cases, causal. A 2009 paper in Counselling Psychology Review reported that gratitude can act “directly, as a causal agent of well-being; and indirectly, as a means of buffering against negative states A 2009 paper in Clinical Psychology Review reported that gratitude can act “directly, as a causal agent of well-being; and indirectly, as a means of buffering against negative states and emotion sand emotions.”
Research also shows that when we think about what we are grateful for, the parasympathetic, rest-and-digest, calming part of the nervous system is triggered, producing a host of positive benefits for the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin, the powerful bonding hormone involved in relationships that makes us feel so good after touching, hugging or sexual intercourse.
One recent study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine discovered that people who are more grateful have better heart health, less inflammation, and healthier heart rhythms. This means gratitude is also good for your heart. The study author reported that gratitude was found to ward off depression, stress, and anxiety—all of which can increase the risk of heart disease.
In this study, researchers recruited 186 men and women, average age 66, who already had some damage to their heart, either through years of sustained high blood pressure or as a result of heart attack or even an infection of the heart itself. They each filled out a questionnaire to rate how grateful they felt for the people, places or things in their lives. It turned out that the more grateful people were, the healthier they were, with a less depressed mood, better sleep, and greater overall energy. When the researchers performed blood tests on the subjects to measure inflammation and plaque buildup in the arteries, they discovered significantly lower levels of these health issues among those who were grateful—an indication of better heart health.
The head researcher for this project, Dr. Paul Mills, then conducted a follow-up study to look even more closely at gratitude, testing 40 patients for heart disease and noting biological indications of heart disease such as inflammation and heart rhythm. Then he asked half of the patients to keep a journal most days of the week and write about two or three things they were grateful for. People wrote about everything, from appreciating children to being grateful for spouses, friends, pets, travel, jobs, and even good food. After two months, Mills retested all 40 patients and found significant health benefits for the patients who wrote in their journals. Inflammation levels were reduced, and heart rhythm improved. When he compared their heart disease risk before and after journal writing, there was a decrease in risk after two months of writing in their journals.
Finally, when it comes to the “love hormone” oxytocin I mentioned earlier, it turns out that one reason gratitude brings us closer together is its relationship to our oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, popularly known for its effects on pro-social behaviors, such as trust, generosity, and affection. It’s involved in all kinds of human social interactions—from parenting to meeting a new acquaintance—but its baseline in the body is around zero, and it needs an actual stimulus to cause its release.
In this study, researchers recruited couples in romantic relationships and invited them into the lab, where they were given an opportunity to say “thanks” to their partner, a situation in which oxytocin would be particularly likely to reveal its influence. In the lab, they were asked to choose something big or small (but something specific) that their partner did for him or her and for which he or she felt grateful. After they said thanks, both partners would privately rate their feelings of love, positivity, and responsiveness. While they filled out these self-reports, four “judges” submitted their own ratings on what they’d observed of these couples’ expressions of gratitude. Once everyone’s pencils were down, the partners would swap roles and repeat.
Each partner then got to be part of two different interactions: one in which he or she expressed gratitude and one in which he or she received an expression of gratitude. The researchers took a saliva sample, looking for a particular gene known as CD38—a key regulator of oxytocin release and a big player in social interactions. They were hoping to find a genetic basis for the pattern of effects they’d observed as their participants gave and received thanks. This step confirmed their hypothesis: CD38 is, in fact, significantly associated with a number of positive psychological and behavioral outcomes that are all intimately related to the expression of gratitude!
The authors then wondered whether there is something specific about our oxytocin system that promotes social bonds or whether it be the case that saying thanks, generally speaking, feels good enough to reinforce our relationship with the person with whom we’re sharing this joy.
So they then ran a different study. This time, they didn’t ask participants to say thanks. Instead, they asked them to share one positive personal event. Like those in the first study, participants did indeed feel joy and enthusiasm. But, unlike in the first study, no pattern emerged at a genetic level. In this case, the presence of CD38 could not systematically predict the presence of these positive feelings.
This means the oxytocin system isn’t just selective toward joy or feeling good. It’s selective toward something specifically about gratitude, probably to the extent that sharing gratitude—in this case essentially saying that “my happiness is due to your role in my life”—recognizes our social or relationship interdependence.
There are certainly other studies that suggest that humans are, by nature, social creatures, but this study may be the first to suggest that our emotional reaction to a kind word or deed is rooted deeply in our physiology and is a part of our evolutionary history.
