How Gratitude Can Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

Story at-a-glance

  • Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness; when you feel gratitude, you affirm that you live in a benevolent world. It’s also a recognition that the source of this goodness comes from outside of yourself
  • People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions and less anxiety, sleep better and have better heart health
  • Your sense of gratitude can be strengthened with practice. Ways to cultivate gratitude include keeping a gratitude journal, prayer, meditation, writing thank you notes and non-verbal actions like smiling and hugging


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

Can feeling a sense of gratitude influence your health? According to a number of studies, the answer is yes.  According to Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy,1 an expert in brain and mind health:2

"If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world's best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system."

While the American once-a-year gratitude ritual of Thanksgiving is better than nothing, if you're serious about your wellbeing, you'd be wise to increase the frequency at which you feel and express gratitude.3

People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions and less anxiety, sleep better4 and have better heart health.5 Studies have also shown that gratitude can produce measurable effects on a number of systems in your body, including:

Mood neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine)

Inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines)

Reproductive hormones (testosterone)

Stress hormones (cortisol)

Social bonding hormones (oxytocin)

Blood pressure and cardiac and EEG rhythms

Cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine)

Blood sugar

What Is Gratitude?

So what exactly is gratitude? According to Robert Emmons, Ph.D., one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude featured in the video above, gratitude has two key components:6

  • It's "an affirmation of goodness;" when you feel gratitude, you affirm that you live in a benevolent world
  • It's a recognition that the source of this goodness comes from outside of yourself; that other people (or higher powers, if you so like) have provided you with "gifts" that improve your life in some way

In Emmons' view, gratitude is "a relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we've been supported and affirmed by other people."

While there are as many reasons to be thankful as there are people in the world, one facet of life that many often forget to be thankful for (until it is too late) is their health. We tend to take our health for granted until we're suddenly in the throes of pain or debilitating illness.

It goes back to the old adage that it's really the little things that matter most, and if you cultivate gratitude for the little things, it will foster a more deep-seated sense of happiness.

After all, if you have good health and all your mental faculties intact, you also have the prerequisite basics for doing something about the less satisfactory situations in your life.

How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

Like a muscle, your sense of gratitude can be strengthened with practice. One way to harness the positive power of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal where you write down what you're grateful for each day. This can be done in a paper journal, or you can download a Gratitude Journal app from iTunes.7

In one study, people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more, and had fewer visits to the doctor compared to those who focused on sources of aggravation.8,9 As Dr. Alison Chen suggests in a recent Huffington Post article,10 creating a nightly gratitude ritual can be a powerful strategy.

"My colleague has a bedtime routine with her [3-year-old] and it includes recognizing what you are grateful for. When this part of the night comes, you can't shut him up," Chen writes.

"There are so many things that we take for granted and when you listen to the long list that a child can come up with you realize the possibilities for gratefulness are limitless!

Take a couple minutes each day to stop and reflect; taking regular pause is an excellent way to bring about more feelings of gratefulness in your life."

Avoiding getting sucked into bad news is the other side of this equation. You may have to limit your media exposure from time to time if you find it difficult to maintain a positive outlook in the face of worldly horrors.

As Chen states, "Most cover stories are meant to shock, terrify and sweep you into a whirlwind of emotions. They don't always feature the truth." Other ways to cultivate a sense of gratitude include:

Write thank you notes: Whether in response to a gift or kind act, or simply as a show of gratitude for someone being in your life, getting into the habit of writing thank-you letters can help you express gratitude in addition to simply feeling it inside.

Nonverbal actions: This includes smiles and hugs, both of which can express a wide array of messages, from encouragement and excitement to empathy and support.

Mind your please and thank-yous: While it's easy to say words like please and thank you in passing, these courtesies can become potent acknowledgments of gratitude when combined with eye contact and sincerity.  

As noted by Chen: "The next time your arms are full and someone holds the elevator doors for you, don't just glance over your shoulder and say 'thanks.' Turn around, look them in their eyes and mean it; it's the act of generosity that's important."

Prayer and mindfulness meditation: Expressing thanks during prayer or meditation is another way to cultivate gratitude. Practicing "mindfulness" means that you're actively paying attention to the moment you're in right now.

A mantra is sometimes used to help maintain focus, but you can also focus on something that you're grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze, or a lovely memory.

Tap forth gratitude: The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is another helpful tool. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure based on the energy meridians used in acupuncture.

It's an effective way to quickly restore your inner balance and healing and helps rid your mind of negative thoughts and emotions. In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for gratitude.

What I'm Grateful for Right Now

As celebrates its 19th year online, I have much to be grateful for, especially my staff, without whom this website would not be what it is today. It takes many man-hours to keep everything running — a fact I quickly learned back in 1997 when I started this website and still had my medical practice.

One way of showing my gratitude each and every day is by providing my employees with the healthiest working environment and tools possible, starting with a Gold LEED certified building (LEED is a third-party verification for "green" buildings11).

We also use air purifiers, live plants and standup desks, and employees can work out and take fitness classes on the premises. It's a clear win-win, as there are studies showing that employees who can exercise at work and use standup desks are more content, more productive and enjoy better health. I believe this to be true.

Nutrition is also important, which is why I make sure healthy organic lunches are provided. We even grow fresh sprouts at the office and make regular batches of fermented vegetables. The video above provides a behind-the-scenes look at my offices and the people who work there, including a quick interview with Kris, a former patient who now works for me.

Many other employees have also turned their health around by implementing the strategies discussed in this newsletter, and this is another reason why we have such an effective team — they know first-hand the benefits of what we're doing here and, like me, they are passionate about spreading the news and helping others improve their health.

Thank You for Your Support!

Last but not least, I'm grateful for YOU. If you were not passionate about improving your health and wellbeing, there would be no point in any of this work. Sharing simple, inexpensive strategies that have a powerful effect on health is my passion. The fact that so many of you are taking these recommendations to heart and are implementing them and benefiting from them fills me with gratitude. It's what makes this journey worthwhile.


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