Thanksgiving is traditionally the time of year earmarked to recall all the wonderful things we have for which to be grateful. Research shows that extending a grateful heart throughout the year has enormous benefits on quality of life. Gratitude, when thought of as a skill, can be one of the most life-changing skills a person can cultivate. Here are five essential benefits of practicing gratitude. Gratitude improves mental health - A grateful attitude promotes the production of dopamine in your brain. What is dopamine? It's a feel-good neurotransmitter that makes up part of the pleasure-seeking and rewards circuit in your mind. A lack of dopamine has been linked to depression, impaired memory, and lack of motivation. Gratitude improves self-esteem- Daily expression of gratitude can help you feel better about yourself and the world around you. A sense of gratefulness will boost your sense of self-worth and your sense of belonging. Once your self-esteem becomes elevated, the quality of your life naturally improves because you feel better in your skin. Gratitude improves physical health - Persons who express gratitude daily have fewer aches and pains, according to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Their research showed persons who practice gratitude feel healthier than other people. Better sleep and lower blood pressure have also been linked to practicing gratitude. Additionally, persons who express a sense of gratefulness are more apt to take care of their physical health with regular exercise and attending regular check-ups with their primary care physician. Gratitude improves relationships - Research shows that gratitude helps us to strengthen, initiate, maintain meaningful relationships. Focusing on the positive aspects of others can help us feel more content and satisfied in romantic relationships. Gratitude enhances empathy - When we practice gratitude, we are more likely to understand the needs and wants of others more deeply. According to research from the University of Kentucky, participants of the study who ranked higher in gratitude expressed more sensitivity and empathy towards others. They were less likely to retaliate or seek revenge against others, even when given negative feedback. If you aren't in the habit of practicing gratitude daily, keep in mind change takes time. Expressing gratefulness may feel forced or fake at first. That's OK. With continued practice over time, expressing gratefulness and feeling grateful will eventually feel authentic and become a habit. There is no correct or incorrect way to communicate and practice gratitude. Some days it might require getting out the old magnifying glass, but you can always, always find something for which to be grateful. Below are twelve of a thousand ways to express gratitude and in turn feel more grateful. 1. Say thank you 2. Smile 3. Perform a random act of kindness 4. Write a thank you letter 5. Help a stranger in need and never tell a soul. 6. Offer congratulations 7. Volunteer your time to a worthy cause 8. Donate unwanted items 8. Don ate unwanted items hers 10. Make eye contact 11. Give out sincere compliments 12. Help a friend or family member I'm curious. How do you express gratitude in your daily life? Misti Luke, LCSW maintains a small, private counseling practice in Broken Bow, Oklahoma where she provides individual, group and couples counseling as well as clinical assessments for legal purposes. For correspondence or to schedule an appointment firstname.lastname@example.org Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post are for informational purposes only and should never be used to assess, diagnose or treatment any health condition. For persons in crisis, dial 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.