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Gratitude Practice and 5 Ways to Unleash its Power in Your Life

Written by Johnny LoUpdated on May 30, 2023

Medical reviewed byAnthony Cardillo, MD

Clinical Pathology

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Gratitude is like a cozy fire on a chilly night. It's about appreciating the good things in your life, big or small, and feeling thankful for them. Studies show daily gratitude practice can improve mental health, stronger relationships, and increase happiness and life satisfaction.
Read on and explore the five ways to practice gratitude every day and feel the warmth from your heart.

Gratitude is more than just a positive emotion 

Gratitude is more than just being thankful for the good things that happen to you. It also means acknowledging the good that others do. 
This could include thanking friends and family for help, expressing gratitude to strangers for their kindness, or simply being grateful for the beauty of nature.
Gratitude is often compared to other positive emotions, such as happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. However, it is special in that it focuses on positive appreciation, even for the difficulties in our lives.
More importantly, gratitude has been proven to have a  long-lasting effect on our mental health and overall well-being.

The power of gratitude in our lives

Practicing gratitude to improve one’s mental health might sound like pseudo-science, but research shows that gratitude can positively affect us, especially the human brain. There are many objective reasons why showing a little more gratitude can benefit you just as much as making others feel good. 

How gratitude changes our brains

So exactly what happens in the brain when we feel grateful? Let's look closer at the science of gratitude and how it can transform our lives.
Gratitude helps the brain release dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ chemical. Dopamine release creates a positive feedback loop in the brain which encourages us to continue the behavior (1).
Additional studies also show that gratitude can activate the hypothalamus. This part of the brain supports many functions, such as stress release, improved sleep, and better appetite. The latter two alone affect significantly better mental health (1, 2 2).
Moreover, gratitude increases activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex. This is the decision-making, planning, and reasoning part of the brain. This boosts our problem-solving and decision-making skills at work (44,5,66)
Finally, a study suggests that older people who express more gratitude have better cognitive function. This association was partially mediated by the amygdala, a section of the brain that processes emotion and memory (77).

Gratitude shields us from negative emotions

Gratitude can reduce negative feelings, which can lead to better mental health. Research suggests that practicing gratitude reduces symptoms of anxiety and stress in people with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder  (88, 9).

Gratitude boosts physical health

A grateful person may also have better physical health. A study found that those who practiced gratitude had better self-reported physical health than those who did not. Gratitude interventions were also associated with better sleep quality, the foundation for a healthy body (1010, 11)

Gratitude builds strong relationships

We can also improve our relationships with the positive psychology of gratitude. Expressing gratitude towards one's partner strengthens emotional connections and increases intimacy (1212, 13)
Gratitude helps to promote positive social behaviors. Kindness and generosity to others help build stronger and better communities  (1414, 15)
Gratitude helps in many ways, but especially with strengthening cognitive and emotional control. Being grateful can also affect better mental health, improve physical well-being, and invigorate social relationships. Simply put, gratitude works, so count your blessings day by day.

How to Practice Gratitude

Gratitude is not just a spontaneous kind-hearted gesture, and it is a beneficial practice that we can cultivate. There are various ways to practice gratitude, but they all involve two main stages: recognizing and reflecting.

Recognizing the goodness in our lives

The first step in a gratitude practice is to be aware of the good things in our lives.
We can be grateful for basic necessities like food, shelter, and clothing.  We can extend this gratitude to intangible things like supportive relationships, good health, and positive experiences.
Consciously noticing and appreciating these things shifts our focus from what we lack to what we have.

Reflecting on how goodness came to us

After expressing what we're grateful for, the next step is to reflect on how this gratitude can become a part of our lives. This creates a better understanding and connection to the world around us.
If we're grateful for a supportive friend, we can reflect on how that person has helped us or even write a gratitude letter to them. A gratitude letter isn’t usually sent (or emailed) to the person.
If we are thankful for good health, we can reflect on the choices that have contributed to our well-being, such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

5 Ways to practice gratitude every day

Since gratitude helps us and others in so many ways, let's explore the ways we can implement gratitude practice into our lives.
Feel free to pick the ones that will best improve your well-being!

1. Keep a gratitude journal

Keeping a gratitude journal is simple. Write down three things you are grateful for at the end of each day. This practice helps to shift focus towards the positive aspects of life and can improve mental health and overall well-being.
Here are some tips for starting a daily gratitude journal:
  1. Set aside time each day: This could be first thing in the morning, before bed, or any other time you prefer.
  2. Be specific: Instead of' my family,' you can write 'my partner is always there when I need to talk.'
  3. Focus on meaningful experiences: For example, a moving conversation that affected you.
  4. Use positive language: Instead of ’I'm grateful I don't have to work overtime today,' try writing,' I'm grateful for the extra time I can spend with my family today.'

    Gratitude journal prompts

    Try some of these journal prompts to kickstart your gratitude writing exercise:
    1. What is one thing that made you smile today?
    2. What is one accomplishment you're proud of?
    3. Who is someone you're grateful to have in your life, and why?
    4. What is one thing you’re grateful for about your home?
    5. What is one thing you're grateful for about your job or career?
    6. What is one way you've grown or learned something new recently?
    7. What is one thing in nature that you're grateful for?
    8. What is one recently discovered thing you're grateful for?
    9. What is one way you've helped or supported someone lately?
    10. What is one thing you're looking forward to?
    Start journaling today for your own subjective well-being!

