5 easy ways to practice gratitude that are good for your health

by Aleza Freeman

Danke. Gracias. Merci. What are you thankful for today?

No matter how you say it, scientific studies show regular practice can change your brain, improve your health and help boost your self-esteem.

Who knew simply appreciating what you have could be the key to happiness?

Here’s how:

Health benefits of gratitude

According to a leading scientist on gratitude and UC Davis psychology professor Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., being grateful can benefit your physical, psychological and social well-being. This can range from feeling less lonely and isolated to having lower blood pressure and a healthier immune system.

Over the past decade, Emmons has studied more than 1,000 people (ages eight to 80). His findings suggest that practicing gratitude is good for the following reasons:

  1. It allows us to celebrate the present.
  2. It blocks toxic, negative emotions.
  3. It increases our resistance to stress.
  4. It gives us a higher sense of self-worth.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Research on nearly 300 college students seeking mental health counseling found that those who expressed thanks by writing gratitude letters reported better mental health up to 12 weeks after the experiment.That means practicing gratitude could potentially have lasting effects on the brain. 

Practice makes perfect

What are you grateful for? Your family? Your best friend? Your comfy pants? All of the above? Letting them know can help improve your mental health (just don’t expect the pants to respond).

Spreading an affirmation of goodness is as easy as simply saying, “thank you.” In fact, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that employees who are thanked by their managers are motivated to work harder than those who are not.

Thankfully, (see what we did here) we put together some easy tips to help make practicing gratitude an easy part of your everyday routine:

Tip #1 Keep a gratitude journal

Writing in a gratitude journal is an effective way to focus your attention on what’s most important to you. But sometimes getting your thoughts on paper can be a challenge.

If you’re not sure what to write about? Here are a few ideas:

  • Count your blessings: When you stop and think about it, there are many blessings in your life, both big and small. The Network for Grateful Living suggests including three to five things, from the mundane to the magnificent, for which you are currently grateful. 
  • Mental subtraction Write about what your life would be like if a certain positive event or events had never occurred (think George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life”). Sometimes all we need is a simple reminder to be thankful.
  • Write your own obituary: Okay, we admit this one sounds morbid, but reflecting upon your own death really does make you feel grateful. In one study, students who imagined their death experienced more gratitude than those who reflected upon a typical day. The practice helped them take stock and increase their appreciation for all the good things in their life.

Bonus tip: There are tons of cool journals out there. Pick one with an eye-catching cover that will help you stay inspired to write in it on a regular basis. As an added reminder, keep your journal in a spot where you’re likely to see it, like your nightstand or bathroom counter. Just make sure to put it somewhere less obvious when you have guests over. 

Tip #2 Write a thank-you note

Remember when your mom made you write thank you notes after every birthday party? You probably moaned and complained your way through it, but it turns out she was onto something. 

Writing thank you notes is more than just good manners. It can also be good for your mental health. Participants in a study by the Journal of Happiness, revealed that writing letters of gratitude lead to feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives. They also experienced a decrease in symptoms of depression.

The best thing about writing thank you notes is that you don’t even have to send them in order to reap the benefits. In the Gratitude Letter study mentioned earlier, 77 percent of the participants didn’t send their letters, and they still felt better afterwards. 

Tip # 3 Purchase an experience

Ok so maybe money can buy you happiness. The key is to spend it on an experience not material goods.

In a study on “experiential consumption,” those who purchased an experience, like concert tickets, felt increased gratitude afterwards.

So, forget about that cute pair of shoes you just saw on instagram (at least for now). Instead, splurge on something fun to do like going to an event, wine tasting, dinner out with friends or a weekend getaway. 

Bonus tip: Plan something fun to do with your canine cohabitant to experience the added health benefits of spending time with your pup.

Tip #4 Give someone a compliment

This might just be the easiest way to brighten someone else’s day and your own. 

According to Psychology Today, if given right, “a compliment can create so much positive energy that they make things happen almost as if by magic.”

This is because by giving a genuine compliment and being the source of positivity and happiness in the lives of others, you can also help enhance your self-confidence and foster good self-esteem. 

While giving and receiving compliments may not always come naturally, you don’t need to be an expert to experience the health benefits. You just need to be genuine. Take note of something that your co-worker did or that your kids actually remembered to make their beds without a reminder, and don’t hesitate to let them know. 

Giving someone a compliment is also an easy way to instantly boost your mood. We even included it on our list of 10 ways to feel better now.

Tip #5 Practice gratitude with kids

Being thankful isn’t second nature for kids. It’s something they need to learn, and parents can set a good example with these fun and effective activities:

  • Get your crayons, markers and colored pencils ready, and ask your kids to draw a picture of what they’re thankful for.

  • For the more tech-savvy tykes, Motherly suggests helping your kids create a video journal or password-protected blog of things they’re thankful for that can be shared with family and friends.

  • Ask your kids “notice-think-feel-do” questions about the gifts in their life to help them recognize the practice of gratitude.Greater Good Magazine suggests questions like: “Why do you think you received this gift? What does that feel like inside? Is there any way you want to show how you feel about this gift?”

    These types of questions will help kids think more deeply about gratitude and can help instill good habits for remembering to practice it in the future.

Making a little extra effort to remember what you’re thankful for goes a long way. And for us it’s all about the little things over time that can make a big difference. 

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Aleza Freeman