Gratitude is more than a self-help buzzword.
Medical professionals maintain that orbiting in an ecosystem of thankfulness has mental and physical benefits.
So if you’re in search of contentment, joy, and inner peace, cultivating some may be worth a try.
To that end, today we’re exploring 11 gratitude exercises for adults.
How Do Adults Foster Gratitude?
According to reports, practicing gratitude can positively impact your well-being. Specialists cite several potential benefits, including:
- More happiness
- Strength in the face of adversity
- Better sleep
- Reduced depression
- Increased immunity and reduced inflammation
Learning to foster gratitude as an adult can be challenging but worth every effort because the rewards are immeasurable. The keys to making it work are perseverance and commitment.
Magical healing fairies won’t appear overnight because you make one entry in a gratitude journal — but they may start to gather after sustained effort.
Think of gratitude as a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.
How Do You Build a Gratitude Practice?
We suggest you follow a basic habit routine for building your gratitude practice. Here are some steps:
- Attach your new gratitude activity to a trigger. A trigger is a previously established behavior that you perform daily, like brushing your teeth. The old habit reminds you to complete the new one.
- Start small with just a few minutes a day. Just choose one activity to begin with. When you start small and gradually increase the amount of time you commit to your gratitude activities, you’re more likely to stick with it.
- Create an accountability plan. An easy but effective way to maintain your progress is by using a big calendar and marking off the days you follow through with a big, red X.
- Get back on track quickly. If you forget or skip a day with your gratitude practice, get back to it the next day. Don’t give yourself a hard time about it.
Give yourself permission to mess up, forget, and be an imperfect gratitude practitioner.
Because adding good habits can be just as challenging as conquering bad ones, and you won’t get anywhere if you’re constantly criticizing yourself over a lack of immediate perfectionism.
But once you let go, it’s just a matter of weaving one or more gratitude practices into your daily routine.
11 Gratitude Activities for Adults to Boost Well-Being
We’ve reviewed the basics; now, let’s unpack how! Below, we’ve outlined a few gratitude practice ideas. Take what works and leave the rest.
1. Practice Meditative Mindfulness
The studies are in, and most suggest the same thing: meditative mindfulness can transform your life. As is the case with most exercises, the more effort you devote to the process, the more rewards you’ll reap.
While meditation isn’t directly related to gratitude, per se, it does cultivate a peaceful mindset, which naturally leads to a sense of gratefulness.
Pro Tip: Meditating isn’t easy at first — or maybe ever. If you can only do one minute to start, pat yourself on the back! Eventually, it will get easier, and you’ll be able to go for longer. Think of it like training for a mental marathon.
2. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Journaling is an exceptionally effective mental health medicine. It allows you to download the day’s conflicting thoughts, identify triggers, organize viewpoints, and separate the mental wheat and chaff.
Most people spend 10 to 15 minutes jotting down at least seven things they are grateful for. It can be something as small as seeing a beautiful bird or as big as cancer receding into remission.
Pro Tip: Keep your gratitude journal separate from other journals. That way, if you want to go back and read past entries, you’ll stay focused on the good.
3. Write Gratitude Letters
When’s the last time you sat down at a proper desk or table, pen in hand, paper in front, and wrote a hand-written letter to someone? If you’re like 95% of the population, it’s likely been a while.
But go ahead and give it a shot!
Penning thankful prose to someone who’s positively impacted your life can be a gratifying experience.
Not only is it a relaxing activity that fosters life-affirming self-reflection — which can soothe your parasympathetic nervous system — but the final product will brighten the day of someone you care about. And what’s better than spreading a bit of sunshine!?
Pro Tip: Personalized stationery is a nice touch. Consider placing an uplifting quote in the footer.
4. Make Gratitude Visits
In our digital age, it’s becoming increasingly rare to see people in person. But we’re a social species, and it’s good for us to spend time with folks we care about, admire, and respect.
So if you have the time and means, why not make an in-person visit to someone who positively touched your life? Thank them for all they did and spend time visiting.
Pro Tip: Bring something to drink and eat. Sweets, a cheese plate, a bottle of wine, or a basket from the local deli all work. However, be mindful of people’s diets. For example, don’t bring alcohol to a teetotaler or someone navigating sobriety. Also, avoid giving sweets to someone with diabetes.
5. Engage in a Daily Gratitude Devotional
A devotional can be religious, but it doesn’t need to be. Similar to meditations, devotional time is spent focusing on one topic. Unlike meditation, the goal isn’t to empty your head but instead fill it with things you’re grateful for.
