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How to Foster Gratitude

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 24, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

It isn’t always possible to change your circumstances, but you can change where you focus your mind and heart. Making gratitude a daily practice can increase your happiness and even improve your health. 

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is being aware of and thankful for the good things you have. These good things are not necessarily material possessions. They can be relationships, situations, or anything positive in your life. 

Gratitude is a feeling that might come to you spontaneously, but it's also a daily practice that you can cultivate. Choosing to count your blessings and taking the time to be grateful for good things in your life can have far-reaching positive effects. 

The Benefits of Gratitude

Increased happiness. Gratitude helps people feel happier and experience positive emotions. When you focus your mind on things that make you feel grateful, you will find that positivity follows.‌‌

Reduced depression. Verbally expressing or silently reflecting on gratitude decreases depression. Practicing regular gratitude has also been shown to protect against developing depression in the future. 

Strength when facing adversity. Gratitude is good for your emotional health. It can help give you emotional strength and resilience when you're confronted with stress, loss, grief, or trauma. Gratitude lowers cortisol, a stress hormone, in your body. Lowered cortisol levels help you avoid many physical and mental side effects of stress.

Improved physical health. People who are grateful tend to sleep better and have fewer aches and pains. Increased feelings of gratitude might even indirectly improve immune function and reduce inflammation

Community building. People who are focused on gratitude are inspired to give back and support their community in positive ways. This means cultivating gratitude will not only benefit you — it'll also benefit those around you.

How to Foster Gratitude

Gratitude can be felt and expressed in several ways. Your feelings of gratitude can be for the past (thankfulness for past memories and blessings), the present (appreciating what you have), or the future (an optimistic outlook). If you want to foster gratitude in your life, there are many simple strategies you can try. 

Mindfulness.Mindfulness and gratitude are connected. Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally focusing your attention on something. Even just a few minutes of meditation or prayer focusing on thankfulness can increase your feelings of gratitude. 

Say thank you. The simple act of saying a sincere “thank you” to others will grow your gratitude. Both saying “thank you” out loud and taking the time to write a thank you note will help you increase gratitude in your life. If you cannot thank someone personally, even pausing to thank them in your mind can foster gratitude. 

Journaling.Gratitude journaling doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated to be effective. One study showed that people who made a simple daily list of things they were grateful for reported a significant increase in happiness and life satisfaction after just 2 weeks.‌

Start saying grace. Pausing to express your thanks before eating is a popular practice for cultivating gratitude. Grace is commonly said as a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal, but you don't need to be religious to say grace. Just take a moment to express your thanks for your food and recognize the blessing of a nourishing meal.

Surround yourself with gratitude cues. Fostering gratitude might require some reminders. Surround yourself with pictures of people, pets, or places that inspire your feelings of gratitude. Leave yourself post-it notes with reminders of what you are thankful for, and make it a habit to take a moment to give thanks whenever you see them.

A Little Gratitude Leads to More Gratitude

When you make an effort to focus your mind and thoughts on things you are grateful for, you'll start to notice more things to be grateful for. Brain scans of people who foster gratitude have shown changes to the prefrontal cortex that make them more likely to experience gratitude in the future. This means that as you work to have more gratitude in your life, the positive feelings of thankfulness will begin to flow more easily and naturally. ‌

Fostering gratitude takes a little bit of time and intention, but your efforts will pay off. You will transform your mind and possibly even improve your physical and mental health by choosing to focus on gratitude. 

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

British Journal of Mental Health Nursing: “Positive Psychology: gratitude and its role within mental health nursing.”

Emotion: “Exploring the role of gratitude and support-giving on inflammatory outcomes.”

Frontiers in Psychology: “Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial.”

‌Greater Good Magazine: “Does Practicing Gratitude Help Your Immune System?”

‌Harvard Health: “Giving thanks can make you happier.”

The Journal of Positive Psychology: “Gratitude and health: An updated review.” 

‌Mayo Clinic: “To improve your health, practice gratitude.”

‌Psychology Today: “Gratitude”; “Gratitude Helps Minimize Feelings of Stress”; “Mindfulness and Gratitude.”

‌Teens Health from Nemours: “3 Ways to Practice Gratitude.” 

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