3 Ways Your Breath Can Help You Cultivate Gratitude Today

3 Ways Your Breath Can Help You Cultivate Gratitude Today

Nick Heath, PhD Nick Heath, PhD
4 minute read

For some, the holiday season is an easy time to be grateful. For others, current life circumstances can make it challenging to get into the holiday spirit.

In either case, science tells us that cultivating gratitude is a good thing, making us happier and healthier. And you’ve probably heard of several conventional ways of doing it, such as gratitude journaling or prayer.

In this post, we’ll show you three ways to cultivate gratitude using a lesser-known tool: your breath. And importantly, because your breath is internal and can quickly change your physiology, it’s an ideal tool for cultivating gratitude even when the going gets rough.

1. Start with Your Breath

The easiest way to use your breath to cultivate gratitude is to simply be thankful for each breath you take. Remember: We can go weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. So there’s a lot to be grateful for.

As Dr. Jason Selk and Dr. Ellen Reed put it , “ Oxygen, in fact, is the most valuable resource to our species. … Consider the last time you thought to yourself while taking a breath, ‘This is great! I have an abundance of the most valuable resource known to our species, and I don't even have to work that hard to get it.’ ”*

That’s a powerful way to frame it. So, take a few moments, repeat that phrase to yourself, and know that you can adopt this perspective to cultivate gratitude anytime, anywhere.

2. Use Your Breath to Put Your Body into a State of Gratitude

Vagal tone is the level of activity of your calming parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). In general, the higher the vagal tone, the more resilient you are to stressors, and the better you rest and recover.

A study published in 2010 found that higher vagal tone was also associated with the number of positive emotions (such as awe and gratitude) people experienced. The researchers referred to this as an “upward spiral”: a high vagal tone allows you to experience more connection and positive emotions, which increases vagal tone further, and so on.

What does this have to do with breathing? Research has shown that slow breathing can increase our vagal tone, both immediately and in the long term ( check out this blog post for more ).


This suggests that, by changing our physiology, a regular slow breathing practice can increase positive emotions and enhance our ability to be grateful.

3. Beating the Negativity Bias: Use Your Breath to Change Your Brain

Our brains are wired to see the negative and ignore the positive. This is known as the negativity bias.

As Rick Hanson, Ph.D., has said , “ Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. ” Much of the problem is due to the area of our brains called the amygdala, which spotlights negative information.

It’s even estimated that we take in 9 bits of negative information for every positive one. Nine-to-one odds aren’t encouraging for cultivating positive feelings.

Fortunately, however, when we slow down breathing or meditate, we quiet this region of the brain. This makes it easier to think positively and cultivate a grateful state of mind.

A Breath of Fresh Gratitude

In summary, breathing practices provide several ways to increase our gratitude:

  • We can be thankful for our breath.
  • Breathing can change our physiology, allowing positive feelings to occur more quickly.
  • Breathing can change our minds to reduce the negativity bias, allowing positive emotions to happen more easily.

Here’s a simple practice you can use anytime you want to cultivate positive feelings and increase your gratitude:

1. Breathe in and out through your nose slowly and deeply.

2. Imagine each breath going into and out of your heart, as if you’re breathing with your heart.

3. Say to yourself, “I have an abundance of the most valuable resource known to our species” (or any variation that resonates with you).

It’s that simple! Just a few breaths are all you need. Enjoy using your breath to cultivate more positive feelings in your life.

* Author’s Note: I transcribed this quote from the Audible version of the book Relentless Solution Focus based on the narrator’s tone, pace, and pauses. Therefore, the exact punctuation may be different in the print version.

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