19152376_MWhat are you thankful for? If you’re not making time on a regular basis to ask yourself that question, you’re missing out on some incredible benefits that can help you be a better physician, spouse, parent and friend. Turns out, there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that gratitude can boost your overall health, help your brain function better and help you achieve a long-lasting and more positive mood. That’s according to Harvard Medical School’s Mental Health Letter. Gratitude can lead to a whole host of additional benefits, including higher-quality and stronger relationships in your business and personal life.

Researcher Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that the simple act of writing and personally delivering a letter thanking someone for their kindness to you can have a dramatic effect on not only your own mood but your overall happiness. Other research shows similar benefits when you verbally express gratitude.

Think of gratitude as an emotional muscle you need to build, just as you build your physical muscles with exercise. Psychologists Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami discovered incredible benefits to writing down what you have to be thankful for on at least a weekly basis. The researchers asked groups of people to write a few sentences each week. One group focused on what they had to be thankful for, a second group focused on annoying things that had happened throughout the week and a third group was asked to simply write about things that happened during the week — good or bad. Those who were asked to write about what they had to be thankful for after 10 weeks were more optimistic, exercised more and felt better about their lives.

Other studies show that expressing gratitude to others can help you make new friends and develop closer relationships with your family members and friends. Embracing gratitude isn’t as tough as you may think. Here are some tips from the American Medical Association. It can be as simple as keeping a small notebook and spending a few minutes every few days jotting down what you have to be thankful for. Make sure to regularly communicate your gratitude — in e-mails, letters and in face-to-face interactions. Think about the most important people in your life. When was the last time you thanked them for their love, kindness, support or hard work? Do it today. Your brain and body will thank you for it.