As the holiday season swells, many of us find ourselves turning inward and reflecting. You may have an outlet for this reflection if your family traditions revolve around sharing one thing you’re thankful for at the table, making a gratitude tree, or something similar.

I like to help manage my depression and anxiety with a daily gratitude exercise that I can do from bed before I even open my eyes (now that’s a low barrier to entry, y’all). I make a list of 5 things I’m grateful for in my head. Big things, small things, very important things, silly things, beautiful things, whatever I am feeling grateful for. Then I smile really really big for a few seconds and then open my eyes. Good morning, World, I feel a little better than I did before. 

My ND recommended this practice specifically because of the benefits practicing gratitude has for our minds and bodies, even for those practicing in the midst of adversity. Some of those benefits include improving sleep, reducing stress, increasing empathy, creating more social connections and improving self esteem. Let’s look at these benefits more in depth!

1. A wealth of studies over the last 15 years have shown us that gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing feelings of happiness, optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.
2. Gratitude can also reduce negative emotions like stress and anxiety, even among folks living with chronic mild or moderate depression.
3. Studies show gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and lessens the effects of pain in the body. 
4. Count blessings, not sheep! People who practice gratitude get more hours of sleep each night, fall asleep faster, and feel more refreshed when they wake up in the morning. 
5. Gratitude makes us more resilient, including helping people recover from traumatic events
6. Gratitude strengthens relationships, making us feel closer and more committed to friends, family, and romantic partners.
7. Gratitude makes us more helpful, altruistic, and compassionate as individuals and as a society.

Gratitude can look a lot of different ways: a morning meditation, a gratitude jar, prayer, volunteering or journaling. Here’s a list of 10 ways to be more grateful. It’s a practice that will take time to cultivate, but the benefits aren’t far off if you keep at it! Studies do show that gratitude has a lasting effect on the brain.