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Starting a Gratitude Practice: 4 Simple Ways to Do It

A minimum of three things is a great place to start, 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, Moskowitz adds—as small and simple as the fact that the sun is out or your coffee tastes good.

2. Keep a gratitude journal

As the most-studied intervention, keeping a gratitude journal is a great idea, Korb says. “This is just directing your attention to three or five things that happened that day or parts of your life that you’re grateful for, and writing them down.”

It’s better to take a few moments to really reflect on these little gifts, cognitive psychologist Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., science director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, tells SELF., instead of rushing to jot them down like a grocery list. She also recommends including people, or considering how a person might be the source or reason behind one of the things on your list.

You can do it a couple times a week or every day, Stern says. Try keeping a journal next to your bed to use in the morning or at night. While you can definitely keep it simple, if you do want to get more serious about gratitude journaling, the Greater Good Science Center has more tips here.

3. Tell people thank you, verbally or in writing

This one is a great addition to reflection or journaling, because it brings in that social connectedness element of gratitude. “Start saying thank you to people more often, and in a particular way,” Simon-Thomas says. The recipient can be anyone—a best friend, a spouse, a barista, a coworker, a sibling—but it’s more than saying “Thanks!”

The most effective expressions of gratitude—the ones that make both the thanker and the thanked feel good—hit three things, Simon-Thomas says. Here are the three main elements of a super-effective expression of gratitude:

  • Describe what the person did
  • Acknowledge the effort that the person put in, including if they sacrificed or forewent something
  • Describe how it benefited you

“When we do this more in-depth, reflective, and specific-to-the-person kind of gratitude expression, the feelings tend to be much stronger,” Simon-Thomas says. “We feel more warm, [and] the other person feels more recognized and validated. And that sense of bonding, of interdependence and mutual support is more robust when we… deliberately highlight those elements.”

4. Keep at it—it gets easier

Know that practicing gratitude might not feel particularly natural or good at first—maybe a little forced or effortful. “Some people, especially when they start [practicing gratitude], it doesn’t necessarily feel that good in the moment,” Korb adds.

But it’s totally OK if it feels weird, or you’re not welling up with warm and fuzzy feelings. Korb likens it to getting in shape with physical exercise: It might not make you feel good in the moment, but that doesn’t mean you’re not accruing benefits in the background that become more apparent over time. And, like exercise, it gets easier. “Over time it doesn’t continue to take as much effort,” Korb says.

Even as a longtime practitioner, “Some days it’s easier than others,” Mostkowitz says. “You might feel sometimes like you have to dig really deep.” It’s all part of the practice. As Simon-Thomas puts it, “We have the opportunity with those little moments in daily life to either relate to them in a grateful way or not.”

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