11 Ways to Practice Gratitude Without A Gratitude Journal

Are you looking for a way to practice gratitude without the journals and mantras? Read on for 11 ideas for creating a gratitude practice that works with your busy life! #behappier #howtobehappier #howtofeelhappier #happierthanever #waystobehappier #tipstobehappier #happybooks #waystomakeyourselfhappier #howtobehappy #happinessactivities #happinesshabits #happinessmindset

When someone tells you that you need to find more ways to practice gratitude are you like “UH OKAY HIPPIE”?

Do you nod politely and mentally add gratitude to your list of Things I Know I Should Be Doing But Realistically Have No Time For? Right between ‘mediation’ and ‘drink more water’?

By now you’ve probably heard all the reasons we should add more gratitude to our lives. It’s scientifically proven that gratitude improves psychological and physical health, strengthens relationships, and it even helps you sleep better!

And maybe you know that already but you can’t quite make the gratitude journal thing happen. That’s okay! There are so many other ways to work it into your life!

11 ways to practice gratitude without a gratitude journal

1. Make it a daily, dinner-time question

Most nights, we ask each other “What was the best part of your day?” It is, of course, not quite the same as asking a “What are you grateful for today?” but contrarian 10-year-olds seem to do better with the former.

This one question is a sweet little window into each other’s lives. It’s a not-too-parent-y way to check in and a way to keep other people up to date but bore them with minutia.

I mean, you’re probably glad to hear that my podcast interview went well. You’re probably less interested in a 20-minute breakdown on how I pitched said podcast and how I’ll be promoting it. Likewise, I’m glad you made a soccer goal today! Maaaaaybe don’t need a play-by-play on the team dynamics. These short, daily updates keep things fun and positive and (usually) un-boring.

2. Get really specific

Vague, gray, over-arching statements don’t really get into our hearts and minds. But the nitty gritty? That sticks.

Not “I’m grateful for my apartment,” but “I’m grateful for the amazing morning light that I get in my living room.”

Not “I’m grateful for my best friend,” but “I’m grateful that Darcie and I share the exact same sense of humor and that the memes she tags me in are ALWAYS spot on.”

Not “I’m grateful for two days off this week,” but “I’m grateful that I have Friday off to hike through Afton State Park.”

You get the idea 😉

Related: 13 fun, interesting things to do on Black Friday that don’t involve standing in line at Target

3. Sneak gratitude into small talk

“What are you doing for the holidays?” = snore. “Soooo, what do you do?” = yawn.

“What’s going on in your life that’s awesome right now?” = sure to elicit interesting conversation and good vibes. Asking a stranger “What are you grateful for this year?” can feel a bit heavy-handed and invasive. Asking them “What’s awesome?” feel friendly and light.

Related: 16 questions that will make small talk so much better

4. Use an app

If we’re taking out our phones at the bus stop/during commercials/while the coffee brews, why not use that time for something other than Instagram stalking?

The Gratitude Journal app is available for both Android and iphones, it has a 4.5 star rating, and it’s on sale from now through November 28th. Let’s download it, try it, pin it to our home screens, and use that knee-jerk phone-checking habit a bit more productively.

5. Take a daily photo of something you’re grateful for

It doesn’t have to be beautifully lit, nicely staged, or Instagram-worthy. It can be a grainy photo of your car with the snow scraped off because your roommate is thoughtful. It can be a poorly lit photo of one perfectly ripe peach or your dog making a funny face. It can be a blurry photo capturing the joy of five high school friends who haven’t seen each other in years.

Taking daily gratitude photos pushes you to find something good every single day and since they’re in your phone, you’ll have access to all those happy memories when you’re stuck in a less gratitude-inducing situation.

6. Allow yourself to be grateful for ‘silly’ things

Do you get hung up on finding high-minded, Mother Theresa-esque things for which to feel grateful? In case you need it, this is your permission to let that ish go. You get to feel grateful for WHATEVER YOU WANT. Click To Tweet

Without exageration, here are some recent entries in my gratitude journal
1. Kenny’s amazing state employee health insurance so my Retin A costs $18 a tube
2. My super cute coffee mug
3. Friday Night Lights and the character of Tami Taylor

Obviously, I also feel grateful for my health, my career, and the fact that I have enough discretionary income to buy the aforementioned $10 coffee mug. But the importance of good skincare and well-written female tv characters should not be underestimated, guys.

