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 Dr. Frank Lipman sits on a chair, cross-legged, arm resting on the back of the chair, lightly touching his other hand that is resting on his thigh. He is wearing blue denim, a blue dress shirt and a navy textured blazer and black glasses. He is smiling, showing his front teeth looking off to the side.

Dr. Frank Lipman

Chief Medical Officer at THE WELL

Updated: 02/23/2024

Particularly these days, life is not without its challenges. We live in a time of global upheaval and chronic anxiety, and the prospect of navigating through it can seem daunting. Peace and contentment can feel, at times, almost unreachable. However, the good news is that by shifting our mindset, by cultivating an attitude of gratitude, we can elevate the spirit and bring light to life even when things feel dark. Put simply, gratitude is a way out of the mess.

Granted, developing a gratitude practice will not make your struggles disappear or bring world peace overnight. But it will go a long way towards upgrading your health, improving a number of important bio-markers along the way. In the long run, it can help slow aging, support a healthier brain and even help save your life. Gratitude is an inside-and-out elixir you can grab anytime, anywhere — the more you take advantage of it, the richer your life will be. So how to dig in and start growing your gratitude? Here’s where to start:

What Gratitude Really Is

Gratitude is the practice of turning your attention to the goodness that is already in your life. This isn’t a complex philosophy reserved for the spiritual elite; it’s a simple but powerful way to shift and reframe your perspective on life. When you view your world through a thankful lens, even the small or seemingly insignificant things, good things start to happen. As you begin to perceive almost everything as a gift, you can’t help but feel buoyed up, supported.

At the core of the gratitude or ‘giving thanks/being thankful’ philosophy is the idea that each moment of each day presents you with an opportunity to be appreciative for something. That’s a lot of daily opportunities! By practicing gratitude, you’re training yourself to see the good that actually exists alongside the challenge, and to notice the ripple effect of this positive perspective. One positive thought often triggers another. Keep in mind though, practicing gratitude will positively influence your life only if you integrate it into your daily routine. No matter how big or small the moment – it all counts.

What Gratitude Isn't

Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring the difficult stuff that may be in your life, or pretending ‘it’s all good’ when its anything but. It’s not about being a Pollyanna, sweeping your real feelings under a rug. What it is about is a clear-eyed acknowledgement of both the good and the bad, and opting to give the good stuff weight and value, so the positive can shine through even on those days when everything isn’t going your way.

Gratitude Delivers Positive Health Benefits From the Jump

Researchers have found that gratitude contributes to more positive emotions, less depression, deeper enjoyment of good experiences, increased ability to navigate difficult circumstances, better health, and stronger relationships. As a clinician, I have been struck many times by the way that patients who are grateful for something in their lives tend to handle health problems more smoothly and rebound from illness more easily. In other words, gratitude is a totally side-effect-free “wonder drug” that you can “manufacture” simply by learning how to embrace it. But the upsides don’t stop there. There is no shortage of scientific studies documenting physical benefits that gratitude can bring. Among them:

  • Better sleep – according to a University of Manchester study which found that gratitude tames negative thinking, which, especially before bedtime, contributes to longer periods of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep.
  • Better immunity – the thinking is, with the increased positive emotions and improved sleep that a gratitude practice encourages, immune function gets a nice boost as well, allowing the body to better fight off infections and disease.
  • Better blood pressure – a 2021 UCLA review of research found that keeping a gratitude journal can cause a significant drop in diastolic blood pressure.
  • Better blood sugar levels – a UC Davis study reports that gratitude can help keep glucose levels in check, with a regular practice driving down in A1c levels by as much as 9-13%.
  • Better (just about) everything – gratitude is also thought to play a helpful role in improved memory and cognition; reduced pain sensitivity; less inflammation; reduced levels of stress hormones; higher levels of “happy hormones”; reduced heart disease, diabetes and cancer risk.

