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5 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude Every Day

5 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude Every Day

Cultivating thankfulness can improve your physical, social and mental wellbeing.

Do you reflect on the good things in your life? Research suggests that gratitude has a multitude of benefits. 

Being thankful means you notice—and appreciate—all the things you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. You might call it counting your blessings. Whatever name you give it, cultivating that feeling has long been linked to better emotional health, and newer research suggests it may impart physical benefits, too. 

Even better, an attitude of gratitude isn’t something you have or you don’t. It can be practiced and nurtured over time. Here’s how.

The perks of practicing gratitude
It’s no secret: Being thankful is good for your mind. In studies, gratitude is often associated with better psychological wellbeing, including increased happiness, improved depression, boosted motivation and enhanced romantic relationships. 

“When we are grateful, it helps us have a better outlook on life,” explains Yevgeniy Gelfand, MD, a psychiatrist at Trident Medical Center, in Charleston, South Carolina. “We tend to appreciate things more and it really does put us in a place of abundance versus a place of need.”

Your positivity may even attract some new friends. “We tend to gravitate toward people who feel more grateful and are more appreciative,” Dr. Gelfand says. Building strong connections and having a healthy social network—one with robust interpersonal relationships—may help explain some of gratitude’s mental perks.

Although the scientific data is not conclusive, some research suggests that practicing gratitude has physical benefits, as well. Among other advantages, it’s linked to better heart health, improved adherence to medical treatment and even more peaceful slumber—perhaps because “worries can keep us from sleep and trigger insomnia,” Gelfand says. 

Practicing gratitude may help you deal with stress, too, which Gelfand says can tax the body. “When you’re stressed, you’re tired; you have less energy and motivation,” he explains. “If you’re not used to cultivating gratitude, you expect things to be uncomfortable so you’re likely to shy away from things that might bring you pleasure and joy.” 

It should be noted: To some extent, the health benefits of gratitude are likely a chicken-or-the-egg scenario; gratitude may improve your health, but being healthy may make you more grateful. More research on the relationship between appreciation and good health is needed.

Incorporating gratitude into your life
Ready to start nurturing your own sense of appreciation? It’s easier than you might think. Try these tips to get started.

Be intentional and detailed. Every day, take a moment to notice at least one new thing you’re grateful for, says Gelfand. It can be something in your own life or in the greater world. Dig a little deeper, as well. Instead of saying you’re grateful for your best friend or your spouse, for example, identify specific things that person does that you appreciate, such as being a good listener or making a good cup of coffee.

Write it down. Gelfand encourages his patients to journal regularly. He says that writing down feelings of gratitude lets you reflect on them better than just thinking about them. “It makes it a little more real and it helps to have something physical in front of you that you can go back and re-read,” he explains. 

Wondering what to write about? Try the following:

  • Your body and health
  • People you love, and who love you
  • Animals and the natural world
  • A nice home and good food
  • Pastimes you enjoy
  • Gifts, favors or nice words you received from others
  • Things you’re looking forward to

Of course, writing is not for everyone, and it’s okay to find your own meaningful gratitude practice. It might be taking a walk outside or just saying—out loud—what you are grateful for.

Borrow from religions. Most faiths have practices focused on gratitude, such as observing moments of silent reflection or saying grace before a meal. Even if you’re not religious, you can copy and tweak gratitude rituals from other traditions and make them your own.

Say thank you. Thanking people who’ve had a positive influence in your life is good for you—and for them. Verbally saying thank you is great, but some gratitude experts recommend writing your expression of appreciation and hand-delivering it for more impact. Even just thanking them mentally, in your head, may help.

Practice. Although some people naturally tend to be more grateful than others, gratitude is a trait that can be developed and honed. “Not only does the practice of doing it help us feel more gratitude in the moment, it has lasting effects,” says Gelfand. “The effect snowballs and creates an upward spiral. As we get better at being grateful and cultivating gratitude, it’s more readily available to us as a tool. It’s almost like muscle memory.”

Fostering gratitude may not benefit everyone’s health, and it isn’t a cure-all—you still need to practice good habits like eating a wholesome diet, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep. But it's pleasant, fast and free, with virtually no drawbacks. Why not give it a try?

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Sources:
LF Cunha, LC Pellanda, CT Reppold. “Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” Frontiers in Psychology. 2019 Mar 21;10:584.
NL Sin, S Lyubomirsky. “Enhancing Well-Being and Alleviating Depressive Symptoms With Positive Psychology Interventions: A Practice-Friendly Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session. Vol. 65(5), 467--487 (2009).
Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving thanks can make you happier.”
SB Algoe, SL Gable, NC Maisel. “It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships.” Personal Relationships. 17 (2010), 217–233.
American Heart Association. “Study: Gratitude is a healthy attitude,” “Thankfulness: How Gratitude Can Help Your Health.”
LS Redwine, BL Henry. “Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 2016 Jul-Aug;78(6):667-76.
LD Kubzansky, JC Huffman, et al. “Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Disease.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2018 Sep, 72 (12) 1382-1396.
SR Legler, EE Beale, et al. “State Gratitude for One's Life and Health after an Acute Coronary Syndrome: Prospective Associations with Physical Activity, Medical Adherence and Re-hospitalizations.” Journal of Positive Psychology. 2019;14(3):283-291.
RA Millstein, CM Celano, et al. “The effects of optimism and gratitude on adherence, functioning and mental health following an acute coronary syndrome.” General Hospital Psychiatry. 2016 Nov - Dec;43:17-22.
AM Wooda, S Joseph, et al. “Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 66 (2009) 43–48.
A Alkozei, R Smith, et al. “The Association Between Trait Gratitude and Self-Reported Sleep Quality Is Mediated by Depressive Mood State.” Behavioral Sleep Medicine. 2019 Jan-Feb;17(1):41-48.
Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “Gratitude Practice Explained.

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