Most of us say “thank you” throughout the day as a way to be gracious and polite in our interactions with others. In fact, it is a practice we hopefully learned as a child along with other habits like saying grace before a meal or giving extra thanks around the Thanksgiving holiday.

These are all examples of routine thankfulness in daily life, and they are valuable. However, cultivating a genuine habit of gratitude means something more profound. As science has looked closer at what it means to be grateful and how it impacts us, we’ve learned that true gratitude is a big deal and can even be life-changing.

Spiritual wellness: practice gratitude. Sometimes being thankful for the simple things can make all the difference.

What Does It Mean to Practice Gratitude

Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers on the topic, lays out two parts to gratitude. (1)

First, gratitude is what Emmons calls an “affirmation of goodness.” Meaning, we acknowledge that there are good things in life, and we choose to see what is kind and loving, and beautiful.

Secondly, gratitude recognizes that goodness comes from outside of us. In fact, when we express gratitude, we accept that something greater than ourselves provides goodness, which connects us to the world around us.

Practicing gratitude is more than saying thank you when someone does something kind. Namely, it involves intentionally cultivating daily recognition of the good things we have and experience.

There are many ways to express gratitude.

Your Body and Brain on Gratitude

The health benefits of a gratitude practice are impressive. People who express gratitude daily are happier, experience less stress, sleep well, and have better overall physical and mental health. (2)

The brain responds to feelings of gratitude by releasing dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters that improve mood. (3) In fact, an intentional daily practice of gratitude can actually train the brain to choose positive emotions and minimize the extremes of negative emotions like anxiety. (3)

Being grateful for the little things is a great start. Just say thank you.

Building a Daily Practice

Incorporating gratitude into daily life does not have to be another thing on the never-ending to-do list. Make it as simple or complex as appeals to you. For example, ideas include:

Keep a Gratitude Journal

This is the way most people are familiar with and involves taking time to write just a few things you are grateful for each day. In fact, it’s a good physical reminder of the goodness in your life.

So, find a gratitude buddy and text each other once or twice a day with something good that happened.

Use a Gratitude Jar

Write what you are thankful for on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. Watching your gratefulness fill the jar is a meaningful visual reminder.

Meditate or Pray

These are both ways to not only reflect on something good but also to connect with the source of goodness, whatever that means for you.

However, you choose to structure your practice, taking time daily to be thankful is necessary to receive the benefits. If you are only grateful on occasion you won’t actually change anything either in your health or your perspective.

Let gratefulness become part of your everyday life and watch how this little habit can make a big impact.