A man stands in a sunset field with his arms raised.

Image: Shutterstock

Always being sure to say “thank you” doesn’t just let another person know you appreciate what you’ve done: saying the words actually has a direct effect on you. Expressing gratitude reduces stress, strengthens relationships, and reminds you that despite whatever hardships you encounter, there is still love and kindness in your life worth appreciating. Taking the time to appreciate those little things can enrich your life in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Being grateful really can reduce stress because it helps us generate a positive attitude. And a positive attitude has great benefits of its own, like fighting off depression and anxiety, therefore lowering our risk of heart disease. A study by Paul Mills, a University of California San Diego School of Medicine professor specializing in disease processes, demonstrated that people who were more grateful were generally healthier, too.

Mills can’t say exactly how gratitude affects heart diseases, but he believes that it has something to do with lowered stress. People with less of that are simply happier and healthier, and it shows. Of the people Mills studied, those who were more grateful for the things in their lives had lower blood pressure and lower plaque buildup in their arteries.

Additionally, expressing gratitude can also help make you feel more alive, get better sleep, and it creates a continuous cycle of being grateful for more things. And while gratitude can be given for the big things in life—a new baby, a new house, good health—it’s a good idea to get in the habit for the smaller things, too: a really delicious treat, an extra hour of sleep, making it to another Friday (though that’s easier said than done for some of us!). Practicing gratitude takes work, but once you see all the opportunities, it becomes rote.

If you’re new to expressing gratitude, here are some tips to keep in mind: say “thank you” more. Keep an “appreciation journal” and try to write five things in it that you’re grateful for every day. Think of things you’re looking forward to and be grateful for them; donate time or money; send a letter to someone; call the people you love. But most of all, remember to be grateful for yourself and all that you do.

Here are five things I’m grateful for today: the people who make it possible for me to have coffee; the  apartment I get to go home to; sunshine; public transportation; and my coworkers.