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How to form a gratitude habit: Everyday ways to find joy and lighten your mood

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Practicing gratitude is good for your mind and body. Here are four easy ways to get started.

Feeling thankful isn’t just a normal, everyday thing. It can be a powerful boost for your physical and mental health. Giving thanks can bring you satisfaction. It may also boost your well-being.

But life isn’t all happiness, all the time. Sometimes feeling thankful or happy about your life can feel impossible. Having a gratitude habit, though, can help get you through those tough times. Plus, it can make the good ones even sweeter.

So, how can you bring more of this kind of positivity into your life? Here’s how to do exactly that, and why it can be good for your health.

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What is gratitude?

Think back to the last time you got a birthday gift. You were thankful that your friend or loved one gave it to you. It also made you happy. Feeling thankful and happy is a kind of gratitude.

Here are other examples of things and people you might be grateful for:

  • A fun trip or meeting a friend for coffee
  • The people in your life: your children, friends, parents and relatives
  • Your health. It could also be things like a gym class or yoga class that helps you unwind.

When you give thanks for the good things in life, you’re doing three key things:

  1. Paying attention to what’s already good in your life
  2. Giving yourself room for joy and love
  3. Setting aside negative thoughts about how you wish things would be

This is where starting a gratitude habit comes in. Having one helps you shift your thinking. It helps you feel thankful for the here and now, says psychologist Scott Glassman, PsyD. He is the author of A Happier You: A Seven-Week Program to Transform Negative Thinking into Positivity and Resilience.

How a gratitude habit can benefit your mind and body

Giving thanks more often can improve your mood in more ways than one. It can ease stress by helping you think about positive events and experiences.1

And it helps you change your focus. When you do, feelings of depression and anxiety can fade. But remember that being thankful isn’t a “cure” for everything bad in your life.

Many people tend to focus on bad news and events. But experts believe being grateful may be able to help push those dark thoughts out of the way. What’s more, it’s good for your health. It can lower your blood pressure. It can even help your body fight off illness.2

People who show gratitude tend to have stronger, happier bonds with others. They often feel closer to family, friends and co-workers too.3

How you can bring more gratitude into your life

Gratitude is easier to feel than you think, says Glassman. “Don’t save it for the large gifts in life,” he says. “Think small, like your baby’s smile or your favorite fruit. When you’re thirsty, be grateful for that cool glass of water.”

What this habit looks like for one person may be different for another. Here are a few ways to try building a gratitude habit in your day-to-day life.

1. Find a gratitude place

Choose one that makes you happy, says Glassman. Here are a few examples:

  • A place in nature, like the beach or under a tree
  • A place that reminds you of good memories, like a park bench
  • A place where you’re most comfortable, like your living room

Once you have a place, visit it when you can. You can use it as a place to write in your journal or work on a letter. Read on for ideas about how to do both of those things.

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2. Start a gratitude journal

A gratitude journal is a space to write down what you’re thankful for. It can help you feel less stress, as it improves your sense of well-being. The practice often includes list-making. Here’s how to get started.

  • Think about the best time of day to write in your journal. You can do it each night before you go to sleep. Or maybe first thing each morning is better. Your entry doesn’t have to be long. You can just jot down a few words.
  • You may want to write a bit more. That’s OK too. Write down 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for. It can be people or moments. If you draw a blank as you get started, don’t worry. Think about the basics:
    • Were your basic needs met today: clothing, food and shelter?
    • Did you meet or talk with someone today? Was it positive?
    • Did someone give you a compliment today?

3. Write a gratitude letter

Think about someone you’re grateful for. It can be someone from your past or present. Maybe someone gave you a compliment today. Write them a note, send them a text or email them.

“It doesn’t even have to be a full letter,” says Glassman. Tell them how they’ve had a positive impact on your life. This can have the same positive result for your mood as writing in your gratitude journal.4

4. Practice gratitude meditation

Writing isn’t the only way to have a gratitude habit. You can also take time to think about, or meditate on, what you’re grateful for.

If you want some help with that, it’s out there. You can search online vidoes or podcast libraries for ideas. (If you’re an Optum Live and Work Well member, you can find videos on your member portal.) You’ll find gratitude meditations to fit any part of your life. You can think about:

  • Family
  • Food
  • Friends
  • Nature
  • Pets
  • Work
  • Your home

So, now you have what you need to add more gratitude to your life. Start small and work your way up. Write in your journal once a week and add days from there. You don’t have to become an expert in a day.

Pick the gratitude habit that makes the most sense to you, and stick with it. Soon you’ll be able to tell if it’s truly the right one for you. It’s fine to stay with just one or move between a few. See what changes in your relationships, your outlook on life and your overall mood.

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Sources

  1. National Library of Medicine. How to improve mental health. n.d. Accessed March 28, 2023.
  2. American Heart Association. Thankfulness: How gratitude can help your health. Last reviewed November 10, 2020. Accessed March 1, 2023.
  3. Frontiers in Psychology. The influence of gratitude on the meaning of life: The mediating effect of family function and peer relationship. Published October 28, 2021. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  4. Journal of Happiness Studies. A brief gratitude writing intervention decreased stress and negative affect during the COVID-19 pandemic. Published February 24, 2022. Accessed March 3, 2023.

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