Want to know an easy way to feel happier and healthier while boosting your brain activity? Read on…you’ll thank us later!

As the holiday’s name overtly explains, Thanksgiving is a day for giving thanks. But when you’re in the midst of a stressful holiday season—while managing a chronic disease like Parkinson’s—it’s common to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness or sadness.

Thankfully, there are strategies for dealing with these feelings, and those strategies just so happen to be good for your health!

Scientists have found that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with higher immune function, lower levels of inflammation, better cardiovascular health, more efficient sleep cycles and can literally change the molecular structure of the brain.

In 2008, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow—to study gratitude. In a study, the researchers measured the brain activity of participants experiencing different emotions. They discovered that gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple regions of the brain.

Then, in 2009, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that subjects who showed more gratitude had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus – the area of our brain that controls a huge array of essential bodily functions like eating, drinking and sleeping. This led researchers to conclude that gratitude can have wide-ranging effects on the body, including fewer aches and pains.

Now we know why gratitude is good for our overall health, but how does it make us happier overall? If we think about or acknowledge the many tangible and intangible things we appreciate in life, this will trigger the parasympathetic system, which is the calming part of the nervous system.

When the parasympathetic system is triggered, we experience a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, which is the bonding hormone that makes us feel happy and content in our various relationships.

What does it mean to practice gratitude?

People can feel and express gratitude or thankfulness in many different ways. They can apply it to the past by retrieving positive memories and being thankful for happy elements of childhood.

They can apply it to the present by being thankful for what we have here and now, and not taking for granted good fortune whenever it comes our way. They can even apply gratitude to the future by maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude.

Here are some suggestions for practicing gratitude:

Keep a gratitude journal.

Alternatively, you can keep a gratitude jar. Start writing down one thing you are grateful for each week on a small piece of paper, fold it up and put it in a jar. Then, at the end of the year, open the jar and read through all the nice memories you had to remind yourself of all the reasons you have to be grateful.

Write someone a thank you note.

You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank you letter expressing your appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month to someone you care about.

Express gratitude to yourself.

Look in the mirror and tell yourself or think about some of the things that you appreciate or like about yourself. We know it sounds cheesy, but one of the best ways to practice gratitude is by loving yourself and being grateful for all the good and bad things that have shaped you into the person you are today.

Teach yourself to be more optimistic.

Think of something bad that happened to you, then write down five good things that happened as a result of this event. Let’s say, for instance, that the bad thing that happened was being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps it made you more health conscious and better at cooking. It might have made you appreciate your friends and family a little more.

There’s no limit to the ways that you can practice gratitude every day. Why not start right now? Write down five things you feel grateful for today and don’t forget to explain why. Do this every day until the Thanksgiving holiday. Then, read your list aloud to your friends and family. You might just inspire them to make gratitude a daily practice as well.