For most of my life, journaling has been something I've felt drawn to but never had much success with. In the past, my attempts always ended up as dumping grounds for all my negative thoughts and feelings. What would start as writing about my day would devolve into a rant about what went wrong. I'd tell myself that having a place to vent was what I needed, but rather than "get it out of my system" as I hoped it might, I found my frustrations only grew. Inevitably, those journals became sources of great unhappiness for me. Even as I wrote in them, I knew I would never want to return to their pages and read what I had written.

Gratitude journaling was different. I discovered the concept completely by accident, and decided to challenge myself to write about one thing I was grateful for every day for 30 days -- but it didn't stop there. Instead of writing about my days in the usual way, which tended towards the negative, I wrote about how much joy there is in my life, and how thankful I am for the people and things that make my existence as wonderful and comfortable as it is. If you had asked me before if I was a grateful person, or if I took things in life for granted, I would have said I was, and I didn't. But the truth is, in the midst of my day-to-day life, I rarely took the time to feel true appreciation. Making gratitude into a daily practice was a small step with a very big result -- although nothing else had changed in my life, I began to feel happier.

For one thing, every page of my journal became a tangible reminder of how much happiness and love I have in my life. Looking through the entries is a guaranteed way to put a smile on my face. But more importantly, by cultivating gratitude in my daily life, my way of looking at the world began to change. I started to seek out and take note of the good in every situation (even the negative ones); I focused more on what I had than what I lacked; I let go of frustrations and anger more easily; I said 'thank you' more often and more sincerely to those around me.

What all started as a 30 day challenge turned into three years, four journals, and over 500 entries (and growing). My journals have changed a lot in that time (at first my entries were short and sweet, now they tend to ramble, resembling more traditional journal entries). Sometimes I add doodles, or art, or photographs, and other times I just write. But one thing has stayed the same: the sense that keeping a gratitude practice -- whatever it is and however you choose to do it -- is a powerful thing.

— Willow Arlen