I often ask my patients to keep a gratitude journal. More often than not, that request gets raised eyebrows. They say, “That sounds nice, but seriously, how it that going to help me? I don’t see what that has to do with my health.”
But that is what I am for. I see how all the different aspects of your life shape your health. Health is not just about diet and exercise, or even your physical body. Health is also about your thoughts and feelings. And this is where gratitude comes in.
A gratitude practice can reshape your neural pathways—neural pathways that shape your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Gratitude is just neuroscience in disguise. And it is a highly underutilized tool for health.
Here are some ways gratitude can improve your health and happiness:
- Increases optimism
- Improves sleep quality
- Increases determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy
- Improves depression
- Improves aches and pains
- Improves exercise patterns
How is gratitude able to do all of that? Studies have found that gratitude practices increase blood flow and activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that governs eating, drinking, sleeping, metabolism, and stress levels. Gratitude also increased dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good physically and mentally.
So whether you want to lose weight, exercise more, sleep better, reduce your pain, or be happier, gratitude may be just the prescription you need.
Creating a gratitude practice
Most of the health improvements found in the studies resulted from a gratitude journal. Even just writing in your gratitude journal once a week can yield positive results. All you need to do is write down everything you feel grateful for that day or week. It can be big things or small things. It can only be a few things or many things. But keep in mind, gratitude is not about comparison. It is not about realizing other people are worse off than you. It is not about counting the ways in which your life is better. It is about true appreciation without comparison. If you have a hard time getting into a grateful frame of mind, start with what you could be grateful for and segue into true gratitude when you’re ready.
Gratitude Dinner Ritual
A great way to get the most out of your gratitude practice is to involve the whole family. Every night at dinner, have every person share one thing they are grateful for (or could be grateful for) that day. When you share your gratitude with other people, it can often amplify the feelings of gratitude.
There are many other ways in you can incorporate gratitude into your regular life. Please share your gratitude practice in the comments below. And remember, the more you practice gratitude, the more you will find things to feel grateful for and the more you feel grateful, the happier and healthier you will be.
I'm Dr. Carly and my mission is to create a health revolution. I believe that another prescription is not the answer. I believe in using natural therapies that go beyond the symptoms. And I believe that doctors should spend way more than 7 minutes with a patient.