Three Easy Ways to Embrace Gratitude and Improve Your Health

Kathy CarlsonNovember is National Gratitude Month, leading up to Thanksgiving. If you do an internet search, hundreds of sites pop up, with a myriad of ideas for expressing gratitude.

But why do it? One reason to express gratitude is to change your brain and your body. When we experience or express gratitude, the brain quickly responds, as it calms down and is able to focus more clearly. And the body responds too, as the heart rate goes down. People who express gratitude have improved sleep and experience fewer aches and pains. During this week before Thanksgiving, you might try these three paths to expressing gratitude and see what happens.

  • Be grateful for your surroundings and what is working nearby. We often focus on what is NOT working, so being grateful for electricity, running water, a refrigerator, a warm living space, the internet, for example, can open us to a deeper realization of how much we do have.

To try: spend time each day expressing gratitude for what is functioning.  

  • Be grateful for the abundance in your life. When we focus on what we yearn for, we miss what we have. Years ago I saw a book that changed my perceptions. In Material World: A Global Family Portrait, Menzel and Mann traveled the world, taking photos of people with all of their possessions piled up outside their homes. I remember one family proudly standing outside a tiny hut by one of their prized possessions—a single plastic bowl. We have such abundance in our lives—and more bowls that any of us need.

To try:  spend time each day being grateful for some of this abundance. (And maybe take a look at the book online to spark your gratitude.)

  • Be grateful for human connections, close and casual. Most of us are already grateful for our families, our friends, our neighbors. But during the pandemic surges, when we were isolating, psychologists noted that most of us were missing casual human connections—chatting with the cashier at the grocery store, sharing a laugh with a salesperson behind the counter, stopping to talk to someone we see when we walk in the neighborhood. These casual connections feed us and make us feel connected to the world around us.

To try: now that we’re moving around more freely, express gratitude for your loved ones and for all those people who are the glue of the society you find yourself in. And try telling these people how grateful you are for their presence in your life. A simple “Thank you for the conversation” can bring joy to you and others.

Many experts suggest keeping a gratitude journal. I like the idea of writing down one thing at night that we’re grateful for. When we take note, we can enjoy the changes in our brains and bodies.  And maybe the suggestions above will also open new pathways of friendship. If we notice the people around us, and we thank them for what they do, we might make new friends.

Being grateful for all the abundance in our lives is something most of us casually do every Thanksgiving as we eat our meal, but being grateful feeds us and feeds others. So this year improve your own health by practicing intentional gratitude and you may improve the wellbeing of those around you, too!


Kathy Carlson taught English at Franklin for 36 years. Henry David Thoreau and an early yoga practice led her to mindfulness meditation, which she has been teaching formally at Franklin since 2013.