Meet the Four Building Blocks of Gratitude Practice

Appreciating good things sounds easy enough, but gratitude is a practice, because, well, it takes a little practice. Just like eating well and getting enough rest and movement every day, gratitude is one more healthy habit that can make an enormous positive impact on your life, on your relationships and on just about everyone in your orbit. OK, so let’s say gratitude isn’t really your natural default or your skills are a little rusty. No problem, just consider the ‘fab four’ aspects of gratitude to help get your groove on:

  • Awareness: Without it, our worldview shifts easily to the negative. We focus on what’s missing or imperfect, while the good stuff fades to the background – or we tend to overlook it altogether. When you practice gratitude, you make a conscious, or mindful, decision to feel satisfied with what you have instead of longing for what you don’t. Awareness gives you that extra second to recognize the good stuff in real time.
  • Appreciation: It’s that heartfelt acknowledgement of an unexpected kindness or just about anything that impacts you in a positive way, touches your heart or just makes you smile. Maybe it’s as simple as your kid’s smile, your dog’s wagging tail, the smell of coffee brewing or a shared joke with a colleague. We’re talking warm-fuzzy feelings with a side of thankfulness, all of which help crowd out the urge to focus on or kvetch over life’s small annoyances.
  • Acceptance: It’s about opening your mind and heart to receive positive moments and experiences, to know they can happen at any time – and to be ready to embrace them, without assuming the other shoe will drop, or that there’s a negative reaction waiting in the wings!
  • Action: When it comes to giving thanks, don’t hold back! Acknowledge those who show you kindness and grace – which by the way makes both you and them feel good – a win all around. And pay it forward. Do something kind for a neighbor or someone who likely could use a lift. Actions performed with a grateful intention spread good feeling to all you come in contact with, and foster feelings of community and connection (which are also great for your health too). 

Getting Into a ‘Gratitude Groove’ — And Ingraining It

There are many ways to develop the gratitude habit, so while this new year is still young, why not get started now! Here are a few ways to get the gratitude ball rolling:

  1. COMMIT… to strenthening your gratitude muscles by using them, every day, even when you’re not feeling it, until being thankful and appreciative becomes habitual – your new default.
  2. START… each morning with a ritual moment of gratitude, while you’re in the shower, or brushing your teeth. Recite a short list of things you’re grateful for or happy about in the moment, and remind yourself to note the good moments throughout the day ahead.
  3. REMEMBER… to keep coming back to the grateful mindset as the day unfolds, even if it’s a rocky one. There will be moments to be thankful for, so be ready to embrace them, which, in addition to enhancing your capacity for happiness, will also help make the not-so-great parts of your day feel more like a momentary glitch, rather than a lifestyle. 
  4. CAPTURE.. your grateful moments on paper. Start keeping a daily running list or gratitude journal, and jot down a few daily highlights to remind you of the positive experiences and feelings you had during the day. There will always be a moment of goodness to add to the list. You just have to look for it.
  5. SWERVE…around and away the stuff that gets in the way of growing your gratitude. Self-sabotaging behaviors like envy, cynicism, materialism, narcissism and regret – any of which will drag your mind, body and spirit down by blinding you to all that’s good in your life.
  6. RESIST…the urge to lean into sarcasm, which, though it may make you a force to be reckoned with around the water cooler – is quite counterproductive to truly appreciating and celebrating life’s little moments.
  7. LET GO… of negative score-keeping. We tend pay more attention to all the bad things that happen in a the day – often giving them more power than they deserve. But about tracking the good stuff instead? Doing so helps you spend less time in the negative headspace, and amps up your awareness of all the things you’re thankful for, which in turn shifts perspective and rebalances the scales.
  8. MEDITATE.. more often to allow you time to reflect on, and be thankful for the world, your body, your space, your family, or anything that brings joy. 
  9. DISCONNECT… from your phone and reconnect with the present moment, the people around you, the sights and sounds of where you are right now. Being present enables you to connect with and experience the world beyond your device – and appreciate the good stuff to be thankful for you’d otherwise miss while you’re screening it up.
  10. WRAP… the day with a brief gratitude practice: Before going to bed, spend thirty seconds reflecting on your day. How did it go? Did negativity overshadow gratitude? Acknowledge it and release it. Alternatively, conclude the day with a thankful prayer for the blessings in your life- whether it be your health, loved ones, home, or any other positive aspect. End with a simple affirmation for tomorrow: “I am grateful for unknown blessings that are already on the way.” This sets the groundwork for a tomorrow filled with even more gratitude and joy.

Just like the African proverb says “give thanks for a little and you will find a lot” — and I couldn’t agree more.

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