Be Grateful: A Guide To Journaling And How It Can Help Your Happiness

Power’s Gratitude Journal:

So, you may have noticed that Jensen and I have different approaches in life. In fact, it’s our contrasting styles that we hope will make this experiment a bit more interesting. In regards to journaling, I adopt none of the methods that Jensen does 🙂 and as a result, my journal is far more free-form. Regardless, the goal is the same: re-wire our brains to become more grateful and in the process, improve our happiness. 

Gratitude Journal:

  • There’s not much of a method here.
  • The goal is to find 5 minutes to reflect on the day.
  • In those 5 minutes, focus on a few moments (2 or 3 will do) that made your day better.
  • I used to do this at the end of the day but I found that really didn’t work for me. The goal is to start off the day in a good mood, right? So I transitioned to thinking about it in the morning.
  • Now, every morning Monday thru Friday, I write 2 to 5 bullet points for items that I am grateful.
  • On certain days, when there is more to write about, I write a detailed paragraph going into thoughts, feelings, and events.
  • Once that thought is captured, I rarely go back to read what I wrote.

Since examples work for me I’ll include this one (chosen at random):

December 9 2016:

  • Lying in bed with Clara as she slept. Just listened to her breathe.
  • Had a good morning work out; really like the people at BJJ.
  • Something to be said about this time off; have to be grateful to the person responsible for it all.

Also, since you’re invariably going to have days with major setbacks, I find it important to write down what happened and why.

  • Writing it out helps me remember what triggered my anger/sadness.
  • My goal is to think of a way I can change/avoid the event that triggered the setback.
  • I also think of a few good events that occurred despite being in a terrible mood.

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues

All right, my wife initially made fun of me for this so feel free to pile it on – but now she’s a believer! I began this journal as a thought experiment but it quickly became something more. It dawned on me that what I was doing could be life changing. Think of it not as a journal, but a chance to build a life of happiness based on virtue.

I went ahead and created a webpage You should check it out, sign up and follow along. Every week I’ll send out a virtue and a goal. At the end of the week we can share our results. An example for this week is:

Week One’s virtue is Temperance: “eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”

Personal Notes:

  • show resolve to limit alcohol intake;
  • reduce consumption of junk;
  • develop well rounded meals;
  • no snacking;
  • food is just as important as drink.


My wife and I have resolved to go dry this week and undergo a purge. Goal will be to cut off alcohol, limit caffeine and increase our healthy food intake while cutting out junk. This might be a rough week!

New Year’s Resolution

Normally, I don’t do this crap. But I was inspired by Jensen’s Resolutions and owe him full credit. So chuck your shitty New Year’s resolutions (that you’ve broken already) and set some goals. It doesn’t take much: Goal, Measure, and Context. Jensen talks more in depth about this but here’s an example for you:

Goal: Improve physical fitness

  • A few possible measures: graduate to the next belt level in BJJ, stand up on a surf board (ride a wave, not white water), live without knee pain.
  • Context: I’m happier when I’m more active. Also, now that I’m not sitting in an office all day, its great to remember how much there is to life. Be sure to take advantage of this time.

I have 8 such goals, all achievable, and the list is printed out on my desk.

Jensen’s Journaling Practice

Preface: My journaling “practice” is constantly evolving, i.e. I’m always looking for ways to tweak it to improve ease and efficacy.What works for me almost certainly won’t work for you. But, my hope is that some of the principles behind the approach are useful to you as you think about and develop your own approach. 

