Gratitude. When you hear the word, what comes to mind? Do you think of your pastor’s sermons? Self-help gurus who encourage their clients to write gratitude quotes and make lists of what they are grateful for in pretty pink journals? Something that people who survived a near-death experience say they have when they wake up every morning?

Gratitude is no joke! The impact that practicing gratitude can have on your life is far more significant than you would think. In fact, that is what it is all about: thinking. You become what you think. In psychology, the law of attraction states that if you think negatively, you attract more negativity. If you focus on being thankful for all that you have, you will naturally draw more people, opportunities and positive experiences toward you.  

If this sounds too New Agey and you aren’t exactly running out to buy a gratitude jar (yes, this is a thing)  read on. There’s an actual science to gratitude. You can check out detailed information on the benefits of gratitude as evidenced by 26 studies.

Want the shortened version? Here are two major scientifically proven benefits of gratitude that you can tap into by doing anything from a gratitude meditation to simply making a regular mental acknowledgment of all that you have to be thankful for.

Gratitude Puts You in the Mindset to Make Positive, Healthy Choices

Cue up those gratitude journals. Studies show that being in the mindset of gratitude is better for your health, happiness and even your relationships.

In one study described in this Huffington Post article, three groups were assigned different tasks. As it turns out, the participants who were asked to write down what they were grateful for experienced a considerably higher level of happiness than those in the other groups. Not only did they report feeling more positive about life than the other participants, but their gratitude journals also resulted in exercising more and having fewer health complaints.

In a later study by the same scientists, participants who kept a gratitude journal felt happy enough to give back to others, as they reported offering others more emotional support and help with life problems.

In fact, people who are genuinely grateful are likely to be feeling very good physically. According to research in The Journal of Psychosomatic Research, gratitude helps people sleep longer and get more quality sleep, which leads to so many other health benefits. Gratitude lists before bed don’t seem like such a bad idea now, do they?

Additionally, according to studies completed at Northwestern University, gratitude is known to help increase patience, as it led to students to choose to wait to receive more significant sums of money. The implications for overall health are enormous. Gratitude doesn’t just potentially control the amount of money in your wallet; it can even help with the number on the scale. Clearly, you can better manage your weight when you are making sensible food choices and controlling your impulses for overeating and cravings for unhealthy foods.

Gratitude Strengthens Your Relationships

Gratitude can help nurture any type of relationship, as it boosts relationship satisfaction.  Even if only one person in the relationship is feeling gratitude for the other, it can make a difference as he or she treats the other person with more respect and compassion. This (ideally) sets off a chain reaction which leads to more acts of kindness and bonding between two people. Trust and intimacy can grow, and more gratitude is spread.

Quality relationships are so beneficial for your health and happiness. Having a strong support system in old age can even help you live longer. Yet, sometimes, when it comes to your romantic relationship, you might find that your partner can trigger you like no other, no matter how much you value him or her. At these times, having gratitude can be especially important.

A well-respected marriage and family therapist Dr. John Gottman, who has been studying couples for decades, makes a strong case for gratitude. As his research shows, there is a magic ratio that allows him to predict which couples will stay together and which ones will divorce. It has everything to do with having more positive interactions than negative interactions with your partner. Once again, developing a practice of gratitude can help improve a significant area of your life. If appreciation can impact your relationship – which often has the power to make you happier or more miserable than anything else – then it is, indeed, powerful..

In sum,  practicing gratitude can change your brain and change your life for the better. As a psychology writer Christian Jarrett explains, new research suggests that “the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset -- you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude 'muscle' that can be exercised and strengthened ... the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future.”

Do you care to exercise, yet?