In summary, from a decrease in cortisol to a massive drop in inflammation, to a boost in feel-good hormones and beyond, there is a drastic, measurable physical and physiological benefit to being grateful.
How Gratitude Improves Your Psychological Health
Gratitude also reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Dr. Robert Emmons, who I mentioned earlier, has also conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being.
His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and overall mental strength and also reduces depression.
For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Another 2003 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people with neuromuscular diseases who kept “gratitude journals” reported a greater sense of well-being and more positive moods at the end of the study, compared with those who didn’t make such lists. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This means that being aware of all you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times of your life—fosters an intense resilience that helps you battle stress and get through tough times.
There are a host of other studies that highlight the link between gratitude and psychological health, including:
- A 2014 study by researchers in the Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, which found that gratitude increases happiness.
- A pair of 2014 studies from Utrecht University in the Netherlands which found that both gratitude and acts of kindness have a strong impact on positive emotions. This impact on positive emotions is especially fascinating when you consider the work of folks you’ve already discovered like Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of Biology of Belief, Dr. Jerry Tennant, author of Healing is Voltage, or Dr. David Hawkins, author of Healing & Recovery, who all draw extremely strong correlations between positive emotions, quantum physics, changes in protein configurations and cell membrane voltage and overall physical well-being and health.
- A 2015 article in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences which showed that “higher levels of gratitude were associated with higher levels of personal well-being, greater life satisfaction, and lower levels of psychological distress.”
From a psychological standpoint, gratitude can also act as a natural antidepressant. When we take the time to ask what we are grateful for, specific neural circuits are activated that result in increased production of dopamine and serotonin, and these neurotransmitters then travel through neural pathways to the “bliss” center of the brain—similar to the mechanisms of many antidepressants. Practicing gratitude, therefore, can be a way to naturally create the same effects of medications and create feelings of contentment.
Not surprisingly, gratitude also increases blood flow and activity in the hypothalamus, the master gland that controls feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, which elicit a positive effect both physically and psychologically.
How Gratitude Makes You Sleep Better
Something as simple as writing down a list of things you are thankful for at the end of the day, or, as I do dwelling upon and revisiting at the end of the day the things you were grateful for that morning, can also help people sleep better.
So each evening, my twin boys, my wife and I sit down at dinner, and before we eat dinner, we share what we journaled and what we are thankful for that day.
During this practice and afterward leading up to bedtime, the world suddenly seems to slow down and become less hectic, and any emails, tasks, phone calls or to-dos left over at the end of the day and still at the back of my mind begin to fade away. And yes, I sleep better.
It turns out, research backs this up.
For example, a 2009 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that those who expressed gratitude more often slept better and longer than those who didn’t. Another study published in 2011 in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, showed that writing in a gratitude journal significantly improves sleep quality. This study showed that just 15 minutes spent jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed can allow you to sleep better and longer. This 2015 study from researchers in London and published in the Journal of Health Psychology also demonstrated that gratitude helps improve quality of sleep and lowers blood pressure.
Finally, a 2015 study from UC San Diego, which included researcher and well-known health guru Deepak Chopra, showed gratitude to be associated with not only better sleep, but also lower fatigue, lower depression, and increased cardiac function.
How Gratitude Rewires Your Brain
Surprisingly, gratitude can literally rewire your brain. For example, a brain-scanning study from NeuroImage brings us a little closer to understanding how gratitude can achieve these effects.
The results from the study suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, the human brain remains wired to feel extra thankful.
In this study, Indiana University researchers recruited 43 people who were undertaking counseling sessions as a treatment for anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of the participants were assigned to a gratitude intervention, which meant that for the first three sessions of their weekly counseling, this group spent 20 minutes writing a letter in which they expressed their gratitude to a recipient. The other participants acted as a control group, meaning that they simply attended their counseling as usual without performing the gratitude task.
Three months after their counseling was over, all of the participants completed a Pay It Forward gratitude task in a brain scanner. Here's where things get a bit complicated, but stick with me: each participant was given various amounts of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and photos, to add to the realism of the task, appeared on a screen.
