What Are You Grateful for? Here’s How Gratitude Training Can Boost Your Health

Do you live a grateful life? Practicing gratitudem training through gratitude exercises like keeping a journal of what you're thankful for can boost your health and well-being.

gratitude training

Researchers at the universities of Utah and Kentucky observed that stressed-out law students who characterized themselves as optimistic actually had more disease-fighting cells in their bodies.

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Going into the New Year, your health will thank you if—along with your other New Year’s Resolution ideas—you make gratitude exercises a part of your regular, daily routine. Gratitude training, through keeping a daily gratitude journal or other techniques, might be vitally important to boosting your health and well-being, just like regular exercise is. 

Health Benefits of Gratitude

Research shows that gratitude is correlated with positive emotional functioning, social relationships, and overall well-being.[1] Being thankful can also protect against mental health problems[2] and is associated with a lower risk of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and drug abuse.[1]

Gratitude likely also benefits diseases like heart conditions and cancer, helping things such as recovery, risk of relapse, and quality of life in these conditions.[1,3,4] One study found that patients with neuromuscular conditions who kept a gratitude journal had better positive affect (mood) and life satisfaction in both self-reports and reports by significant others.[5]

Researcher Robert Emmons has conducted extensive studies on gratitude and health. In one study, he and his team found that college students who recorded things they were grateful for on a weekly basis reported fewer physical symptoms, exercised more regularly, and felt better about their lives than did those students who recorded hassles or neutral events. Daily gratitude journals were associated with higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, attentiveness, and energy.[5] Other research found that young people can benefit too—even 6th– and 7th-graders who kept track of things they were grateful for showed a positive change in mental health and well-being.[6]

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How to Practice Gratitude

Gratitude training involves strategies that help to develop a sense of appreciation in your life.

One of the easiest gratitude exercises to practice is keeping a daily gratitude journal. At the end of each day, record at least one thing you are thankful for that day. You might write down something that inspired you, an event that made you feel good, or an interaction with someone that brought you joy during that day.

A journal is not necessary for a gratitude practice—just be sure to take time out of each day to think about what you are thankful for. Write a thank-you note to someone, call up a friend or two and tell them why you appreciate them, or just take a walk around the neighborhood and try to brainstorm how many things around you for which you’re thankful.

Questions to ask yourself regularly include:

    • What am I truly grateful for in my life?
    • What do I take for granted?
    • Who in my circle of family and friends do I take for granted?
    • What unique advantages have I been given in life?
    • What relationships and people am I thankful for?
    • What have I learned from experiences I initially perceive to be negative?
    • Why am I lucky to live in the place that I live?
    • How can I shift my perspective to see things more positively?

Although I like to think of myself as a very grateful and optimistic person in general, it seems that setting aside time in the day to practice gratitude intentionally can make a huge difference. That’s why my New Year’s resolution is to make keeping a gratitude journal a regular part of my daily routine. What gratitude exercises will you try?

Share Your Experience

Have you ever followed a gratitude practice? What were your results? What suggestions do you have for gratitude training exercises? Share your experience with cultivating gratitude in the comments section below.

[1] Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2014 Apr 30;12:63.

[2] J Abnorm Psychol. 2014 Feb;123(1):3-12.

[3] Scand J Prim Health Care. 1988 May;6(2):67-71.

[4] Psychosom Med. 2005 May-Jun;67 Suppl 1:S47-53.

[5] J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Feb;84(2):377-89.

[6] J Sch Psychol. 2008 Apr;46(2):213-33.

Originally published in 2014 and updated.


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