Well-Being//

Small Ways to Incorporate Gratitude Into Your Life Without Keeping a Journal

From smiling at strangers to setting a “thank you” alarm, these strategies will help fill your life with joy, and enhance your health and well-being.

Nikola Ilic/ Getty Images
Nikola Ilic/ Getty Images

Gratitude journals are incredibly effective, but they’re not the only way to instill a sense of appreciation to your day. Whether you prefer a different creative outlet or simply find keeping up with a consistent writing exercise more stressful than rewarding, there are other small ways to practice gratitude on a regular basis. Researchers have found that the benefits of a tiny expression of appreciation — like writing and delivering a thank you letter — can last for an entire month. Gratitude has even been found to lower levels of stress and depression, and improve sleep

We asked our Thrive community to share the small ways they incorporate gratitude into their daily lives. Which of these will you try today?

Set a gratitude alarm

“About four years ago, I was introduced to Shawn Achor’s TED Talk, ‘The happy secret to better work.’ His talk inspired me to set a gratitude alarm on my phone for 9:00 p.m. each night. When it goes off, I recite three things I’m grateful for from the past 24 hours. Whoever is around me at the time participates too, and I always find that it’s really fun when the alarm goes off in large groups.” 

—Blair Kaplan Venables, entrepreneur and marketing professional, Pemberton, B.C., Canada

Send handwritten thank you cards

“I write notes each week to express my appreciation to at least three people. I prefer to write them by hand, so I carry thank you cards in my travel bag along with stamps. It’s made me a better observer as well.”

—Sue Hawkes, CEO of YESS!, Minneapolis, MN

End the day with a family bedtime recap

“We do a brief recap before bedtime with our kids to appreciate different things and events from our day. Bringing our kids into this practice allows us to connect with their feelings and thoughts, and helps guide them on what’s really important.”

—Giancarlo Molero, happiness innovator, Miami, FL

Visualize the people you’re grateful for

“There is something special and powerful about keeping a gratitude journal, but I find it hard to maintain. Instead, I lean on the power of visualization to incorporate gratitude into my daily life. The first moment I see my wife and son when I wake up, I smile with gratitude. Before I go to sleep, I do the same. And during the day, whenever I think of them, I use this visual memory to spark my gratitude until the next time I see them. It works every time.”

—Joe Kwon, executive coach, Oakland, NJ

Start each morning with a tech-free breakfast

“Most mornings, my husband and I wake up at sunrise, go for an 8 km. walk, and then return home to what we call our ‘candlelight breakfast’ ritual. We light a candle at our little dining table and sit down to eat breakfast together. During this time, we put our phones aside, set our intentions for the day, and share what we’re grateful for. We first started this practice during our ongoing fertility struggles, and we have kept at it for two years now. It’s a great way to begin the day feeling grounded in gratitude, conscious of the many blessings we have, and supported by one another.”

—Jodi Sky Rogers, author and fertility support coach, Johannesburg, South Africa

Help someone else

“I have incorporated gratitude into my life by helping others, especially on days when I am struggling. In a world that is so busy and sometimes cold, others feel lost in the shuffle, and I have found that asking, ‘How are you?’ or ‘Can I do anything to help you?’ can be life-changing. For the recipient, you’re acknowledging them, and helping them feel seen. And for myself, I feel a sense of compassion and healing. It helps on the days I need a gratitude boost.”

—Shelby Sudnick, coordinator at Tribe Relations, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Express appreciation for the little things

“Throughout each day, whenever I see people who have said or done something that I appreciate, I make a point to let them know that I’m grateful for the specific ways they’ve recently made a positive impact on me. Ongoing conversations like these can help start a cycle of gratitude.”

—Whitney Hopler, communications director, Fairfax, VA

Think of three good things

“I started a ‘three good things’ journal a couple of years ago, and it had such a huge impact on my mental health. I started to sleep better because I was going to bed focused on something positive rather than ruminating on my perceived failures from the day. It also encouraged me to look for more positives and be genuinely grateful for what I have, which impacted my mood and overall happiness.”