The researchers then told the participants that each benefactor said that if the participant wanted to express their gratitude for the monetary gift, they’d appreciate it if the participant gave some or all of the donation to a named third party (again, identified by photo and name) or a named charity. The participants knew this was all an exercise but were all told that one of the transactions, chosen later at random, would occur—meaning they’d actually receive the cash amount offered to them by one of the benefactors, subtracting, of course, the amount they chose to pass on (and the money they opted to pass on really would go to charity).
The researchers discovered that, on average, the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude the participant reported feeling, the more activity they exhibited in the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions of the brain. Interestingly, these neural-activity patterns appeared somewhat distinct from those that usually appear when brain-scan subjects complete tasks associated with emotions like empathy or thinking about other people’s points of view, which indicates that gratitude is indeed an incredibly unique emotion.
Even more interesting is the finding that the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these as “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects that were “particularly noteworthy.” They also highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity was the pregenual anterior cingulate, which is involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people. This key brain region identified, which has also been identified in another study, suggests that there is a neurological location where gratitude resides.
The takeaway from this study is that gratitude works, at least in part, because it has a self-perpetuating nature: the more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its proven psychological benefits.
The results from this study also suggest that the more practice you can give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset, meaning you can think of your brain as having an actual gratitude muscle that can be exercised and strengthened. This also means that the more effort you make to feel gratitude in the present, the more the feeling of gratitude will come to you spontaneously in the future.
It also helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can create a positive feedback loop: the more thankful you feel, the more likely you are to be empathetic, to understand others, and to act prosocially toward others, which can then cause them to feel grateful and set up a positive cascade that is highly related to the fact that our emotions and beliefs can affect not only our own minds and bodies but also the minds and bodies of those around us.
In another study on the ability of gratitude to change the brain, researchers at USC’s Shoah Foundation, which houses the world’s largest collection of Holocaust testimonies, poured over hundreds of hours of footage to identify compelling stories of survivors receiving aid from others. Many of the survivors talked about receiving life-saving help from other people—from being hidden by strangers during the middle of the Nazi manhunt to being given a new pair of shoes during a wintertime march. They also talked about receiving gifts such as a morsel of bread or a bed at night.
These stories were then turned into 48 brief vignettes, which the 23 study participants read while lying in a brain scanner. For example, one vignette said, “A woman at the immigration agency stamps your passport so you can flee to England.” For each vignette, participants were asked to immerse themselves in the context of the Holocaust, imagine how they would feel if they were in the same situation, and then rate how grateful they felt—all while the fMRI machine recorded their brain activity.
The researchers discovered that the most grateful brains showed enhanced activity in two primary regions of the brain: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding, rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and high levels of empathy—the ability to understand the mental states of others.
In other words, while a lot of people associate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing, what these researchers found was something just a bit more interesting. The pattern of brain activity in the study participants showed that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is built around how others seek to benefit us. Gratitude isn’t merely about receiving a reward, and in fact, gratitude doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It instead involves and changes more complex areas of the brain involving morality, connecting with others, and adopting others' perspectives.
How To Practice Gratitude
OK, so now that you know what gratitude is, and four proven benefits of gratefulness, you may be left wondering how to practice gratitude in a systematic way that allows you to turn it into an easy daily habit.
How can you start and end each day with conscious and mindful gratitude, so that positive emotions, empathy, better sleep, better health, fewer aches and pains, a more resilient nervous system and all the other benefits you've just discovered begin to pour into your life all day long?
I'm about to tell you how. But first, a quick story. Before beginning to journal using the method and the actual gratitude journal that you’re about to discover, I’d often find myself jumping out of bed without a thought of thanks, haphazardly bouncing about the day without any structured gratefulness practice, and thinking far too seldom about how I could take the time to help or serve or empathize with others. As a busy personal trainer, health and longevity coach, fitness and nutrition author and speaker, it seemed like this was all I had time for.
But now my life is much different, and, in addition to all the physical and physiological rewards you've already discovered, there are four additional specific benefits I’ve personally experienced by combining a daily practice of gratefulness with the other strategies you’ll find in the journaling method I'm about to share with you.
Rolling over in bed and having my gratitude journal right there waiting for me has forced me to stay accountable to myself to complete each day in the journal. I wince if I see a missed day of gratefulness. But I’m not the only one in my family who journals. My wife and twin sons also follow the same journaling method I now follow. This means that we are all to hold each other accountable in our practice of gratefulness and our service to others. Each night, we bring our journals when we gather at the table for dinner and share what it is that we were most grateful for, the truths that we discovered from the daily inspirational verse and reading at the top of each page in our journal, and who it is we specifically identified to help or serve that day.