    2. Practice gratitude meditation

    • Video or audio of guided gratitude meditation
    A gratitude meditation practice focuses more deeply on feelings of gratitude and appreciation. This can help to cultivate a sense of calm and contentment, even in challenging times (16, 17).
    Here is a  step-by-step guide to practicing breath-focused gratitude meditation:
    1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down.
    2. Take a few deep breaths to relax and slowly close your eyes.
    3. Begin to focus on things, people, or experiences you are grateful for.
    4. Allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with these things.
    5. Focus on your breath and feelings of appreciation for several minutes.
    6. When ready, slowly open your eyes and get up.
    Practicing meditation for a few minutes each day can help you focus on the present moment. Joining a gratitude group and practicing meditation with others is also a way to feel supported and enjoy greater happiness.

    3. Use gratitude affirmations

    Gratitude affirmations are short statements that help us focus on the positive aspects of life. By speaking them out loud, we can feel more positive emotions and develop a mindset of appreciation. Eventually, this practice can foster a more positive outlook.
    Here are some tips for practicing gratitude affirmations daily:
    • Choose affirmations that resonate with you.
    • Repeat affirmations, ideally in the morning and before bed.
    • Say your affirmations out loud.
    • Believe in the affirmations and trust that they will change your life.

    Gratitude affirmation prompts

    To benefit from gratitude affirmations, you can start with one of the following or modify as you need:
    1. I am grateful for all the love and support in my life.
    2. I am thankful for the opportunities that come my way.
    3. I am blessed with an abundance of joy and happiness.
    4. I appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world around me.
    5. I am surrounded by positive and loving people.
    6. I am grateful for my health and well-being.
    7. I am thankful for the simple pleasures in my life.
    8. I am blessed with abundance in all areas of my life.
    9. I appreciate the opportunities for growth and learning in my life.
    10. I am grateful for the abundance of love and kindness in my life.
    Remember, the key is to choose those that resonate with you and to repeat them regularly with belief and conviction!

    4. Try mental subtraction

    When we take things for granted, it can be easy to overlook the many blessings in our lives.
    Mental subtraction helps us reflect on how different our lives would be without certain things or events. Visualizing the potential loss of something valuable helps us better appreciate its presence.
    Take a few moments to imagine a bad event that could have happened in your life but didn't. Imagine losing your job, health, or a loved one. 
    Think about how your life would be different without this thing or event, and then focus on feeling gratitude for having it or experiencing it.
    Regularly practicing mental subtraction can cultivate a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation for the many blessings in your life.

    5. Express gratitude and thanks

    Expressing your appreciation and gratitude is an effective way to foster positive emotions and enhance your relationships with others. 
    Showing gratitude can let the person know you value and appreciate them. This can build trust, closeness, and intimacy in our relationships.
    Some ways to show your thanks include:
    • Simply saying thank you.
    • Writing a gratitude letter or note.
    • Spending quality time with someone you are grateful for.
    • Doing something kind or helpful for someone.
    Though simply reflecting on what you are grateful for and feeling a sense of gratitude can be enough to improve your mood. Showing gratitude to others can help enrich your relationships and bring joy to you and the person you are thanking.
Gratitude practice takes on many forms, such as daily journaling, gratitude letter writing, meditation, gratitude affirmations, mental subtraction, or just saying ‘thank you’. Any or all of these practices can manifest peace and calmness, boost your confidence, improve your mental health, and bring joy and satisfaction into your life.

Start creating a gratitude list today

Creating a gratitude list can help you focus on the good things in your life. By combining this list with the five practices mentioned above, you can reflect on how much you have, even if it seems small or insignificant. 
You can write down the things you are grateful for, such as:
  1. People: Think about those who have supported and encouraged you. This could include family members, friends, coworkers, mentors, or even strangers who have shown you kindness.
  2. Experiences: Write down experiences that have brought you joy or taught you something valuable. This could include travel, learning a new skill, or spending time in nature.
  3. Accomplishments: Reflect on the things you've achieved that you're proud of, whether big or small. This could include getting a job promotion, completing a challenging project, or overcoming a personal obstacle.
  4. Simple pleasures: Take a moment to appreciate the small things that bring you happiness, like a good cup of coffee or a light summer breeze.
  5. Gratitude for yourself: Take a moment to reflect on your strengths, commitments, and accomplishments, and pat yourself on the back!

Tips for creating a gratitude list

In many beneficial practices, it is often important to focus on the details. That, and being practical, consistent, and personalizing things with creative flair.
  1. Be specific: Rather than simply listing a broad category like ’family,’ focus by detailing ‘my husband,' ‘my youngest daughter,' or ‘my aunt.'
  2. Use all your senses: Think about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that made the experience special.
  3. Be consistent: Set aside a few minutes each day to reflect and add new items to your list as they come to mind.
  4. Be creative: Write your list in a journal, fill a gratitude jar with notes, or make a gratitude collage.
That's all you need to know to make your gratitude list. Grab a pen and start writing and reflecting on the beautiful things happening in your life!


Think about the people who were kind to you, the meaningful conversations you had, and the goals you achieved—no matter how small. A daily gratitude practice can improve your mental and physical health, strengthen your relationships, and lead to a more satisfying life. Ways to cultivate gratitude include gratitude journaling, meditating, or writing gratitude letters. Let's start recognizing the goodness in our lives and be thankful for its presence!

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