Being thankful year round: How practicing gratitude every day can improve mental health

Expert says it’s important to find things to be grateful for each day

While many take the time to reflect on all they're grateful for on Thanksgiving, experts say that practicing gratitude each day can have a significant impact on mental health.

While many take the time to reflect on all they’re grateful for on Thanksgiving, experts say that practicing gratitude each day can have a significant impact on mental health.

There is scientific evidence that cultivating an attitude of gratitude all year long can help people cope with daily challenges.

“We always talk about breaking our bad habits, but a good habit can start at anytime, so Thanksgiving is a really good time to start it,” said Dr. Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, assistant medical director of emergency behavioral sciences for Henry Ford Health System. “If we’ve gotten a little out of sync with the idea of being thankful, it’s ok to start it now.”

Practicing gratitude means changing our daily habits.

“When we think about good things in our life, then we feel good. So, we’re creating a habit of actually feeling good by reflecting on our positive experiences and the good that’s in our life,” Peltzer-Jones said.

According to the expert, changing out habits and being more mindful about the things we are grateful for has been shown to do more than just improve mental health.

“They’ve found some things that have medical correlation -- so, positive psychology and being grateful actually does correlate with less inflammation. There’s some very biophysical things that happen when we feel good.

“It’s not just this idea (that) we’ll feel good, and feeling good feels good -- there’s actually a chemical reaction that continues that really hits us at a physical level,” Peltzer-Jones added.

Related: Making good habits: Why it’s important to keep unhealthy thoughts in check

There are some simple ways to begin building gratitude into our lives.

“One of the exercises that’s an easy first exercise to help with anxiety is to take a certain point each time of day and think of three different things ... that you’re thankful for (that day),” Peltzer-Jones said. “And it doesn’t have to be big, monumental things. I think that’s where people can get a little mixed up, or they get a little overwhelmed by it. It can be something as easy as, ‘I’m very thankful for my new fuzzy sheets.’”

Dr. Peltzer-Jones says that this practice is great to work into a family setting, especially during dinner time or family time with the kids. If children participate, the expert says it is perfectly OK for kids to be grateful for the same things for days in a row -- don’t feel pressured to be creative. It can be about appreciating even the most simple parts of your day.


More: Mental Health Matters: How to spot and help children in crisis


About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.