Gratitude: The Key to Better Health & Lasting Happiness

What if I told you that one of the easiest, least expensive, and quickest ways to improve your health and overall well-being was as simple as giving thanks?

Yep, turns out it’s not the latest dietary trend, superfood, or exercise routine… it is the simple act of expressing gratitude.

I love when science backs up ideas that have long been viewed as “woo-woo” (aka emotional/spiritual) because it proves that our minds, bodies, and souls are intertwined, and when we harness the power of holistic living we are unstoppable.

The benefits* of cultivating a gratitude practice include, but are not limited to:

Increased duration and quality of sleep

Reduction of depression symptoms and increased feelings of happiness

Improved relationships, which is one of the BIGGEST factors in mortality rates

Less chronic pain and more motivation to seek medical care when needed

A reduction in “compare and despair” and “keeping up with the ….” (Which you are probably doing even if you think you aren’t)

Better body image and self esteem

Less tempted by fad diets and restrictive eating plans

More motivation to move your body in a way that feels good

Less stress and irritability

A powerful tool to help recover from trauma and abuse

 

Pretty great list, right? I know I could certainly use more of those things.

So let’s dig into some tangible and real-world ways you can start your gratitude practice TODAY!

But first, understand that this is MORE than an “attitude of gratitude”. While your attitude is important, it is FAR more important to actually DO things that express that gratitude.  (See Brene Brown explain on this here)

A few examples:

  • Keeping a gratitude journal. Either by the bedside or by your toilet… it doesn’t matter WHEN, it only matters that you regularly write something down.

And yes, writing by hand is key. Not typing or texting. Hand-writing is more closely 'linked' to our brain and body. (Too much science-y stuff to explain here, so just trust me)

  • Start a mealtime routine. Saying a quiet prayer or mantra, to yourself or aloud, before meal times is immensely rewarding and can actually help you digest and absorb your food more fully (see note above)

 

  • Writing or saying words of thanks to those around you. Saying ‘thank you’ more liberally, and to people who least expect it, is SUCH a simple way to bring more joy into your life and the lives of people around you.

My husband and I started a tradition of awarding small prizes and thank you notes to our neighbors who go all out to decorate their houses for holidays. We enjoy their efforts so why not thank them?

  • Send a friend, family member, or coworker an email or note (you can get away with texts or emails here if it means actually doing it, something is always better than nothing!) I recently sent my favorite yoga studio, grocery store, and mail carrier a hand written note of thanks and I am sure it was appreciated.

Beyond those easy and quick ideas, here are a few more personal and profound ways to practice gratitude:

  • Having a daily (or almost daily) meditation practice has been proven time and time again to improve mood, decrease stress, and help with treating pain and illness. Some of my favorite tools are the 10% Happier and Headspace apps. AND there are many free resources for guided meditations online. Don’t worry about doing it for long, even 2-3 minutes a day is powerful!

 

  • Focus on body gratitude. You can use a guided body scan to help give thanks for all the incredible parts of your body and for how they function OR you can do your own version, anytime anyplace. When I am walking the dog or cooking dinner or watching a movie I will silently give thanks for my strong legs, my 2 hands, or my healthy eyes.

Extra credit reading: I wrote a piece about this very idea, “Writing a Letter to Your Body”

  • Donate your time and/or money (but time is really the gold standard!) to a cause that matters to you. Giving back helps to be more grateful for what we have. When we help others our health improves. When we prioritize service, community, and “quality-time” the other things in our life just seem to fall into place. Call it karma, call it blessings, call it good luck… but trust me, it works!

(*More details on the health benefits can be found here, more information on the body image benefits can be found here)