7. Ask yourself why you’re grateful for that thing

On days when your gratitude battery is running low, it’s easy to fall back on The Usual: “I’m grateful for my health, my job, my family blahblahblahwhateverwhocares.” But when we ask ourselves why we’re grateful for these particular things, we’re forced to dig a bit deeper and we get a bit more appreciative.

Why are you grateful for your health? Because it allows you to attend dance class. Because it helps you pursue you passions with energy and focus. Because you weren’t always healthy and now that you are, it is awesome.

Why are you grateful for your job? Because your work BFF brightens every single day. Because it feels nice to be good at stuff. Because you believe that your employer is improving this little corner of the world and you love being part of that.

8. Make it a weekly practice on your social media platform of choice

Not everyone is inclined to share their gratitude publicly but it keeps some of us accountable. On Sundays when I remember, I write a #churchofgratitude post on Instagram. I see friends posting daily or weekly gratitude lists on Facebook. If you like to keep things short and sweet, you can limit yourself to 140 characters on Twitter.

I know it can feel a little ridiculous or braggy to list the good things in your life on a public forum. #Blessed has become such an overused hashtag it’s crossed over into irony. That said, when you share the good things in your life, you might be reminding other people to find the good in theirs.

9. Allow non-awesome situations to remind you of how lucky you are

How many times have you been swimming through life, happily taking things for granted, when you run smack-dab into a reminder of how lucky you are? This might look like your best friend getting laid off, your cousin’s unstable, unhappy relationship, or your co-worker’s health scare.

Theoretically, we know we should be grateful for our job, our happy, healthy relationship, and our low cholesterol levels, but it’s easy to forget. After we’ve asked that best friend/cousin/co-worker how we can help them get through this non-awesome thing, we can take a minute to be grateful that – at least for now – this isn’t an issue for us.

10. Literally talk to yourself about it

I am a champion car self-talker. Like full-blown, completely out loud conversations, with myself, pretty much anytime I’m in the car alone.

Sometimes these conversations are me + Terry Gross. Sometimes, these conversations are me verbalizing the ways I can find gratitude in an otherwise annoying situation.

“I’m grateful that I have a flexible work schedule that allows me to go to the DMV at 2 pm on a Tuesday.” “I’m grateful that once I get out of this damn traffic jam, I’ll be on my way to a warm house filled with humans and animals who love me.” “I’m grateful that my career is successful enough that it necessitates two hour meetings on a Friday afternoon.”

This weird self-talk calms me down, redirects my sulky energy, and gives me something to do while I sit in stop and go traffic.

11. When someone does something lovely or helpful, say ‘Thank you’ and, like, MEAN IT

Not the mumbled, automatic ‘Thanks’ when the barista hands us a latte. We’re talking about ‘I’m making eye contact and being almost awkwardly sincere right now.’

“Thank you, I really appreciate your help.” Or “Thanks so much, I know that was a hassle and I really appreciate how you went the extra mile.” Or “Thanks. You handled that beautifully.”

Or if you, like me, glory in emoji and all caps, you can scream “THANK YOU YOU ARE AN ACTUAL GODSEND I CANNOT IMAGINE THIS WORLD WITHOUT YOU ? ? ? ?” over Gchat.

(and then maybe throw in a gif of Phil Dunphy pointing and giving the thumbs up. Just for good measure.)

Creating a gratitude practice doesn’t have to be time-consuming, cheesy, or awkward. It can look and feel exactly the way you want!

I want to hear from you! Do you make gratitude part of your everyday life – with or without a gratitude journal? If so, how? 

P.S. If you DO want to use a gratitude journal, I love this one!

photo by Alejandro Gonzalez Valle and Jakob Owens // cc

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  1. Jess Lonett

    I don’t think it’s quite on the gratitude level, but I would say it’s gratitude adjacent. I have the One Day journal app on my phone and anytime something makes me smile out loud i try to write it in the app.

    Here’s an example from September 21st, “When sitting on my parents front porch I saw a little girl driving her Barbie jeep. She kept swearing and almost ran over her dog. Her dad had to turn down the speed because she was flooring it the whole time”

    It really helps me notice the little things that are bringing me joy because it’s easy for me to get bogged down by the less joyful things going on all the time! The act of writing it down allows me to be more present and appreciative in the moment. <3

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I love that! What a fantastic image! <3

  2. Kate

    Fun fact about me: I spent upwards of five years thinking Friday Night Lights and Saturday Night Live were the same thing (yep, I know) and therefore resisted watching FNL. Huge mistake. Tami Taylor also rocks my world.

