Clinical Editors: Andrew Bertagnolli, PhD and Amy Buchanan, PhD
When life gets hectic or challenging, it can be easy to forget what we’re thankful for. Though it may be tricky, finding time to express gratitude can significantly impact your mental and physical health.
“Practicing gratitude is a powerful way to improve your overall well-being and outlook on life,” says One Medical National Director of Virtual Behavioral Health Services, Andrew Bertagnolli, PhD. Research has linked gratitude to a number of health benefits, from improved sleep and heart health, to lower blood pressure, stress, and depression levels.
“This practice allows you to redirect your focus to positive elements of life, and can bring about a sense of appreciation or optimism,” says One Medical’s Director of Cognitive Health, Amy Buchanan, PhD. “From a cognitive behavioral lens, practicing gratitude supports balanced thinking.”
But you don’t need to dedicate huge blocks of time or make major changes to your daily schedule to reap the health benefits or gratitude. Even as little as 15 minutes of a day could support your mental well-being.
Looking to incorporate more gratitude into your daily life? Here are four straightforward approaches to get you started.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
Perhaps one of the most popular wellness practices these days, a gratitude journal is a dedicated written space (digital or on paper) where you can write everything — from the tiniest details to the big victories — that you’re thankful for.
“Set aside a few minutes each day, preferably in the morning or before bed, to write down three things you're grateful for,” suggests Bertagnolli. “These can be big or small, from a sunny day to a loving family member.”
It’s helpful to get specific and detailed about what you’re grateful for. “For example, instead of just writing ‘family,’ you could write ‘I'm grateful for my family's unwavering support and love, especially during tough times,’” he adds.
Don’t forget the little things that bring joy to your day. This could be a hot shower, clean sheets, a delicious cup of coffee, a day without pain or illness, or the comforting presence of a loved one.
2. Express gratitude to others
Speaking your gratitude aloud is a great way to connect with others and strengthen your relationships, in addition to your own health.
“Set an intention each day to take an extra moment to express thanks to people who have a positive impact, even in small ways,” says Buchanan. “Expressing gratitude this way can increase positive emotion and support positive relationships; not only does it positively impact the person giving thanks, but also those receiving thanks.”
Bertagnolli also supports taking the time to express appreciation to the people in your life. “It could be a thank-you note, a phone call, or simply telling someone face-to-face how much you value them,” he says. “Make it a habit to say ‘thank you’ sincerely and often. Acknowledging the contributions of others can strengthen your relationships and promote a sense of interconnectedness.”
Take a moment to acknowledge the contributions and kindness of those around you. You might send a note to a colleague recognizing their hard work on a project or simply thank your supervisor for their help with something. “Say thank you to someone whose work might go unacknowledged, such as the many people who work hard to offer services that make everyday a little bit better or easier,” suggests Buchanan. “This might be the person who took your food order, made your coffee, or cleaned your school or workplace.” Expressing gratitude won’t only make you feel good, it could go a long way in brightening someone else’s day.
3. Try a mindfulness exercise
You might also incorporate gratitude into a mindfulness or meditation practice. These exercises can help root you in the present and shift your mindset to a more positive place. “During your mindfulness sessions, focus on appreciating the present moment and the sensations, people, and experiences around you,” suggests Bertagnolli. “Try a gratitude meditation where you reflect on the things you're grateful for. Visualize these things and feel the emotions associated with them.” For some people, it can help to meditate on a mantra about what they’re grateful for. Others may benefit from guided meditation.
One exercise you might try is called a gratitude rock. Simply find a rock and keep it with you throughout the day. Carry it in your pocket or purse, or place it somewhere you can see or feel it at all times. Whenever you touch or look at the rock, stop and think of something you’re grateful for. Then at the end of the day, reflect back on everything you thought about.
4. Go for a gratitude walk
Spending time in nature can do wonders for your physical and mental health, so consider taking your gratitude exercises outside. Simply, pick a peaceful location and start your stroll at a comfortable, slow pace. Observe and appreciate your surroundings, using your five senses. Take in the sounds of the birds or leaves rustlings, the feeling of the wind and fresh air of your skin, and the smell of the trees and plants around you. Taking a moment to focus on your environment can help you find gratitude for the things in life that often go overlooked. Plus, the act of walking comes with a number of benefits as well.
Reap the benefits of gratitude over time
There’s a ton of data backing the health benefits of gratitude, from your life satisfaction to associations with better heart health.
But it’s important to remember that improvements to your health take time. “Remember that consistency is key when it comes to practicing gratitude,” says Bertagnolli. “Over time, these simple daily exercises can help shift your perspective toward a more positive and thankful mindset, leading to increased happiness and overall well-being.” You wouldn’t work out for one day and expect to have six pack abs for a month, right? It takes time and commitment to your health, so keep up the practice.
Gratitude exercises also shouldn’t be used to override, suppress, or minimize hard times. “As with other approaches that support ‘positive thinking’ it is important to practice gratitude in a way that doesn't invalidate genuinely difficult experiences or painful emotions,” says Buchanan. “When going through a challenging life experience, you should first acknowledge the experience and make space for related emotions. Gratitude can then be added as a balance point to this experience and serves as a way to ensure we see our experience through a balanced lens. When applied thoughtfully, gratitude doesn't attempt to erase challenging circumstances, but allows us to see life and its many facets, both positive and difficult, more fully.”
Have more questions about gratitude and your mental health? Our primary care team is here to help. At One Medical, we aim to provide exceptional care designed around you and your unique health goals. Sign up today to book a same or next day appointment — in person or over video — through our app.
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