A healthy nutrition plan, good quality sleep and exercise are usually top of the list when it comes to “ways we can strengthen our immune system.” Gratitude doesn’t always make it to the top of the list, which is why I like to call it a secret immunity booster. Gratitude’s ability to help improve sleep and stress make it an asset for immune system health. It’s not the first thing people think of when they’re trying to prevent illness or recover from a cold, but gratitude has proven to have powerful effects on our wellbeing.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “count your blessings,” but who would’ve thought that literally counting our blessings could strengthen our immune system? Gratitude is a powerful emotion that has been proven to reduce stress and improve our quality of sleep – all factors that contribute to a strong and healthy immune system.

Five ways to start practicing gratitude:

Gratitude journal 

  • Try setting aside a few minutes every day to write down a few things you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a long list and you might end up writing down some of the same things every day; that’s ok. It’s about building the habit and taking time to feel gratitude regularly.

 First thought of the day

  • If journaling doesn’t work for you, try thinking about one thing you’re grateful for when you first step out of bed in the morning. The science of neuroplasticity explains how the brain has the ability to adapt and change. When we think about what we are grateful for, we stimulate and encourage positive neural networks in our brains, which can lead to more positive feelings throughout the day.

Sticky notes

  • Try writing down things that you’re grateful for on individual sticky notes and place them around your house to serve as little reminders. If you live with other people and this won’t work for you, try folding the notes up and put them in a jar. Pull one out each day and spend a moment dwelling on the message. 

Gratitude meditation 

  • Find a calm and quiet place to sit and meditate. If it feels comfortable and safe, you can close your eyes. When you inhale mentally say the phrase, “I am here” and when you exhale mentally say the phrase, “I am grateful for ______.” You can repeat this as many times as you’d like. 

Express gratitude to someone else

  • Buy a stranger a coffee, write a random thank you letter to someone you love or call a friend and let them know how grateful you are to have them in your life. 

We cannot practice gratitude without compassion. When we are faced with challenges in life, feeling grateful can seem impossible. Under these circumstances it’s important to welcome self-compassion. When we are critical of ourselves for not being more grateful or meeting our own expectations, that thinking will only take us further from the qualities that we are trying to nourish. You can think of self-compassion as your second secret immunity booster.