But now my life is much different, and there are five specific benefits I’ve personally discovered by combining a daily practice of gratefulness with the other strategies you’ll find in this journal.
Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people. Grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend preventive health check-ups, which can contribute to longevity. Gratitude also reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., author of “The Science of Gratitude” and a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression. Writing in a gratitude journal has been shown to both strengthen the immune system and help you sleep better and longer, and individuals who practice gratefulness report fewer headaches, less congestion, and less stomach pain.
Rolling over in bed and having my 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 this same journal. This means that we are all to hold each other accountable in our practice of gratefulness, our study of Scripture, our prayer and our service to others. Each night, we bring our journals when we gather at the table for dinner, and we’re able to share what it is that we were most grateful for, the Biblical truths that we discovered from the daily reading, and who it is we specifically identified to help, pray for or serve. If you’re part of a family or in a relationship with a loved one, I recommend bringing your 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 journaling, you’re “forced” to start your day with something other than jumping into e-mails, 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 there is “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’ll see, each day begins with a Bible reading. But rather than haphazardly deciding which section of Scripture to read for the day, or flipping open to a random book and chapter, your daily devotions will be structured and reliable. There will be no decision fatigue about where to go in God’s word. You simply navigate to the section for that day, and read. The same can be said for prayer. Rather than figuring out who or what you’re going to pray for as you’re praying, you actually write down your specific prayer focus before you pray, and of course, prayer is structured into every day. The same goes for gratefulness. Rather than being overwhelmed by listing “all the things” you’re thankful for, you simply list one item of gratitude for that day. Beginning each day with this type of reliable structure will allow you to quickly develop 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. 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 service, it’s transformed my attitude and changed me into a far less selfish and far more aware, selfless and serving person.
So how can you best use this journal to maximize these five benefits of health, accountability, stillness, structure and service? Here’s exactly what I recommend:
- Journal every day. Not only are the readings designed for you to finish the entire Bible in one year if you journal every day, but you’ll also develop your habit of gratefulness, prayer and reading practice far more quickly. On the upper left corner of each day’s entry is a space for you to write the day, month and year.
- Use a good study Bible. Even though a plain old Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room will do the trick, I recommend you use a good study Bible because it includes verse-by-verse study notes, history and culture notes, related passages, word explanations and many other features that make reading Scripture a more rich and educational experience.
- Choose a time that works for you. You can journal in the morning or in the evening, and if the Bible reading is long, you can even split it into two doses. Read, journal and pray in a quiet place removed from distractions, and whenever possible, in the same place each time, whether that be an outdoor sitting spot, relaxing in your bed or sitting at the kitchen table.
- Answer all three questions.
- 1. What am I grateful for today?
- 2.What Biblical truth did I discover in today’s reading?
- 3. Who can I pray for, help or serve today?
- It will only take a few minutes to do, and you will get the most out of your journal if you answer all the questions. As you answer each question, don’t feel pressure to write impressively or wax theologically. Just be truthful and speak from your heart.
- Breathe. While you read, journal and pray, focus on deep, relaxed breathing. This will still your mind, relax your nervous system and better oxygenate your body. I recommend box breathing (4 count in, 4 count hold, 4 count out, 4 count hold), alternate nostril breathing, or simply deep nasal inhales followed by exhales through slightly pursed lips. No matter which breathing method you choose, avoid shallow chest breathing and instead breathe deeply from your belly button.
- Finish with prayer. What were you grateful for? Give thanks to God. Who can you pray for, help or serve? Pray for them or pray for the opportunity to help or serve them. What Biblical truth did you discover? Tell God, and ask him to open your eyes and give you insight if you had difficulty understanding the day’s reading.
I’m overjoyed and, of course, grateful to be able to share this journal with you! If you want more journals for yourself, friends, family or loved ones, you can visit ChristianGratitude.com, where you can also find more information about the science and the practice of gratefulness.