The Health Benefits of Being Grateful

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It turns out mom was right when she told you to always say thank you. And not just because it’s polite, but also because it could seriously improve your overall health.

A movement called positive psychology has done several studies that show grateful people (meaning those who describe gratitude as a permanent rather than temporary in their everyday lives) tend to take better care of themselves, practice more healthful habits like diet and exercise, and in general, are far less stressed out.

The benefits of the latter alone can’t be emphasized enough. People under stress get run down and sick more often—and stress is linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease ad cancer. Being grateful helps us manage our how stressed out and/or angry and unhappy we get in reaction to challenges around us.

That’s largely because optimistic thinking promotes characteristics that can boost the immune system. One study at the University of Utah compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress and found that by midterm, the more optimistic students had a higher number of blood cells that protect the immune system, compared with their more pessimistic classmates.

Here are a few ways to feel, show, and maintain gratitude in your own life:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Writing down the things you’re thankful for keeps them in your thoughts, reminding you of the people and things in life that you’re lucky to have.
  • When you’re faced with a difficult challenge, do your best to look at it with a positive attitude. If someone in your life is being particularly difficult, think of him or her as spirited and complex rather than just plain old annoying.
  • When things get tense at work, take a break from your desk as soon as you’re able and go for a short walk. Along the way, make mental notes of all the things you appreciate—things as big as your spouse or children, or as small as the trees, birds, and parks you pass by.

Sometimes, feeling lucky just to be here can be the biggest game changer of all.