If you’re part of a family or in a relationship with a loved one, I recommend bringing your own gratitude journals to the breakfast or dinner table to share your entries and to use as fodder for deep and meaningful conversation around a meal.
When you begin a daily practice of gratitude journaling, you’re forced to start your day with something other than jumping into emails, checking social media or launching into a shower, chores or a workout. Rather than feeling rushed and stressed, you’ll discover that when you take just a few patient minutes to begin your day with journaling, you’ll feel more relaxed, you’ll shift into the mindset that you have an affluence of time, your stress will be lower, and you’ll fall into a deeper, more healthy breathing pattern. Beginning each day with patience and stillness is an incredibly calming way to live your life.
As you learned earlier, I pair my journaling with a quick measurement of my nervous system resilience by using a heart rate variability measurement, so it makes perfect sense to begin the first several minutes of my day with peace, breathwork, stillness and gratitude journaling.
As you’ll see in a moment when I describe my own journaling method and journal below, each day of my journaling begins with a quick inspirational reading—in my case from a good study Bible, from a tiny, convenient devotional called “Our Daily Bread” or from a spiritual book. Every step is simple and structured: I simply read from my chosen Bible reading plan or, if time is tight, read the inspirational quote on the top of the journal for that day, or read the single page from Our Daily Bread. The same goes for gratitude and service.
Rather than overwhelming myself by listing a huge number of things I'm thankful for, I list just one item of gratitude for that day. Beginning each day with this simple, reliable structure allowed me to quickly develop and maintain a positive habit of journaling.
In recent years, after reading the excellent books “Hole In The Gospel” and “Unfinished,” I realized and was convicted of a distinct lack of service in my busy, day-to-day routine—and a distinct lack of displaying to my own children the importance of volunteering and service in our local community. Sure, I read my Bible, I prayed, I had excellent health, I took good care of my family, and I lived what appeared on the outside to be a happy and successful life. But there was a glaring absence of attention to the world’s needs for everything from food to water, a lack of a humble willingness to go get to know and serve my neighbors, and an embarrassingly low amount of volunteering and charity work in my local community. But now that I start every day by listing one person I can help, pray for or serve, it’s transformed my attitude and changed me into a far less selfish and far more aware, selfless and serving person.
OK, so I know you're now wondering—how is it that I am personally gratitude journaling and what gratitude journal do I use every day to achieve all these positive effects? Let's start with three questions I ask myself and answer each day.
The 3 Questions I Ask & Answer Each Day
OK, here are the three questions that, over the past three years of morning journaling, I've found to deliver the most value, fully optimize the mind, body, and spirit for the day, and allow you to enter in the day with a mindset to go out of your way to help and serve others.
Question #1. What am I grateful for today?
The first question I answer each day is based on gratitude. As you learned earlier, the reasoning behind this question is built on proven principles of positive psychology and the physical and mental effects of gratitude.
It's quite simple, really. Wake up, take a deep breath, close your eyes and dwell on positive experiences from the day before, the night before, and that morning as you’re lying in bed or perhaps sitting in your favorite chair. As you take that deep breath and close your eyes, ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” You’ll often find it is the simplest of things: the birds you hear outside, the sunlight streaming through the window, the pitter-patter of a child’s feet going up or down stairs, the soft skin of your lover in bed next to you, or simply the refreshed feeling of having experienced a solid night’s rest. Then, simply write down what it is that first comes to your mind. Sometimes, things can be a bit more difficult: you don’t have a great night of sleep, you wake up with the sniffles, your phone is blowing up with texts, or it’s a dark, stormy day outside. This is where the magic of gratefulness takes over because you’re suddenly able to find the silver lining in any situation, like how wonderful your toes feel when you wiggle them!
For example, two nights ago, I woke up groggy, having gotten just four hours of sleep. The day was cloudy, my wife was out of town with the kids, and I felt less than stellar. But as I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, I realized how grateful I was for the ability to breathe. As I filled my lungs with oxygen, I felt a surge of gratitude for something as simple as being able to take in air through my nose and my mouth.
So what did I write down? “I am grateful for the wonderful complexity of my lungs and how efficiently they delivered oxygen to my body with that single breath.” See? It’s that easy!
Question #2: What truth did I discover in today’s reading?