    One of my fun gratitude hacks is that if I do go to synagogue I’ll actually think about modim anachnu lach (which is the Jewish prayer for gratitude) when we’re reciting it instead of mumbling it half heartedly and flicking ahead in the prayer book while making mental notes of important gossip in my head.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      That’s such a lovely thing to do!

      Yeah, we’re just now watching FNL for the first time. I resisted it for so long because football but it’s sooooo gooooood!

  3. Linda at Brooklyn Bread

    Sometimes when we are trying to get our kids to sit at the table and eat, we do “what was the best part of your day and the worst part of your day.” It is so hard for them to sit in a chair, but I am always amazed at how this still love this little exercise. Asking how their day was does not nearly the same response. It is definitely a neat little trick.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! My 13-year-old stepson clearly looks forward to tell us the highlight of his day! He gets annoyed if we forget to ask 🙂

  4. Calluna

    1. During one of life’s rough patches, I took the long way home through the neighborhood instead of direct. Every time I took that part of the drive, I challenged myself to find something brand new to be thankful for, and think “I am grateful for XXXX.” If there was nothing in my life, I’d look for inspiration on the longer drive. It would range from the weather to dogs to flowers in bloom, new paint on a neighbor’s house, or even not having a head cold that day. I was really shocked that I could go months without repeating (that I could remember) something. If I am having really tough times, I return to this. I don’t think it matters if you journal or not, so long as you find something to be thankful for – even something tiny – and note it mentally.

    2. Another year, my drive to work took me on an east bound highway that went up a hill in the morning, as the sun was coming up. One day, it was so beautiful, I blew it a gratitude kiss. After that, I liked it so much that I made blowing the sun a kiss into a habit, and even if I was not feeling grateful, blowing my kiss in the car would remind me to be grateful for having one more day with the sun coming up. If I was grumpy and tried to skip, I almost felt bad about it! “OK, sun, you deserve a kiss even though I am grumpy…”

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, I love this! What a sweet sentiment!

  5. Kerry

    I downloaded the gratitude journal app and did my first entry today.
    My life has taken a turn of events (divorce), and I find myself struggling to be thankful for my new life and style.
    This exercise comes at a much-needed time and I welcome the chance to change my mindset.
    Thank you for the blog entry about this.
    Much love!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Happy to hear it, Kerry! <3

  6. Marie Therese Batt

    I like how these suggestions are so engaging. Sometimes, I feel stuck with the gratitude journal because after I fill in my entry, I move on and forget. I want to try sneaking it into my conversations now. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thank YOU for reading! I so appreciate it!

  7. Peg Andersen

    I ended up here because of Rae Ritchie and her Sunday Suggestions. What a positive space. Back in the 90s and into the 2000s, I was a 4-H leader. One of my favorite things to do was chaperone kids to various events and places (19 of them to Wisconsin one year for an exchange, for example) I always asked them what was the very best part of today. And, what was the worst and how could it have been better. Some of these kids are coming back with their kids, now old enough for the program, and telling me they are doing the same thing. I love it and am so grateful that this little thing I did has had an affect on them. And thank you for reminding me what an important lesson it is for us all.

  8. Gem Wilder

    When we remember, I do “prayers” with my 6yo, which is talking about all the things in our day that we are grateful for. I also have a couple of friends who I regularly exchange texts with that include 3 things that make us happy. I’m just about to send mine off for today. They are:
    ~ A warm mug of hot chocolate when the weather is terrible outside.
    ~ Baby excitement (they are both pregnant).
    ~ My cute little shoebox office which I can shut myself in with my heater and quietly get my work done.

  9. Nicole @ MillenialMom

    I actually do keep a gratitude journal, but I love these ideas too! My favorite ones are the idea about making gratitude part of your dinner conversations, and the idea of asking people what is awesome in their lives. Over thanksgiving, I asked a bunch of people this question for my blog. And the responses were amazing. It was great to see how so many people can find things to be grateful even in the midst of a year of COVID and so much adversity on a personal level in some cases. I think, when we go through hard times, it is even more important to look for what you can be grateful for, which speaks to point #9.

    These are some really wonderful tips, and I am going to start asking people what is awesome about their lives in small talk from now on! What a great way to connect with others. Thank you for sharing such great ideas.

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