04/08/2016 01:01 EDT | Updated 04/09/2017 05:12 EDT

How Does Practicing Gratitude Actually Work?

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Hands of young beautiful woman practicing yoga indoors

We know we should have a gratitude practice, right? You've likely seen quotes float by your Instagram feed, and have maybe ventured into the world of books on personal development.

You may have even sat through a yoga class that included a finale meditation on gratitude. You're invited to practice gratitude for your health, your friends, your family, your dog and your dinner.

Sometimes a gratitude practice comes easy, like when you're sipping kombucha margaritas beach side in a tropical paradise, or your kids decide to keep themselves busy and let you sleep in until the midday hour of 8 a.m.

For most of us, though, a gratitude practice is anything but easy. When we're making dinner (no time to be grateful for the food you have in your fridge!), we're late for an appointment (no time to be grateful that we are in-demand and have things to do!), we're dealing with tax season (too many BPA-coated receipts to be grateful that you earned money), we're scraping ice off the car in arctic temperatures (it's too cold to be grateful that the planet hasn't fully melted yet!), or any other number of things that draw our attention away from all that we have in our lives.

Previously I have talked about gratitude being an essential nutrient for health (I call it Vitamin G), and how regular practice of love, hope and faith can change the way we perceive our lives and the greater world.

It's a bit like healthy eating. If we load our diet up with great food prepared from scratch, there becomes less risk (and less stomach space) for us to indulge in the bad stuff. If we fill our evenings with activities that make us feel inspired, creative and calm, we have less time to binge watch crime dramas on Netflix.

In this short and sweet video, I share how gratitude actually works to bring abundance into your life, and describe what my daily gratitude practice is and why it is so incredibly powerful for me.

Cultivating a regular practice of gratitude is great for our mental and physical well-being.

How Gratitude Improves Your Well-being

Gratitude gives you a better outlook on life.

In one research study, participants were asked to keep gratitude journals and write down five things they were grateful for each week, while another group wrote about five things that hassled them.

After 10 weeks, the group who practiced gratitude felt happier about their lives, reported fewer health complaints and spent more time exercising. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The better our outlook on life, the more we'll make the effort to stay healthy.

Gratitude improves our relationships.

What's the secret to a long-lasting, epic romance? Apparently, it's gratitude. A wide cross-section research shows that people who feel more appreciated by their partners are more likely to stay committed. So don't forget to say thank you to your sweetie for doing the dishes, or the laundry, or packing you a delicious lunch.

In fact, why don't we apply this to all of our relationships? Showing gratitude to our family, friends, coworkers and strangers can only benefit us all.

Gratitude lowers our stress levels.

After learning gratitude techniques, research participants had a 23 per cent reduction in cortisol, our major stress hormone, and a huge boost in DHEA, a precursor to many of our sex hormones.

Reduced stress means improved digestion, sleep, immunity and blood sugar levels. All of that sounds pretty good to me. (Need some help fighting stress? Check out these handy tips.)

Gratitude helps you sleep better.

In this small study, researchers found that grateful folks reported better quality and longer sleep. Try thinking about a few things you're grateful for before you go to bed tonight, and see what happens.

Gratitude makes teenagers more bearable! It's a miracle worker.

Is there anyone more self-involved and unappreciative than a teenager? Not necessarily. Students who were asked to count their blessings reported feeling more grateful, optimistic and satisfied at school. Perhaps this is another tool educators could use in the fight against bullying.

Create Your Gratitude Practice

  • Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal of all of the blessings in your life. Nothing in this world is too small to be grateful for. Not a writer? Make a list in a notebook. Use a scrap of paper. Make an excel spreadsheet, if that's your thing. Just get it down so you can read it when you're feeling grumpy and depressed.
  • Keep reminders. Post a few things from your gratitude list on your wall, or set an email or phone message that reminds you to be grateful. You could also use something tactile - I have a gratitude stone from the beach on my desk that I hold in my hand as I think about why I'm grateful.
  • Recruit a gratitude partner. It's always easier to make a lifestyle change when you've got support by your side. Get a friend or loved one to regularly ask you what you're grateful for, or to remind you of your blessings when you're complaining about your life.

We're all in this together. If you have any strategies to help you stay on the bright side of the road, please share!

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