Studies suggest that making a habit of noticing what’s going well in life could have health benefits.
Taking the time to feel gratitude may improve emotional well-being by helping a person cope with stress. Early research suggests that a daily practice of gratitude could affect the body, too. For example, one study found that gratitude was linked to fewer signs of heart disease.
The first step in any gratitude practice is to reflect on the good things that have happened in life. These can be big or little things. It can be as simple as scoring a good parking space that day or enjoying a hot mug of coffee. Or, perhaps feeling grateful for a close friend’s compassionate support.
Next, allow a moment to enjoy the positive experience, no matter what negatives may exist in life. Let positive feelings of gratitude bubble up.
“We encourage people to try practicing gratitude daily,” advises Dr. Judith T. Moskowitz, a psychologist at Northwestern University. “Try first thing in the morning or before bedtime, whatever works best.”
Moskowitz has been studying the impact of keeping a daily gratitude journal on stress relief and health. Practicing gratitude is part of a set of skills her research team encourages people to practice. These skills have been shown to help some people increase positive emotions.
Her team is trying to better understand how a daily boost in positive emotions can help people cope with stress and improve mental and physical health.
“Practicing these skills, may help people cope better,” Moskowitz explains. “You don’t have to be experiencing major life stress. It also works with the daily stress that we all deal with. Ultimately, it can help many feel happier and healthier.”
While practicing gratitude seems to work for some people, it doesn’t for everyone. That’s why Moskowitz’s research team teaches other skills, too. These include meditating and doing small acts of kindness.
Her team has been developing and testing these skills with people who have illnesses like advanced cancer, diabetes, HIV infection, and depression. She’s also worked with people who care for others with serious illness.
If gratitude is a regular habit, it can help someone learn to recognize good things in life despite the bad things that might be happening. Moskowitz says when under stress, many people may not notice all the moments of positive emotion that are experienced. With her research program, she’s trying to help people become more aware of those moments of positive feelings.
“Put some effort into experiencing gratitude on a daily basis and see how it goes,” Moskowitz advises. “It might be surprising — despite how bad things are — there are things to be grateful for alongside it.” And feeling grateful may help improve both mental and physical health.