NOEL KING, HOST:
If you're still scrambling this Christmas Eve to find a last-minute present, you may want to consider a gratitude journal. A growing body of research shows that logging your thanks can boost your mental and maybe even your physical health. Maanvi Singh has the story.
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: Over this past year, Aileen Xu has kept a monthly list.
AILEEN XU: Let me see. (Reading) February 2018, I'm grateful that my family is so understanding. I'm grateful that so many people care.
SINGH: Sometimes it's big stuff, and sometimes it's the little blessings.
XU: (Reading) July, I'm grateful for good hair after I shower (laughter).
SINGH: Xu started gratitude journaling when she was in college and feeling really low. She's now 28 and a lifestyle blogger. And she's recommended the practice to nearly 750,000 YouTube subscribers. It wasn't a hard sell. Psychologist Laurie Santos teaches a class on happiness at Yale.
LAURIE SANTOS: I think there - just over the last few years, there's been more of a trend to focus on gratitude.
SINGH: In wellness blogs and magazines, gratitude apps and journals...
SANTOS: Those types of products can remind us to take time to be grateful, but it's also important to remember that gratitude is free.
SINGH: And it pays off. A growing body of research shows that counting blessings can help you sleep better. It can lower stress and improve your relationships with others. There's also some evidence it could lower your risk of heart disease, and it may help lower depression in some people.
SANTOS: And the research suggests that taking time to focus on those positives, in addition to the negatives, can boost our mood more than we expect.
SINGH: Listing out what you're grateful for is one way of doing it. You could thank God or the universe or other people. You could keep it all private, or you could share it. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky studies gratitude at the University of California, Riverside. Her advice...
SONJA LYUBOMIRSKY: Really think about what feels right - what feels natural or enjoyable or meaningful to you.
SINGH: And try to do it regularly but not too often. In one study, Lyubomirsky found that counting blessings once a week boosted happiness. But doing so three times a week did not. She warns that too much gratitude can backfire.
LYUBOMIRSKY: Because sometimes when you express gratitude, you could also feel humbled or indebted or maybe even embarrassed. So it doesn't always actually feel pleasant.
SINGH: And it's not a panacea. Psychologist Santos says sometimes gratitude research can feel Pollyanna-ish.
SANTOS: You know, when we talk about, you know, focus on the things you're grateful for, we think that's equivalent to, you know, like, ignoring all the bad things in the world.
SINGH: Gratitude can not make injustice, loss or pain disappear. What it can do is give us hope. In Oakland, Calif., 31-year-old mental health counselor Zeyda Garcia agrees. When she first started making gratitude lists five years ago, it felt a bit hokey.
ZEYDA GARCIA: Yeah. It felt kind of, like, fake a little bit.
SINGH: During really tough times, like when she'd lost a job and she was sleeping on her friend's mom's couch, she felt like she was reaching for reasons to be grateful. But she still tried to find some.
GARCIA: Even if it's literally like, I'm grateful for the sun that's shining today or being able to wake up.
SINGH: Over the years, she says it's helped her change her perspective. And this little shift has made all the difference. For NPR News, I'm Maanvi Singh. And I'm very thankful to you for listening.
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