Devotionals can be in the form of a prayer or just a casual “conversation” with the unknown. Moreover, you can do it out loud or in your head.
Start by doing it for three to five minutes a day. Over time, add a few. Ultimately, shoot for 15 minutes. It can be life-changing.
Pro Tip: Don’t lock yourself into a specific time. Keep it fluid. When the mood strikes, steal three to 15 minutes.
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6. Volunteer Your Time
Pessimism, envy, and want are strong forces, and they tend to obscure the positive aspects of our lives. But there’s a cure. Volunteering exercises compassion muscles — and it helps people recognize the good in both themselves and their surroundings.
Be careful, however, not to swan in and behave like a savior. It’s uncouth, inappropriate, and arrogant. Instead, learn from the experience. Humble yourself in the face of true adversity.
Remember that luck plays a massive role in every life — and only a few strokes separate you from the people or animals you’re helping.
Pro Tip: Lots of organizations need assistance. Practice self-care; don’t pick one that may trigger you. For example, if you are a recent victim of sexual assault and still working through the experience, you may not want to pick a group that focuses on that issue — for now.
7. Establish a Gratitude Mantra
Do negative ruminations regularly elbow their way into your mental foreground? Anyone who contends with this annoyance knows how distracting and debilitating it can be. But developing a gratitude mantra may help eliminate the problem.
How does it work? You simply make up a phrase of thankfulness. When bad thoughts descend, start repeating the words over and over in your mind. When it becomes routine, the mantra will have the power to blow away any evil thoughts fairly quickly.
Pro Tip: Pick a phrase that resonates with you on a soulful level. They don’t have to be grammatically perfect or people-pleasing; they just need to work for you! For example, I know someone who says, “I’m f***ing thankful for all my s**t!” It’s crude to many but works wonders for her.
8. Use Gratitude Clues
Visual stimulation can dramatically shift our mindsets, making gratitude clues an effective way to incorporate a thankfulness practice into your lifestyle.
What are they, you ask?
Gratitude clues are little physical and visual hints that remind you to refocus on something good. Some people get tattoos where they can see them; others wear special bracelets, rings, or jewelry; pictures and other items are also popular options.
Pro Tip: If you’re using items, give them pride of place in your home.
9. Practice Humility
Egos serve a protective purpose — but they can also hinder contentment if they mushroom to Jurassic sizes. From a mental health perspective, the main problem with outsized egos is that they’re often attached to higher expectations, and elevated expectations are laced with disappointment.
Taking a step back, detaching from our self-image, and letting a bit of humility wash over us can be a rejuvenating experience. It shifts the mind into gratefulness mode, which changes your energetic vibe and invites feelings of inner peace.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive for goals. Just also take time to bask in the wonder of the universe, and your relatively tiny place in it, which has a healing way of putting life in perspective.
Pro Tip: There’s a big difference between practicing humility and berating yourself. Healthy confidence and humility are close cousins, not adversaries.
10. Start Saying Grace
Did you say grace when you were younger? If yes, did you think about the words — or was it a rote poem or prayer you rattled off before digging in?
Don’t worry if you fall into the latter category. Most people do! However, giving grace another go as an adult may be the perfect way to jump-start your gratitude muscle. This time around, though, focus on what you’re saying and the sentiments behind them. It works better.
Pro Tip: Again, extending thanks before chowing down needn’t be a religious experience. A friend of mine who only believes in the here and now can grace the pants off nearly all the faithful folks in my life!
11. Make a Gratitude Vision Board
It’s time to get a little crafty! Vision boards are fun to make, and they genuinely help many people. To be clear, we’re not suggesting they have magical powers, but the ever-present visual reminder positively affects the subconscious.
Traditional vision boards depict people’s goals. Gratitude boards reflect what the maker already has, values, and appreciates. Keeping a graphical representation of our joys nearby is soothing — it can also help you focus on what’s important.
Pro Tip: You don’t need to display a gratitude vision board for all to see. Keeping it in a closet or private area just for you is perfectly acceptable. But you might want to keep it where you can see it often to reinforce the feelings of gratitude.
We hope you found our list of gratitude practice ideas helpful. Make them your own by adding personal touches, and understand it may take a bit of time before you notice the positive effects.
But it will happen, and once it does, you’ll have a powerful tool in your mental health maintenance kit.