How to Practice Gratitude and Improve Your Health

It’s often easy to practice gratitude when you’re on the receiving end of life’s greater fortunes. It could be the birth of a healthy baby, getting a promotion at work, or celebrating good health, or winning a major award. It can be trickier to feel grateful during times of hardship or the doldrums of everyday living.

But making a simple shift in attitude can better color your worldview, leading to better mental, emotional, and even physical well-being. In fact, numerous studies have shown that having a general attitude of gratefulness and appreciation improves your overall sense of well-being. Read on to learn about the benefits of gratitude to your mental and physical health. And get easy tips for integrating more gratitude into your life.

Gratitude Improves Your Mental Well-Being

One of the most impactful benefits of regularly practicing gratitude is that it provides an outlet to purge negative thoughts and emotions. Experiments tested what happened when people thought back on three good things that occurred during the day. The results showed significant improvements in subjects’ overall sense of happiness in just a few weeks.

You can do the same with some dedication. Over time, you will notice your frame of mind changes. You will feel small swells of gratitude multiple times a day, and not just in the moments you deliberately reminisce over positive daily events. Obviously, practicing gratitude alone can’t overcome clinical mental illnesses, but living a grateful lifestyle has lasting impacts on your brain and sense of happiness.

Gratitude doesn’t just help fight off down moods and negative emotions. Practicing gratitude helps reduce the number of hormones, like cortisol, your adrenal glands produce in response to psychological or physiological stress by as much as 23 percent. By perceiving life through a more appreciative lens, your parasympathetic nervous system (the calming part) is triggered. This helps combat stress hormone cortisol and perhaps increases the feel-good bonding hormone oxytocin.

Additionally, studies have shown that recognizing your blessings—especially during times of difficulty and strife—can lower rates of post-traumatic stress and help you feel more resilient. That means that even during stressful times, you’re better able to cope.

A shift from negative to positive framing is a large part of why gratitude is so effective at improving mood. Changing your mental focus from negative thoughts and emotions allow you to interpret life as being filled with positive feelings, events, and ideas. Since the positive shines through, you’re able to be more optimistic that good things will be in your future. That’s because you’re more aware of all the positives that exist in your present.

Practicing gratitude also eliminates the toxic practice of comparing yourself to other people whom you might perceive as being more advantaged than you. That helps you have better self-esteem. Being happy with what you have makes it easier to avoid desiring what others have.

Another, less obvious, aspect of mental health is your relationship with others. And yes, gratitude can help improve that area of your life, too. When you’re going through life looking for positive experiences, you’re more likely to be open to new relationships in the first place. Practicing gratitude also helps you see what loved ones do for you and how they add to your life. It makes you more likely to express your appreciation to those around you.

One study found that when romantic partners feel grateful toward one another, it can increase their sense of connectivity and overall satisfaction with the relationship. Other research found that those who were more gracious were more patient and made better decisions. Both of these attributes make for better relationships.

The benefits aren’t temporary, either. Practicing a grateful mindset during a down period will also help reset your mindset, and regularly focusing on your blessings can affect your mood long term.

Gratitude Improves Physical Health

It makes sense that being grateful would positively affect your mental well-being and relationships. But multiple studies have shown that living more appreciatively can also boost your physical health.

One major cause of improved well-being? It turns out that being filled with gratitude makes you take better care of yourself. Those who make gratitude part of their everyday lifestyle have been shown to eat healthier, exercise more, and go to the doctor regularly. Similar to how being grateful increases your patience, it also replenishes your willpower and decision-making skills. So, you can say no to overeating and yes to healthier lifestyle choices.

Beyond making healthier choices, cultivating a sense of gratitude has been shown to improve heart health by positively impacting blood pressure. In another study, researchers followed heart failure patients who weren’t yet experiencing symptoms. They found that patients who regularly wrote down the things they were grateful for had healthier heart rhythms.

The physical benefits of gratitude don’t stop there, either. Gratitude has been shown to have an impact on immune functions. And people who are more thankful also tend to sleep better. Instead of lying awake, ruminating over negative thoughts, focusing on blessings soothes the nervous system. That helps you fall asleep more quickly, sleep better, and sleep for longer. Unsurprisingly, those who practice gratitude also tend to be more alert and have more energy the next day. So, the next time you’re tossing and turning, try counting the good things in your life to help you rest easier.

5 Simple Tips to Become More Thankful

If you’d like to reap the mental and physical benefits of gratitude, try incorporating thankful habits into your everyday lifestyle. Here are five ways to add gratitude to your life:

  1. Write it down. It might seem old-fashioned, but writing down expressions of gratitude helps you stay focused on the goodness at hand. Every day, try creating a gratitude journal—write down three things you’re grateful for and why. You can also send thank you notes, emails, text messages, or letters to those you’re thankful for.
  2. Set some time aside every day to reflect on things you’re thankful for. Even if you don’t take the time to write them down, thinking about or saying aloud what you appreciate will help foster a grateful attitude. This could include having your family members take turns expressing their gratitude at the dinner table, or recalling the good parts of your day while brushing your teeth at night.
  3. Be grateful for the hard times. Perhaps easier said than done, finding the silver lining in times of difficulty can help you cope. Search for a lesson, benefit, or blessing in disguise during a trial. Obstacles are an inevitable part of life, so try your best to find the bright side in everything.
  4. Meditate. Mindfully stay focused on what you have to be grateful for in the present moment and the people who deserve your gratitude. Keeping yourself in tune with the here and now will help you let go of the past and chase away anxieties about the future.
  5. Give compliments. Appreciate a friend’s sense of style? Admire a co-worker’s ability to inspire her teammates? Say so! You’ll feel better for having expressed your gratitude, and people who feel appreciated typically go the extra mile for those around them.

Fully embracing the best parts of life on a daily basis can help you maintain a positive outlook even during tough times. The more you practice looking for the bright spots, the easier it will be to find them. And in the long run, your mental and physical health will thank you for the attitude adjustment.