The concept of gratitude, or being thankful, has been studied for its many benefits. In fact, feelings of this emotion have been associated with better overall health and longevity. Research has specifically shown the regular practice of gratitude may contribute to additional healthy behaviors, like engaging in more physical activity and/or regularly seeing a doctor. One study even found that the simple task of keeping a gratitude journal helps increase a person’s sleep quality and quantity over time.

Gratitude may also improve psychological or mental health. The practice of gratitude can decrease negative emotions like stress, anger, resentment and regret, and increase happiness, empathy, self-esteem and mental strength, along with positive mental well-being.

As we all know, personal relationships are important for our physical and mental well-being. Being grateful not only strengthens relationships, it may also allow a relationship with an acquaintance to become more of a social connection.

Four Ways to Practice Gratitude in Your Life

Taking a few minutes each day to count your blessings may very well help increase levels of gratitude and improve your health in the process. Here are some simple ways to help encourage the practice of gratitude in your own life.

1. Writing a thank you note to express your gratitude is a great way to let someone know they are appreciated. Not only does it allow you to feel better as you express your thoughts, the note can help strengthen your relationships with those on the receiving end.

2. Keep a gratitude journal. As mentioned above, make it a habit to write down what and who you are grateful for. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but many who practice this write down their thoughts before going to sleep. No matter when you decide to write in a journal, routinely translating your thoughts from your mind onto paper is what’s important.

3. Donate. Offering time, energy and/or financial help are great ways to increase gratitude in your life. Volunteering or donating to a cause you have passion for, or helping those less fortunate, not only helps others, but will also allow you to appreciate the blessings in your life.

4. Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the ability to purposefully pay attention to the present moment. When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. During a mindfulness practice, try to focus on what you are thankful for in that moment. For example, recall something you are grateful for, allow yourself to appreciate what you are feeling, and notice how this makes you feel. Do your best to keep this attitude throughout rest of the day.

As with any new habit, practicing gratitude will become easier with time and practice. It will become something you just do naturally and one day you will realize you see the positive in most situations.

Katie Greenawalt is a Penn State Extension educator in Lebanon County.