What do you do when you’re down-in-the-dumps and want to lift your spirits?

A proven way to shift energy from negative to positive is to focus on being grateful. When you do so, you change your perspective from a scarcity mentality to one of abundance. A tried-and- true remedy for the doldrums is to ask yourself, what am I grateful for?

There are other advantages to being grateful, as well. Literature has recognized the benefits of cultivating gratefulness as a virtue for thousands of years. More recently, through the study of positive psychology, mental health professionals are examining how virtues such as gratitude may benefit our health… and what they are finding is promising.

When it comes to health, grateful people (those who consistently incorporate gratitude into their lives) have an edge on those who are not-so-grateful, according to research on gratitude conducted by Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California Davis.

Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations,” says Emmons.

Gratitude can also help us manage stress better. It’s commonly known that stress can make us sick, especially when we have trouble coping with it. Stress has been linked to many illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer. “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,” Emmons says.

In addition, grateful people tend to be more optimistic and researchers are seeing how that characteristic boosts the immune system. “There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function,” says Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah.

How do you become more grateful?

Some suggestions include:

  • Keeping a gratitude journal. Regularly list or describe what you are thankful for.
  • Offer thanks throughout the day, perhaps as a breath prayer. Expressing appreciation to others, or to God, as you receive anything from a parking space to a beautiful sunset creates a habit of gratitude. In time, this practice may allow you to find the good even in very difficult circumstances.
  • Surround yourself with people who are intentionally grateful. Their positive energy will be contagious and support you in your effort to be more appreciative.

As you incorporate any, or all, of these steps to become more grateful, I encourage you to take them beyond November and make it a practice that you do throughout the year. Gratitude is a powerful tool for your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.