The Power of Gratitude: How a Simple Practice Can Transform Your Life

When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, feeling weighed down by depression and anxiety, I decided to try something new: a gratitude practice. I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and a red sharpie marker, and started writing down everything I was grateful for.

At first, it wasn’t easy. But as I pressed deeper, asking myself “And what else?” over and over again, I found myself filling page after page with things I appreciated: my family, my friends, my car, even the little things like a warm cup of coffee or a sunny day.

By the time I was done, I had a list of over 100 items, and I felt lighter, more hopeful, and more energized. Gratitude didn’t just become a practice for me – it became a core value that I live by.

Since then, I’ve learned more about the scientific benefits of gratitude, and how this simple practice can have profound effects on both physical and mental health. Here are five benefits of a gratitude practice and I provided links to the studies for more information for you:

  1. Improved Mental Health: Gratitude interventions, such as writing gratitude letters, have been shown to shift attention away from negative emotions and improve mental health by fostering a greater appreciation for others and life circumstances. These benefits appear over time, suggesting that gratitude practices can have lasting effects on the brain and mental health​​. (link)
  2. Better Physical Health: Practicing gratitude has been linked with numerous physical health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, improved sleep quality, increased frequency of exercise, and better overall physical health. For instance, gratitude interventions have been shown to increase sleep quality and reduce blood pressure, contributing to enhanced well-being​​.(link) Further, gratitude practices are associated with lower blood pressure and improved heart rate variability, indicators of good heart health​​. (link)
  3. Increased Resilience: Gratitude can play a significant role in recovery from various conditions, including substance misuse, coronary health events, and depression, by fostering a sense of thankfulness and appreciation for life, even in the face of adversity​​. (link) This suggests that gratitude not only improves resilience but also aids in the recovery process from significant health challenges.
  4. Stronger Relationships: Expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships by showing appreciation for others, which in turn fosters a deeper connection and support network. This act of acknowledging others’ impact on our lives can enhance the quality of our relationships and encourage positive interactions and reciprocation of kindness​​. (link)
  5. Greater Overall Life Satisfaction: Gratitude is associated with a host of benefits that contribute to higher levels of life satisfaction. These include improvements in mood, immunity, sleep quality, and reduced risks of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain​​. (link) Regularly practicing gratitude shifts focus from negative to positive aspects of life, thereby enhancing overall well-being and life satisfaction​​. (link)

One of the things that I often encourage my clients to do is to start a Gratitude Practice. If you’re interested in starting your own gratitude practice, here are three tips:

1. Start small: Begin by writing down just a few things you’re grateful for each day. There is nothing too small to be grateful for. This list is for you and you are not trying to impress anyone to prove how grateful you are, so whatever you write down will work.

2. Be consistent: Make gratitude a daily practice, and try to do it at the same time each day to make it a habit. When I first started, I set an alarm to go off at 11:11AM each day with the prompt “What are you grateful for right now?” Every time it went off, I would open up my Notes app and write out 3 things. I liked taking a pause in the middle of the day, so it helped me to be present and to focus on gratitude. But I have some clients do it first thing in the morning or at night before they go to sleep. One client does it in the car, after she pulls into her driveway and turns off the car before going into her house.

3. Go deeper: As you become more comfortable, try digging deeper into your gratitude, asking yourself “And what else?” to uncover even more things to appreciate. One way to help you go deeper is to not repeat something already on your list. This is a practice – which means it is a habitual and intentional act that is meant to stretch you.

When we focus on gratitude, we find more things to be grateful for. If you want to change your life, a gratitude practice can be a helpful tool.