"Say thank you" is a mantra many remember from their childhood. Gratitude is considered good manners, and it turns out this conventional wisdom has science behind it, too. Experts say that regularly practicing gratitude can change the brain in ways that have far-reaching health and wellness benefits.

Simple habits like writing frequent thank you notes, taking pictures, journaling, and reflecting on good fortune can change life for the better.

Lower Blood Pressure

There's evidence that regularly practicing gratitude can reduce the body's production of harmful stress hormones. Cortisol and adrenaline help motivate us to get away from danger, but if they're consistently high over time, these hormones drive blood pressure up and can even damage the organs. Gratitude helps relieve stress, which improves blood pressure over time.

Senior checking his blood pressure milan2099 / Getty Images


Higher Optimism

People who regularly express gratitude report a higher level of satisfaction with their life. They experience many of the same trials as other people but appear to have more optimism and resilience against hardship.

This was noted in a study on people with neuromuscular disease. Gratitude journaling and expressing thanks didn't resolve their condition, but it did help them feel more hopeful and better prepared to manage it.

Woman in wheelchair happy looking at phone RyanJLane / Getty Images


Increased Energy

One key way to increase gratitude is by taking pictures of pleasant things throughout the day. Research indicates that people who pay this kind of attention to the world experience greater alertness and focus. They tend to be more attentive and have higher energy.

Gratitude is also associated with greater motivation to exercise, which has a host of additional health benefits.

Woman taking photos with phone outside Alexandra Iakovleva / Getty Images


Better Sleep

The practice of gratitude may actually change structures in the brain because regular positive thoughts help form new neural connections.

This may be why those who practice gratitude report better sleep quality and less fatigue during the day. Actions as simple as grateful reflection before bed can improve sleep immensely.

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Gratitude is, in many ways, a social mechanism, and it has the power to bring people together. Research on teens found that young people who regularly expressed gratitude were less materialistic and more willing to share what they had. This suggests gratitude can be a very beneficial practice for people who want to improve their behavior towards others.

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One study asked participants to keep lists of gratitude alongside personal goals over a two-month period.

The study found that the subjects who kept gratitude lists were generally further along in their personal goals than those who did not. The higher levels of energy and optimism associated with gratitude are helpful for motivating people to work on achieving their goals. This could be a valuable tool for people struggling with New Year's Resolutions or other habit-building.

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Stronger Relationships

Gratitude releases a chemical in the brain called oxytocin. Oxytocin makes people feel good, and it also is associated with social ties. Practicing gratitude in a relationship by frequently thanking loved ones and friends for their contributions helps promote good feelings and makes people want to spend more time together.

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Improved Mental Health

One recent study explored the effects of gratitude on people seeking help for mental health issues. This included people with serious depression, anxiety, and other ailments. Those who practiced regular gratitude journaling and meditation reported better mental health and fewer negative symptoms.

Gratitude does not cure mental illness and many people still need counseling, medication, and other support. It can, however, be a valuable tool to add to someone's mental health kit.

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Strong Heart and Kidney Function

The brain controls everything in the body, so it shouldn't be too surprising that changing the way we think can have profound effects.

A person's heart and kidneys are particularly sensitive to stress and can become overworked trying to compensate. Grateful meditation and reflection on happy memories can help reduce stress levels and improve organ function overall.

Two hands holding a heart model with kidney engraved ThitareeSarmkasat / Getty Images


Lasting Health Improvement

It takes time for gratitude to have a positive effect on the body. Gratitude needs to become a habit to have the best results, but those results tend to linger.

One researcher found that people who formed a habit of reflecting on things they were grateful for had different brain activity months later than people who did not. These changes seemed to promote more positive thinking and generous behavior long after the habit was established.

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