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7 Easy and Non-Corny Ways to Start a Gratitude Practice

Don’t roll your eyes—the mental and physical health benefits are legit.
How to Start a Gratitude Practice 7 ExpertApproved Techniques
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Be grateful for what you have! That advice may sound trite and, frankly, super annoying, especially when you’re having a really crappy day or otherwise struggling to look on the bright side. But starting a gratitude practice isn’t just some wellness gimmick: A growing body of research suggests that it can actually have a lot of physical and mental health benefits.

“The science of gratitude is pretty clear in showing how effective and legit it is,” Laurie Santos, PhD, professor and head of Silliman College at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast, tells SELF. For starters, studies have found that people who take the time to acknowledge what they’re grateful for are less likely to experience negative emotions and report greater overall well-being as well as stronger social support. There’s also some evidence that gratitude is associated with lower blood pressure and better sleep quality. (We don’t want to bore you with more science, but if you’re interested, here’s a detailed review of gratitude’s research-backed healing powers.)

But let’s be real: Just because you know a particular wellness ritual is good for you, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to start incorporating it into your life, especially if you’re in a low-energy or high-anxiety place. The really nice thing about a gratitude ritual, though, is that it can be incredibly low effort: There’s no special technique to learn and no significant time investment.

If you’re curious about starting your own, try one or more of the following practices for a few weeks and see how you feel.

1. Start by thinking about gratitude just once a day.

“Take some time every day, a few moments, to reflect on what you’re grateful for,” Judy Moskowitz, PhD, MPH, professor of medical social sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and president of the International Positive Psychology Association, tells SELF. The easiest way to build this into your life? Tap into gratitude while you’re completing a chore or routine that you do daily. Making your bed in the morning, unloading the dishwasher, cleansing your face at night—these little activities can double as the time you intentionally savor the stuff you’re thankful for. That way, it becomes habitual—plus, no need to rearrange your day.

Acknowledging a minimum of three things you’re grateful for is a great place to start, Dr. Moskowitz says, and “they don’t have to be brand new every day.” You might use ones like your health, your spouse, or your pet over and over again. They can also be seemingly trivial, Dr. Moskowitz adds—as small and simple as the fact that the sun is out or your morning coffee tasted amazing.

2. Keep a gratitude journal.

As the most-studied intervention, keeping a gratitude journal is a great idea, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, tells SELF. And it’s better to take a few moments to really reflect on these little gifts, instead of rushing to jot them down like a grocery list, she adds. The more you allow yourself to really feel your appreciation—versus simply going through the motions—the more beneficial the practice will be, she says.

For example, you might briefly detail what your bestie said or did that lifted your spirits after that frustrating office drama, rather than simply scribbling down their name. Or how, exactly, it impacted your day when the Starbucks barista gave you an extra pump of vanilla (on the house) instead of just jotting down “free latte surprise.”

You can do this a couple of times a week or every day, Dr. Simon-Thomas says—whatever feels doable. For a convenient reminder, you can try keeping a journal next to your bed to use in the morning or at night. And for another boost of motivation, consider investing in a cute notebook to serve as your official gratitude journal (we’ve got plenty of pretty options here).

3. Tell people thank you, verbally or in writing.

This one is a great addition to mental reflection or journaling because it’s an act of kindness that also brings in the social-connectedness element of gratitude. “You can write a brief note thanking someone who has been kind to or super supportive of you,” Dr. Santos suggests. “When we express gratitude to other people, it allows us to experience gratitude ourselves with the added bonus of improving our interpersonal relationships.”

The most effective expressions of gratitude—the ones that put a smile on both the thanker’s and the thanked’s face—involve being as specific as possible, Dr. Simon-Thomas adds. In other words, don’t just say, “Appreciate it” and call it a day. Instead, address the person by their name and describe what they did. You can also, acknowledge the effort they put forth in making you feel so good. That may look something like, “Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to help me move into my new apartment. I know it was a bit annoying and I really appreciate you making my life easier.”

“When we do this more in-depth, reflective, and specific-to-the-person kind of gratitude expression, the feelings tend to be much stronger,” Dr. Simon-Thomas says. “We feel more warm, [and] the other person feels more recognized and validated.”

4. Remember that practicing gratitude includes embracing the negatives too.

Counting your blessings doesn’t mean downplaying the very real bad things going on in your life. “Gratitude isn’t about ignoring the negatives. It’s not the same thing as toxic positivity,” Dr. Santos clarifies. For example, being thankful that you ended a dying relationship doesn’t mean you can’t also acknowledge the pain and sadness you feel over the breakup. “Rather, the idea is to use your attention to remember that there are always silver linings to be happy about, even when tough times come, so that you’re better equipped to handle them,” she says.

5. Take a couple of minutes to enjoy a “mindful” walk.

Let’s say journaling or writing “thank you” letters don’t feel quite like you. A less direct way to practice gratitude—and one you might already be doing in your daily life—is simply enjoying the world around you while you’re spending time outdoors.

“This can be as simple as going on a leisurely walk or taking a break outside for a few minutes and paying attention to your surroundings,” Dr. Simon-Thomas says. Stare at the trees. Smell those blooming flowers. Walk around your backyard barefoot. Whatever you do, just try to appreciate how beautiful even the little things you typically overlook are. (This is a form of “grounding,” and here’s a simple way to practice it while you’re spending time in nature.)

6. Reframe painful events to focus on how you’ll grow from them.

Being thankful is easy when everything in your life is seemingly going swell. But what about when chaos ensues and you’re having a really hard time? Perhaps you’re grieving the death of a loved one and giving thanks is the last thing on your mind. Or you didn’t get that “perfect job” and are seriously unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In times of high stress and anxiety—when a journal entry simply won’t do—Dr. Simon-Thomas suggests experimenting with positive affirmations to help you consider the lessons you can learn when this moment passes (which it will). For example, something like, “It feels incredibly unfair that my family member passed away, but I know I’ll appreciate the joys of life and come out a stronger person.” Or with the example of a career rejection, “I didn’t get the job of my dreams this time, but I know I’m talented and conscientious, and I trust that everything will work out in the end.”

Of course, this isn’t easy to do either, and usually comes more naturally to long-time gratitude practitioners. But with time and practice, these little re-frames can help you learn to find things to appreciate, even on the bad days, Dr. Simon-Thomas says.

7. Keep at it—it gets easier.

Know that practicing gratitude may not feel particularly natural or even good at first—in fact, it may feel forced and uncomfortable.

“It takes repetition, and so many of us feel like we don’t have time or energy to do this every day, but once you keep at it and put forth the minimal effort to maintain the habit, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of gratitude,” Dr. Simon-Thomas says. And if you’re still rolling your eyes wondering, Will this really work?, just think: What do you have to lose?