• Sarah Lyall-Neal PsyD

Journaling for Gratitude

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

We are keeping with a theme this week. On Monday we discussed the style of journaling that works best for anxiety. Today, we are going to talk about journaling for gratitude. When we journal for gratitude, we should focus our minds on the many wonderful gifts we have received from God.

I talk about gratitude with my clients on a regular basis. When we are going through hard times, we often focus our attention on what we don’t have. Maybe we don’t have enough time or money. Maybe we aren’t feeling loved or needed. Maybe we don’t know what we are missing but we feel incomplete. When something is pulling us down, to many times we go with the flow and start to sink. We don’t have to go there, there is one thing that can pull us back to the surface. That thing is gratitude.

When things are really bad, sometimes we have to go VERY basic to find something to be grateful for. For clients who are in that place, I often ask them if they are grateful for a new day. Then, I explain exactly what a new day means. It means that they have survived whatever the world has thrown at them up till now and they have another day to live. I tell them they are survivors. I don’t know how many times I have said this and seen my clients look at me quizzically before starting to smile. Everyone likes to be thought of as a survivor.

Once we break the ice, most people can come up with at least a short list of things they are grateful for. Some common gratefulness items that show up on my clients’ list include:

· My family

· My pets

· My faith

· My home

· My food

Sometimes they get going and the list grows and grows. You might be surprised by how stress relieving a gratefulness exercise can be. When you are thinking from a point of gratitude, your mind is acutely focused on the positive things in your life. This level of positive awareness does not happen on a regular basis for most people unless they are engaging in a practice of focused gratitude.

Why Aren't We More Grateful?

As Americans we live in one of the richest countries in the world. In fact, even middle-class Americans are vastly richer than most everyone else in the world (let that sink in). Why aren’t we singing praises to God about our abundance every day? The answer is simple, we have become complacent. Many of us feel we deserve what we have, we work every day after all. What if I told you a lot of those other people work every day to?

If we read our Bibles, we see that God gives, but he also takes away. Let's take the Israelites for example. The Israelites are God’s chosen people. That being said, they were not grateful for anything God did for them. Like us, they were complacent. The Israelites worshiped their things and other God’s and didn’t thank their creator and savior for anything. This behavior was not pleasing to God and he did something about it. He sent them into exile for 70 years.

While practicing thankfulness is good for our mental health and will definitely make us feel better in some respects, it has an even greater purpose. Practicing thankfulness to God for all he has has given us will help grow our relationship with our creator. If we don't nurture our relationship with God, faith based practices will be futile.

Gratitude Journaling Utilizing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological needs: Do you have air to breath, a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in, clothing to wear, etc. – Take a few minutes to process what having these most basic needs met means and thank God.

Safety Needs: Do you feel safe in your surroundings? Do you have employment? Do you have access to health care? If you can continue saying yes into this level, you are extra blessed, take a moment to process the blessing and thank God.

Love and Belonging: Do you have supportive friends and family; these relationships can be online (online relationships are Real relationships). If you are continuing to say yes to these questions, you are richly blessed. Again, take a moment to think about the gifts you have been given and thank God.

Esteem: Do you feel strong? Do you feel free? Do you feel respected? Do you have positive self-esteem? If you can say yes to these questions as well, you are more blessed than most people. Thank God.

Self-Actualization: Do you feel supported in striving to be the best person you can be? Do people encourage your dreams and goals? Congratulations you are so very blessed. Again, Thank God.

It’s okay, if you answered no here and there to the questions above. We all have wounds and areas of growth. Utilizing this hierarchy is a fantastic way to see just how much we have. Focusing on what we have instead of what we would like to have provides such a sense of relief.


Write out the five sections of Maslow's Hierarchy. Out from each section write at least one (preferably more) thing you are grateful for. I'm guessing your stress level will come down as you focus on the abundance you have.

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord most high (Psalm 7:17)

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