Giving Thanks Everyday: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”— Meister Eckhart

Saying thank you for the blessings in my life is a part of my regular spiritual practice. I don’t really need a holiday to remind me of the power of gratitude. But, since we’re at that time of year, what better time to devote a blog to it.

Research indicates that gratitude can help improve your emotional state, relieve stress, and increase optimism. It also changes the brain so that your left prefrontal cortex is activated. This part of the brain is associated with more positive emotions. And you might even experience less physical illness and an ability to be resilient in the face of adversity.

But what exactly is gratitude and how do you get it? Gratitude has been talked about as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, and a coping response. It is all of those things. It is something inherent in us but it can be cultivated. Common gratitude interventions include gratitude journaling, writing a gratitude letter to someone you are grateful for, and writing down three things that you are grateful for every day. It has been suggested that by being grateful for one thing for 30 seconds (because that’s how long it takes for neural networks to begin to rewire themselves in the brain) an attitude of gratitude can be established.

Gratitude can also change your view of your body. One study had participants come up with at least five things that they were grateful for in their bodies (such as the health, physical appearance, or functionality of their bodies) and take a minute to picture them in their minds. After that, they chose three of them and wrote why they were grateful for those things. As a result, participants reported significantly greater satisfaction with their weight, significantly more favorable evaluation of their appearance, and greater body satisfaction compared to participants in the control condition. Another study, which compared gratitude to cognitive restructuring therapy, found gratitude more effective at increasing body esteem, decreasing body dissatisfaction, reducing dysfunctional eating, and reducing depressive symptoms.

So, what are you grateful for? Here is my easy top ten gratitude list. I hope they get your juices flowing about what you’re grateful for.

  1. I’m grateful for waking up this morning. I made it to another day and that is, in itself, a miracle.
  2. I’m grateful for my body for the amazing feats it accomplishes every day. I thank my lungs for breathing, my heart for beating, my stomach for digesting food. There are a multitude of things that my body does each day to keep me alive.
  3. I’m grateful for the difficulties in my life. They show me where and how I can improve.
  4. I’m grateful for the pleasant moments. They help me savor and enjoy life.
  5. I’m grateful for my friends who I share intimate details of my life.
  6. I’m grateful for the food that I eat. I remember all of the people and processes that took place for me to have food within easy reach.
  7. I’m grateful for the blessings of comfort, such as running water, plentiful food, and a place to live.
  8. I’m grateful for the communities that I enjoy which give me social support and spiritual connection.
  9. I’m grateful to the mentors and teachers in my life.
  10. I’m grateful for my family that I was born into and the one that I created.

Of course, you can be grateful for all of the seemingly little things as well. Each moment there is something to be grateful for. Consider the birds singing in the morning, the sunlight across the floor, the stars twinkling at night, the smell of coffee brewing, the laughter of children, the sound of music, the feeling you get when dancing, or the silence of meditation and yoga. The list is truly endless.

Make the practice of gratitude a part of your life by choosing times that you will reflect on your blessings. The more you do it the more effective it becomes. I like to do it first thing in the morning, at mealtime, and after every meditation and yoga practice. When you pair an activity that you normally do with a practice you want to cultivate, you are more likely to do it.

Here is a gratitude meditation if you would like some guidance. May it help you have a grateful and blessed week.

For more practices like this, check out my book Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy. It could be great for you, but also a great gift for someone you love. Send me your book receipt and I’ll send you a pdf of the BASICS of mindful eating for you to print and use.