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How a Gratitude Practice Can Help You Stay Healthy

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

The simple act of expressing gratitude has been associated with improved physical and mental health.

The American Psychological Association defines gratitude as "a sense of happiness and thankfulness in response to a fortunate happenstance or tangible gift" (n.d.). Gratitude can be both a STATE (I am grateful for a hot cup of coffee on a cold day" and a TRAIT (a long-term character trait developed through a practice of acknowledging moments of gratitude).


November is often a month where we reflect on all the things, we are thankful/grateful for over the past year. A few years ago, I took up a gratitude practice where I wrote a list of 5 or more things, I am grateful for each day. I have found this practice to be impactful and the research on the topic of gratitude is overwhelmingly positive.


Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease. If a pill could do this, everyone would be taking it - Mayo Clinic

Read below for 5 ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your daily routine. Consistently acknowledging moments of gratitude can help you move from a state of gratitude to becoming a person with the trait of gratitude.



Tip #1 - Gratitude Journal


This is a very simple strategy, but getting into a daily habit can be tricky. A gratitude journal can be as simple as listing a few things that you are grateful for each day. When you first start this habit you might find it hard to think of new things each day. Challenge yourself to come up with 1 or 2 new things each day. It is totally acceptable to be grateful for small things like the beautiful tree outside your bedroom window or your favorite recliner. Sometimes people find it helpful to choose a gratitude theme each week or month. For example one week you might choose to reflect on friends that you are grateful for and the next week, on parts of your body or health that you are grateful for.


"The positive effects of gratitude writing compound like interest. You might not notice the benefit of a daily or weekly practice, but after several weeks and months, you will" - Positive Psychology

Tips for writing a gratitude journal from Mindful.org

1. Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Tuesday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”

2. Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

3. Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

4. Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive—try not to take that good fortune for granted.



Tip #2 - Write Thank You Cards or Letters


Letter writing is one of the most frequently researched and validated forms of gratitude practice. Writing gratitude letters or messages have been found to result in increased happiness and reduced depression (Tomasulo, 2020, p. 129). This practice can be as simple as sending a text or sending a card.

1. Take a minute to think about someone who has positively impacted your life or who you appreciate.

2. Then write that person a letter or note letting them know how they have helped you and what you appreciate about that person and their support.


“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” - William Arthur Ward


Tip #3 - Gratitude Walks


There are loads of evidence to support the health benefits of walking. Famous people like Albert Einstein and Darwin relied on their daily walks. You can super boost the health benefits of a daily walk by adding in a gratitude exercise. What is a gratitude walk? Simply put, a gratitude walk is a walk where you focus and reflect on the things for which you are grateful from the obvious to the obscure. Some people find it easier to set an intention for a gratitude walk such as your family, friends, home, opportunities, or the environment around you. Check out these two websites for more information/tips on gratitude walks.


Tip #4 - Guided Meditation

When you don't know where to start, try a guided meditation. There are several apps or guided meditations online that can walk you through a gratitude-based meditation. Check out Mindful.org for some guided gratitude meditations that are only five minutes.


Here is a quick five-minute guided meditation from YouTube.com:




Tip #5 - Share your gratitude with others


Research has found that sharing or expressing gratitude with others can strengthen your relationships. Sometimes we take the kind things that family and friends do for granted. Noticing and ACKNOWLEDGING the little or big things that our families, friends, or people in the community, can change the tone of your day and the other person's day. This can be as simple as thanking someone, verbally expressing gratitude, or doing a weekly gratitude check-in over dinner.





In Closing


Building new habits can be tricky. There are several programs that you can join to help you get in the habit with a gratitude practice. Consider joining Mayo Clinic Health System's Discover Gratitude program. This is a virtual month-long program consisting of daily journaling about thankfulness, mindfulness, and kindness on journal sheets. The process of aging can be hard and many things about aging can be discouraging and frustrating - especially if you are managing chronic conditions like Parkinson's, arthritis, diabetes, and other health concerns. While a gratitude practice can't cure these conditions, there is evidence to suggest that it can help improve mood and your overall sense of well-being.


I wanted to end this blog on gratitude by telling you all how much I appreciate your support to me personally and to my business. I have been in private practice three years now and I could not have made it without the support and kindness of my colleagues, family, friends, and most importantly clients. I am thankful for all the clients and families who trust me with their care. I am grateful to work in a field where I get to know such interesting and kind people.


I hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season!


Thanks for reading!


Jenny Williams, OTD

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