Editor’s Note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports and is the author of Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.
It’s easy to have a sense of gratitude when things are going your way, or when a holiday like Thanksgiving calls for it. But just as showing love shouldn’t just be reserved for good times and special occasions like anniversaries, being grateful shouldn’t just happen in optimal circumstances or on set days.
With a little effort, you can find reasons to be grateful every day—and regularly practicing gratitude offers many health and wellness benefits that can boost your happiness year-round.
Stress is undoubtedly one of the biggest barriers to long-term happiness. Fortunately (pun intended), one of the biggest benefits of being grateful is its power to relieve stress. Numerous studies during the pandemic showed that—even in the face of significant psychological stressors—exercising gratitude had the ability to reduce stress and improve mood.
Gratitude practices can also reduce depression and increase self-esteem. This mood and confidence booster is especially helpful for young adults who experience symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression related to social media use.
One study of more than 1,000 high school students found that a daily gratitude practice fostered greater life satisfaction and motivation, while another study showed a link between gratitude and a reduced risk of suicide in college students.
Science has shown us that gratitude is an important, powerful skill for anyone at any age — and like any skill worth mastering, it takes practice.
Want to be less stressed and happier? Try one or more of the following four easy-to-implement daily gratitude practices listed below.
Create a gratitude album in your phone’s photo app and be sure to add at least one picture of something that makes you feel grateful. You don’t need to have special photography skills, and your images don’t even have to be images of real things. You can include screenshots of meaningful text message exchanges, events in your calendar, and the like. You can be creative, but keep it simple so you don’t feel pressured. Creating your album should be an enjoyable practice.
Once you start filling your album with pictures, make sure to replace some of your time scrolling through social media with the time you spend scrolling through the pictures in your gratitude album. Instead of comparing your life to others online, you will spend a few minutes each day appreciating all the good things in your life. It doesn’t take research to tell you how much better this would be for your mental health!
In a culture of instant gratification, it can be difficult to slow down, be patient, and find presence. Your breath is always happening in the present moment, so when you stop and focus on your breath, you can find presence. I recommend taking breathing breaks by pausing for just 90 seconds of deep breathing a few times a day.
Being in a state of gratitude can curb impatience, according to research. It’s easy to be grateful for your ability to breathe—considering that your breath is literally a life-sustaining force. During your breath pauses, as you breathe deeply, focus on how grateful you are for the ability to take each breath. Combining a focus on the breath with a state of gratitude will cultivate patience and create a sense of calm and presence.
Every day, tell someone – anyone – that you are grateful for them, their help, their presence, or anything good that comes to mind. You can write them a letter, send a text, call them or do it in person for even more impact. Sharing gratitude with another person enhances happiness for both.
The benefits are even greater in romantic relationships, where research has found that partners are more responsive to each other’s needs and express greater relationship satisfaction after receiving gratitude from the other.
In addition, expressing gratitude to one another continues to have a long-term positive effect on relationships six to nine months later, findings showed.
At the end of each day, think of three things that make you feel grateful. Write them on a piece of paper. You can use a calendar, a note-taking app on your phone, or put them in a prominent place where you’ll see them the next morning. I have a board hanging in our master bathroom where my husband and I write three things every night as we get ready for bed. We have the benefit of being able to share our gratitude list with each other and go to bed feeling grateful. Even better, research has found a possible link between gratitude and improved sleep.
Your nightly list doesn’t have to include monumental achievements or expensive things. In fact, you should avoid focusing too much on acquiring things, as materialism is associated with less happiness. Your list could include your health, time spent with friends or family, a good dinner, a nice walk, and more. When it comes to gratitude, the little things really are the big things.