The Healing Power of Gratitude

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

In this post you'll learn about wonderful habits for living your best life: practicing gratitude. It's easier than you think!

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

Positive thoughts feel good—we know this. Even the simple act of smiling works wonders when your mood needs a boost. You don’t need to be surrounded by rainbows and giggles to reap the benefits of positive feelings. In fact, one of the most simple yet powerful ways to reap the rewards of positive thoughts is practicing a little gratitude each day. It’s easier than you might think. Maybe when you can appreciate the moment, you tossed your tear-streaked tissue in the trash, and it was a slam dunk. Perhaps you can appreciate the way your socks are keeping your feet warm. If you like to write, try a simple one-sentence journal entry of something you’re thankful for each day. If not, maybe take a moment before sleep to think of one good thing—no matter how small. If you’re wondering why this practice can make a difference in your day, here are a handful of reasons:

1. Be present

Gratitude helps to slow us down to enjoy the moment. For example, when you take a beat to be grateful for your food, you’re more likely to pay attention to its textures, tastes, and sounds, really enjoying how delicious and nourishing it is for our body. We can so easily get lost in thoughts and anxieties about the future or past events. Stopping those thoughts in their tracks to take notice of the food we are enjoying can create a moment of pure mindfulness.

2. Cultivate curiosity

Something beautiful happens when you start to seek out that for which you are grateful. You’ll suddenly start to notice many more good things to appreciate. You may be thankful for the weather, or your health, or the taste of water. This warm feeling becomes addictive, and soon you’ll be grateful for the flowers and their sweet scent, the warmth of a hug, the flavor of your dinner, and the smile from your neighbor. Once you start looking for things to savor, you will find they are everywhere.

3. Multiply your moments of joy

As some philosophies have wisely observed, life is full of pain and suffering, and the stresses of everyday living pile up quickly. However, when you practice gratitude regularly, you multiply your moments of joy to balance out life’s challenges. The grateful mind is primed to find slivers of happiness and amplify unexpected joy no matter what is happening around it!

4. Reduce anxiety (and stop negative thought spirals)

It can be difficult to measure how gratefulness can reduce stress and anxiety—but when the world seems to be crumbling around you, being able to find the good lurking amongst the bad is a valuable gift. Slowing down to look for beauty in the world slows the train of negative thoughts that can easily take over. Increasing positive feelings reduces the negative ones. And by recognizing the good in others, you may, in turn, recognize the good in yourself along with some much-needed self-compassion. Being grateful to yourself can be a beautiful exercise in self-care.

5. Improve your outlook, improve your health

A study at the University of Pennsylvania examined gratitude, measuring happiness scores over ten weeks while subjects kept a gratitude journal. The result was a massive increase in optimism! It’s easy to imagine what happens next…optimistic people take better care of their health, get plenty of physical activity, and are quicker to recover from illnesses. By encouraging this habit in yourself and others, you’ll flex that muscle that finds the good before the bad. You’ll learn to be thankful when there seems to be nothing to be thankful for. And then you’ll find you spend less time searching for good things because your mind is open to joy. You’ll start living your best life.