The second question you’ll answer each day is based on the truth you discovered in that day’s reading. Writing down the truth you discover will help you read with a seeking and open mind. You will often discover important, life-changing and inspirational truths that you may otherwise have missed.
In addition, when you read with the mindful attitude that you're seeking to find truth, meaning or inspiration in what you are reading, you discover far more and pay much closer attention to what you're reading, rather than just skimming the pages.
Here’s an example—recently, I felt frustrated that I did not have enough time to write in my book of fiction I've been working on. My reading for the day was Psalm 25, which, in verse 3, states, “Let no one who waits on you be ashamed.”
After reading that, I realized that sometimes waiting is a good thing. Sometimes we have no choice about the things we must wait for, but we certainly do have a choice about how we wait. I realized that rather than waiting in fear, apathy or shame, we can wait in patience and gratitude while seeking God’s wisdom, strength and direction, and trusting that God will give us the grace to embrace the pauses in life when everything we want to accomplish seems to be put on hold.
So I wrote in my journal that I learned that “Sometimes waiting is a good thing.” That's it. Short and sweet.
If I hadn’t been seeking some kind of truth while reading, I would have been far more likely to read quickly through that section without realizing the truth I discovered.
A few other quick tips for this second question:
- Don’t pursue too many truths. When it comes to a daily journaling and devotional practice, honing in on a single truth that speaks to you makes it far more realistic and, you’ll dwell upon that one truth the rest of the day. Rather than having a variety of takeaways running chaotically through your head, choose one truth and focus on it.
- Make the truth succinct. Resist the urge to write an entire essay. Instead, put the truth you have discovered into your own summarized, simple and elegant sentence, as I did above.
- Don't bite off more than you can chew. I simply read a few verses of the Bible, a single passage of the tiny devotional Our Daily Bread, or a few pages of an inspirational book. I know that otherwise, due to time restrictions, I simply won't stick to a morning reading habit to go along with my journaling. If you read for too long, you won't have much time left over to do your journaling, to identify someone you can help or serve, or to really narrow down your one truth for the day.
Question #3: Who can I serve, help or pray for today?
While most journals include a daily affirmation focused on “me-me-me,” “I-I-I,” “what can I achieve,” “what's so great about me?” or, as Stuart Smalley so famously quips in his Saturday Night Live skit “I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me,” my own journaling method is entirely focused on others.
I find that praying for others, thinking of others, and serving others is one of the most valuable, meaningful, and rewarding ways to start my day upon waking. When you begin this practice, you will find yourself meeting more neighbors, inviting friends over for dinner, volunteering in your local community, engaged in deeper relationships with your loved ones, and approaching your entire day with a refreshing, unselfish attitude.
And this too can be simple. Yesterday, I rolled over and looked at my wife Jessa lying there next to me in bed. I was not only overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude about how much she does for me, our household, and our family but also overwhelmed with the desire to really be there for her that day. So it was her name that I jotted down in my journal, and it was her that I went out of my way to both pray for and serve the rest of the day—in this case, by recruiting the boys to help me make her dinner so that she could relax. Another time, when I realized that our annual summer church program to feed children at a local poverty-stricken elementary school was kicking off, I wrote down the name of the school principal and said a prayer for him. Later that day I gave him a phone call to see if there was anything I could help with to get the program moving along—all steps I probably would have neglected to take if I had not started my day with a spirit of service!
So that's it. Gratitude is a heckuva powerful emotion that can release oxytocin, amp up serotonin & dopamine, give you better sleep, lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and so much more.
My family and I have turned gratitude into a wonderful tradition that brings us closer every single day and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. Gathering around the dinner table and sharing what truth we discovered, what it was we were grateful for, and who we identified to pray for, help, or serve that day is the perfect way to bookend gratitude at both the beginning and end of the day.
And the journal my wife, twin boys, and I use every day to unlock the power of gratitude, along with the value of seeking a truth each day and serving others each day?
I created it a couple of years ago, and it's called the Christian Gratitude Journal. It’s a small, beautiful, hardcover journal with an elegant design, chock full of inspirational verses, gratitude how-tos and much more. It is—in my admittedly biased opinion—one of the best ways to jumpstart every single morning for boundless energy the rest of the day.
How about you? Do you have any sort of daily gratitude practice? Or, how has gratitude positively changed your life? Leave your comments, feedback, or questions below!