I started practicing gratitude after my company’s HR somewhat forced my hand. I was participating in a leadership development program and had a below-average score on optimism. I was assigned a “daily wins” exercise as part of a (mandatory) career development plan. This eventually evolved into a voluntary daily-ish gratitude practice in late 2019, just in time to get me to a slightly more optimistic state right before COVID hit.
I was writing in my gratitude journal last week and it hit me: has someone ever thought of making an app for this? Turns out, there are a ton of free and paid gratitude apps available!
I’ll admit I can be somewhat of an old-soul/laggard. Initially, the thought of not writing in my little yellow journal, with the friendly lemons on the front cover, made me feel sad. But after test-driving a few gratitude apps, I’m excited to switch it up and plan to do a little bit of paper and digital gratitude.
However before I go into my reviews of the apps, allow me to take a slight detour and address a few basics first.
What is Gratitude:
If you’re looking for a more formal definition than just “being thankful,” my favorite is from David Steindl-Rast. “Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation that comes when you recognize that something is valuable to you, which has nothing to do with its monetary worth.” My favorite indirect definition, and more of a call-to-action, is by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron: “Appreciate everything, even the ordinary. Especially the ordinary.”
Why Practice Gratitude:
Gratitude has been widely studied with numerous physical and mental benefits confirmed. In fact, the benefits are so powerful that Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy from Duke University said “if thankfulness were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with health maintenance indication for every major organ system”
The world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons from UC Davis, has been studying gratitude for more than two decades. In his studies, he often asks participants to keep a gratitude journal for just 3 weeks, and yet “the results have been overwhelming.” He has studied over 1000 individuals, from ages 8 to 80, and found that those who practice gratitude consistently report a host of health benefits as outlined here:
Physical, Psychological and Social Benefits of Gratitude:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated.
Ok now that I hopefully have your attention, let’s explore some gratitude apps!
Best Free App: Gratitude
- Avg User Rating: 4.9
- # of Reviews in App Store: 12,715
- Cost: Free (robust version) or premium option @ $29.99/year
Gratitude offers a ton of features in the free version, and you won’t have an actual need to upgrade. Here are a few highlights:
- Unlimited journal entries
- Add pictures to your entries
- Nice prompts if you need some help getting started
- Daily reminders
- Receive daily quotes
- Decent selection of free affirmations that can help you speak to yourself in a more kind way
- 7-day, 14-day, 21-day challenge options to keep you motivated
They also have a unique Zen Digest feature that is like a curated Facebook-esque feed, but on gratitude and positivity. And ooh they came out swinging! The first quote on my Zen Digest was by Marcus Aurelius: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” I think I’ll put that next to my bed.
Best App for Me: 365 Gratitude
- Avg User Rating: 4.8
- # of Reviews in Apple App Store: 1,516
- Cost: $34.99/year (7 day free trial)
I think most people probably gravitate to this app because of the mood tracking and social media features. 365 Gratitude boasts of having the largest gratitude community in the world with over 500,000 members.
I was attracted to their more elaborate journal prompts, which are almost more like a daily devotional. There were a couple other premium features in the app that made me willing to shell out the $34.99 a year:
- Good selection of 5-minute meditations organized by topic
- Fun little animated e-cards that I can send to my parents
- More educational content and courses than other platforms
- Gamification of positive self-talk (with Joy the llama ha!)
Best No Frills Gratitude Apps: Grateful (iOS) and Presently (Android)
The appeal of these apps is in their simplicity. Both of the below apps are for gratitude journaling only. There’s no gamification, flashy features, or distractions. These can be good options if you find yourself overwhelmed by too many features and prefer something quick and easy.
Grateful (iOS only)
- Avg User Rating: 4.7
- # of Reviews in Apple App Store: 2,626
- Cost: $9.99/year
The app is really easy to use with a very simple layout. They have nice easy prompts such as “What made you smile today?” or you can write your own prompt. There is technically a free version of the app, but you’re only given a max of 15 entries and would have to keep deleting old ones.
Pleasantly (Android only)
- Avg User Rating: 4.9
- # of Reviews in Google Play: 25,228
- Cost: Free
Pleasantly takes a similar approach to Grateful. The app is beautifully designed and very minimalist. You can pick a design template and color scheme for your journal, select your prompt and start counting your blessings. Their free version also includes options to export entries, share entries, set reminders and much more.
In summary, I’ve found that taking 5 minutes a day to focus on what is good and wonderful in my life has certainly made me more optimistic and brought me more joy. You won’t suddenly become as zen as a monk, but data suggests you will come out ahead with time. Try to be patient with yourself. Even as I was writing this, I gave my husband the stink eye probably like 5 times. “Babe, can’t you go do that somewhere else? I’m trying to blog on gratitude!!” Oh, the irony.