last updated July 31, 2020

Why and how to practice gratitude

by Rob Arthur

Most discussions about improving our health focus on what to eat and how to train.

There are countless other factors that require just as much – if not more – attention.

Take gratitude, for example.

Did you know that gratitude might be one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox for living your healthiest, happiest life?

What is gratitude?

While often difficult to define, gratitude might be best thought of as appreciating what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, representing a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation (1). 

Why might you want to practice gratitude?

A 2019 review found gratitude to be associated with improvements in a long list of physical, emotional, and mental health outcomes (2):

  • heart rate variability
  • cardiovascular function
  • sleep quality
  • blood pressure
  • immune response 
  • HbA1c levels
  • positive emotions 
  • life satisfaction
  • prosocial behaviors
  • stress during pregnancy
  • depressive symptoms
  • anxiety at death
  • cognitive distortions associated with weight and body image
  • stress-associated symptoms
  • anxious symptoms
  • substance use
  • suicide
  • quality of life

How do you start practicing gratitude?

One popular way to practice gratitude is by journaling. 

For example, you might write down every day three things for which you are grateful.

A tool like The Five Minute Journal might help you build consistency with this habit.

If you prefer less structure, consider meditating, praying, or thinking about things for which you are grateful.

If taking one of these approaches, minimize distraction to focus your attention solely on practicing gratitude.

Finally, you might simply practice saying “thank you” in a sincere, meaningful way.

This could be to a specific person – a friend, coworker, cashier, or server – or it could be more general – to God, the universe, or nobody at all.

You might even thank yourself 🙂

A key word we’ve been using has been “practice”.

Gratitude is a skill.

It requires learning. 

It requires practice.

It requires patience.

It won’t always come easily.

You won’t always want to do it.

That’s okay.

Start where you are.

Do what you can.

That’s all you can do.

You’ve got this.


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