—Sophie Carefull, photographer, Bristol, U.K.

Shift from “I have to” to “I get to”

“We often show gratitude for big things but neglect to give thanks for small, daily gifts. I find that one way to incorporate gratitude into your life is to remind yourself that you get to do things, instead of feeling like you have to do them. For example, be grateful you get to drive your kids to school, or make them dinner. When you do the laundry, be grateful that you have clothes to wash, have a washing machine, and feel healthy enough to do your own laundry.”

—Jill Liberman, author and motivational speaker, Palm Beach, FL

Say hello to strangers

“When the day feels especially challenging, I make an effort to smile at strangers on my morning commute. It’s my way of acknowledging them without saying anything. Then, when I enter the lobby and see the security sitting at the front desk of the building, I always make a conscious effort of saying good morning to him or her. I think it’s those simple gestures that allow me to express gratitude for others in the world around me, and they always enhance my day by smiling back or saying hello.”

—Cecilia Grey, client liaison and content creator, Santa Barbara, CA

Bookend your day with meditation

“I do my daily meditations as a bookend to my day. As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I close them again and meditate on all my blessings. In the evening when I close my eyes, I take the time to reassess the blessings that I received and gave that day. Then, again, I contemplate which blessings I will receive the next day and bring to others. This cycle of acknowledging all the good that surrounds me gives me inspiration and a clear path to what I want to accomplish.”

—Shahrnaz Nancy Southwick, producer and writer, Los Angeles, CA 

Send a gratitude text

“Find an accountability partner and text three things you’re grateful for every evening. This is a wonderful way to get to know someone better as well!”

—Arlene Van Oss, community relations, San Castle, FL

Use your shower time to reflect

“For me, gratitude is being able to appreciate every experience: every touch, every word, and every thought that helps to create my life’s mosaic. I usually speak my gratitude messages out loud in the shower. There’s something about water that moves me. The shower water refreshes me. Gratitude helps me appreciate that I can live my dreams and help others do the same.”

—Gail Hayes, executive leadership coach and author, Mebane, NC

Think about a future gift

“Right before my morning meditation, I think of five things I’m grateful for, like the fresh blueberries in my morning oatmeal, or feeling thankful for my husband. Then, I list five things I’m grateful for that I don’t yet have. When I feel grateful for future gifts, it helps raise my vibration so I can attract more good things into my life. I always feel grounded and clear on my day’s purpose after this daily practice.”

—Katie Wolf, mindset coach at The Centered Creative, Nashville, TN

Take a moment for self-examination

“I’ve learned that authentic gratitude requires self-examination. With self-examination comes understanding and self-compassion. This leads to compassion for others wrapped in a spirit of gratefulness for ourselves and our fellow man. We can then look at strangers and send them waves of gratitude because we see them as ourselves, no gratitude gimmicks needed! Just earnestly examine yourself.”

—Demetria Bridges, voice and film actor, Boston, MA 

Say “thank you” in advance

“I like to say ‘thank you’ before I’ve actually received something. While writing an article the other day, I was struggling to find the right words. I stopped, took a deep breath, and thought to myself, ‘Thank you for bringing the right words to me.’ After taking a break, I came back, and the words flowed through me. This practice reminds me that I always have everything I need — whether I can see it yet or not.”

—Alissa Jablonske, blogger, Orange County, CA

Pause and reframe

“I have a trick I use when I encounter something that might inspire annoyance. I repeat the phrase, ‘Stop. Reframe. Gratitude.’ For example, rather than letting a pair of size-13 shoes absent-mindedly left in a trip-inducing position in a shared household set off a grumpy feeling, I remind myself that those shoes are a welcome sign that someone I love, with giant feet, is here, sharing this home with me, and I am quite happy that we are together — messy shoe habits or not.” 

—C.B., retiree, WA

Do you have a go-to exercise for incorporating gratitude into your daily life? Share it with us in the comments!

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