“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.” — Zig Ziglar
Ancient Greek philosophers had a healthy relationship with gratitude. Cicero famously said it was not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all virtues.
Can anything truly be good without gratitude? It’s a big question that even now we continue to investigate.
Researchers continue to find that a gratitude practice can have a positive effect on all sorts of things, like health, emotion, and even how productive you are.
But between work and life, keeping a gratitude practice can be difficult. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like simply writing the words “I’m grateful for…” is enough. That’s why it’s best to keep a few gratitude journal prompts in your back pocket. Having them on hand, especially if you’re new to journaling or need a little inspirational boost, is a good idea.
Below you’ll find a list of 10 easy gratitude prompts that will help lift you out of any journaling slump and into a feeling that can have big impacts on your life.
A gratitude practice doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. A little bit can go a long way, so don’t feel any pressure for it to be perfect. It is through feeling and expressing gratitude that you get the benefits, not by doing it one pre-determined way or how anyone else would do it. Your practice is uniquely yours!
Where to start
A blank page can be intimidating, especially when the subject of gratitude can feel so big and overwhelming. It’s not always easy to put into words, and there are so many ways to feel and show gratitude.
A small practice each day can boost your mood, and it won’t take very much time. Even just a quick list at the end of the day of events, people or things you are grateful for is a quick way to jumpstart your practice.
There’s no scientific data about when during the day is the best time to practice gratitude, but many experts suggest the morning is a good time because it can leave you feeling rejuvenated, energized, and ready to take on the day in a good mood.
Longer prompts can help you explore deeper into feelings of gratitude, but shorter ones are perfect for a quick boost of inspiration and good feelings.
While free-writing on a page can be cathartic, some direction can help you sort your thoughts and focus more specifically instead of writing vague statements that only seem to scratch the surface.
Here are some prompts to get you started:
- When you hear the word “gratitude” what comes to mind first?
- What do you love about your community? How has it helped you grow?
- Use the 5 senses to explain what gratitude feels like.
- What is an accomplishment you’re proud of?
- Name 3 ways you or the people around you have made your life easier lately.
- Write about a mistake that helped teach you a meaningful lesson.
- What’s something you have today that you didn’t have a year ago?
- Write about some positive news you heard or received recently.
- Explain the qualities you admire in your friends.
- Write a letter to the person you are most grateful for, and explain to them why. You don't have to send it, but you might feel even happier if you do (and they will get a boost too!).
Gratitude and its benefits
If you’ve ever tried a gratitude practice or have even given any of these prompts a try, you’re probably already aware of all of the great things a gratitude practice can help you feel and do. From improving anxiety to recovering from grief, the act has a host of benefits, including:
- Better sleep
- Reducing burnout
- Stronger mental health
- Happier relationships
- Increased motivation
“Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met,” researchers from Harvard University say. “Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
Simply put, a gratitude practice can make you feel lots of other positive emotions — which was likely what Cicero meant when he spoke so highly of it.
Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have studied gratitude extensively and have found that those who wrote about their gratitude were, overall, “more optimistic” and felt better about their lives. That may be reason enough to get on board with a routine!
Other researchers have zeroed in on the health effects.
“Researchers in the UK looked at psychological characteristics of over 8,000 people, and found that those who scored high on optimism and a sense of well-being enjoyed a 30% lower risk of developing heart disease,” according to Harvard Health Publishing. “Other studies report similar findings: in a study of over 70,000 women followed for over 10 years, those who scored highest on an optimism questionnaire had a significantly lower risk of death from heart attacks (38%) and strokes (39%).”
This may because negative emotions are associated with the release of a stress hormone, which comes with a physical response that can be damaging to the heart. Simply put, gratitude is easier on your body!
Lastly, a gratitude practice has positive effects on the people around us, even at our jobs. The more we can practice giving thanks in our personal lives, the more likely it is to spill over into our professional lives.
“Researchers at the University of Southern California showed this in a 2011 study of people with high power but low emotional security (think of the worst boss you’ve ever had). The research demonstrated that when their competence was questioned, the subjects tended to lash out with aggression and personal denigration. When shown gratitude, however, they reduced the bad behavior,” the New York Times writes. “That is, the best way to disarm an angry interlocutor is with a warm ‘thank you.’”