My “three pronged” journaling practice (essentially based on the three lenses I use to view my life, i.e. yearly, daily, and weekly):

  1. Year ahead: I’ve always enjoyed thinking through and setting New Year’s resolutions so each January I typically write out resolutions/goals for the various “life buckets” that are important to me (more details on this in the Episode 1 show notes). I print out that page and staple it to the inside cover of the notebook I use as my day-to-day journal.
    • Time investment: 1 hour once a year
  2. Day-to-day: Each day (yet practically, I only do this M-F) I spend ~5 minutes answering the following prompts in my journal.
    • First, I’ll reflect back on the day prior and answer these questions:
      • What was the best part of that day? 
      • What could I have done better or what could have made the day better? 
      • What is something I did well that day? 
      • Anything else on my mind I want to jot down
    • Then, I’ll answer these basic questions thinking about the day ahead:
      • How do I currently feel?
      • What’s one thing that comes to mind that I’m grateful for? And I try and vary this answer up
      • What is the one thing I absolutely have to get done today? And then after journaling my goal is go into assassin mode with a laser-like focus to execute this one must-do task as early in the day as possible
      • What are some other things I’d like to get done today? I try to include no more than 3 things here
      • What am I most looking forward to doing today? 
    • And that’s it! 
      • Time investment: 5 minutes a day 5x a week (and I typically do this while I’m eating my breakfast at my desk).
      • Inspiration for this practice: It’s a variation on the Five Minute Journal, which my mom uses and enjoys
      • A quick aside: I keep my “master” to-do list in Trello because I like the way it’s organized, i.e. I can have a “board” for all of my Work to-dos, a separate board for Personal to-dos, my wife and I even share one for grocery lists (and we’ll have the various stores we go to represented as different columns on that one shared board) and I also use Trello’s board concept to keep track of gift idea lists, reading lists, etc.
  3. Weekly review: I have an Excel file (that has two worksheets) saved in Dropbox (so I can access it from all of my devices)
    • The first worksheet is my qualitative review of the week
      • It literally just has two columns – dates going down one column (and I use the date of the Monday for that week so this week’s row simply says 2/1/16) and then a comments field right next to that column
      • On Sunday evenings, I look at the entries from my day-to-day journal and simply write out one takeaway into this weekly qualitative tracker. I find that seeing these weekly takeaways all on one page/worksheet is helpful in identifying patterns.
    • The second worksheet is my quantitative review of the week (some people use the app Way of Life or’s Habit Tracker to do something similar and not have to worry about using a spreadsheet)
      • On this tab, I actually have weeks going across the top as my column headers and then my rows are effectively grouped by various things I’m working on that can be tracked/measured with numbers. 
      • For example, here are a few of the habits I’m tracking and the unit of measurement I use to record results:
        • “Read for Fun” – I’ll then have 7 rows under that topic, one for each day of the week, and the number (or unit of measurement) I use to record results for this habit is minutes spent reading for fun that day. 
          • I then average the numbers for the week and try and make sure the trend line there doesn’t decline too much week-to-week.
        • “Productivity” – For this one, I’ll have 5 rows under this topic, one for each work day, and measure success/failure with a “1” or a “0”
          • “1” means I accomplished the must-do task I set out for myself in my journal that day and a “0” means I did not
          • I sum the total of these rows per week and track that over time
        • I also track my strength training / workouts on this same tab in a similar format (although instead of using rows for different days I use rows for different exercises and then track how the metrics there, for the various exercises, trend week to week) 
    • One of the key lessons I’ve learned through doing this particular type of exercise is not to make it any more complicated than it needs to be. If you are not spreadsheet savvy, no problem, use one of the apps I mentioned above. And if you are spreadsheet savvy, develop a simple tracker tool that works for you (and ideally that you can view on one page – that’s why my columns are weeks instead of days for example).
      • The key principle behind this is “What gets measured gets managed.” And the psychological “reward” from entering a good “score” on your tracker helps reinforce habit loops (an idea talked about in the Power of Habit book we reference in Episode 1 as well). 
    • Time investment to fill out BOTH of these weekly tabs: 10 minutes once a week (and I do it on Sunday evenings). 

Journaling practice with my daughter (age 5)

  • My daughter has recently expressed some interest in writing in a journal, which I’m very excited about
  • So this weekend we’re going to go pick one out and she is very excited to customize/decorate it and really make it her own
  • Currently, after we read together at nights we talk about our day and have fun pondering and answering the question: “What was the coolest part of our day?”
  • So the only change we’re going to make to that existing routine, which we love, is simply to write it down in her new journal. 
  • She is very excited about adopting this new habit and I am too! Will let you know how it goes…