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The Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

Woman in field of sunflowers expressing gratitude.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a popular slogan in the self-help field that I find to be beneficial in a variety of ways and try to practice in my daily life. When faced with the challenges of a chronic health condition, it may seem a little trite on the surface, but if you look a little deeper, you’ll find there are some valuable health benefits of practicing gratitude.

Living with chronic illness and/or chronic pain is quite challenging and it can be easy to lose sight of the positive and good in our life. Even if you don’t live with a chronic health condition, just the stress and hustle and bustle of everyday life can drain your resources and cloud your perspective.

Having gratitude for the small blessings in your life will help reduce stress and anxiety, keep you focused on what’s important, and prevent you from drowning in the negativity of illness. It is a valuable tool in the quest to live life to the fullest.

Research demonstrates that there are both physical and mental health benefits of practicing gratitude. It has been shown to significantly increase happiness and other positive emotions. Various studies suggest it is associated with fewer aches and pains, better sleep, higher levels of empathy and self-esteem, better relationships, and less aggression.

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Try to appreciate what you have and what you are able to accomplish even if it isn’t much. This does not mean that you minimize, repress, or deny your suffering or loss, but rather look for the blessings that are present in your life in addition to or in spite of the pain and difficulties you may face.

Recognize both the pain and the blessings, as life is made up of both. No matter how bad things get, we can usually find small gifts even in the midst of the storm. Sometimes they may consist of only brief moments throughout the day, but I cherish those little gifts greatly and give them recognition.

I make it a point to thank the Universe for all the good things in my life every day. Yes, some days are harder than others, however, I have found that I can usually make quite a list even when I think there isn’t much at all to be grateful for. On a particularly bad or rough day, this is a great way to change my focus, lift my spirit, and put me in a better mood.

Find something in the moment to be happy about. Anything at all—big or small. This can be as simple as the fact that you are enjoying a good meal, watched a great movie, shared some special time with your child or pet, or were able to experience a beautiful sunset. Appreciate your loved ones and cherish your wonderful moments together, as these times can be some of the most fulfilling and memorable.

Every day I try to remember to acknowledge at least three things I can be grateful for. When I first began this practice, I was surprised to realize how much I really have to be grateful for and I can always come up with more than three. At any given moment I can be grateful that I have a beautiful son and granddaughter, eyes to see, legs to walk, a home to live in, a country that does not have war in its back yard, and food to eat.

I also have gratitude for things like the view in my backyard, the beautiful hummingbird at my feeder, watching the baby quail race across the yard, the blue jays who eat out of my hand, my son’s sense of humor, my trees and flowering bushes. I tell the birds and bunnies that befriend me how much I enjoy them and thank them for the joy they bring to my life. I tell the bushes thank you for their beautiful flowers and the butterflies and bees for pollinating the bushes. I thank the Universe for an amazing sunset or array of magnificent clouds.

And I thank the Universe for my meals and spend a minute or so afterward reflecting on how enjoyable it was. And I thank the Universe for little gifts I receive throughout the day when things go well or I learn something valuable.

Use words of gratitude as often as possible. Verbalize it to your partner, loved ones, friends, yourself, and the Universe. Give thanks to the Universe for the blessings that you do have. Tell your children, partner, neighbors, or friends how much you appreciate them and any little thing they do for you. Give gifts or cards of gratitude for no reason at all. Make up a holiday. Simple words like “I appreciate the time we spent together,” or “I appreciate you were there for me yesterday,” have a great impact on your life.

Yes, there may be days when you really just can’t muster up any gratitude and that’s okay too. It’s part of the coping process as well. Some days you must allow yourself to be angry and grieve for what you don’t have, what you have lost, or what you could have if you weren’t limited with your condition. However, try not to stay consumed in that state of mind too often or too long. Strive for balance.

Make a list if you have to. This doesn’t have to be a written list, it can be a mental one if desired. However, some people find that making a tangible list they can look at is much more powerful. Other people find it beneficial to keep a gratitude journal.

I know this may sound absurd or impossible, but trying to be grateful for anything good that comes out of your chronic health condition can also be beneficial. Perhaps your illness taught you something about life, helped you realize or recognize something new, brought you closer to a loved one, or gave you valuable information you didn’t know before. Be grateful for any positive lessons or messages that it may have revealed to you.

All Parties Benefit from Gratitude

Keep in mind that the act of giving and receiving gratitude is beneficial to both parties. The health benefits of practicing gratitude enhance each of you physically, emotionally, and spiritually, because neurotransmitters that enhance your mood and promote relaxation, inner peace, and feelings of well-being are stimulated and the sympathetic nervous system is downregulated when we focus on gratitude.

Additionally, you don’t have to look too far to find tragedy in others’ lives and see that there is always something to be grateful for. There is always someone worse off. Remembering this puts things in a different light.

Some days your gratefulness may consist of nothing but appreciating your ability to simply get out of bed, brush your teeth, wash the dishes, walk around the block, or whatever it is you’re able to accomplish that day. While at other times, gratitude may appear in the ironic ability to find the good inside the bad. Recognizing and appreciating that proverbial silver lining in the cloud. Yes, I know, when you live with chronic illness there are many clouds to contend with, and recognizing the health benefits of practicing gratitude can seem like an insurmountable task, but if you keep an eye out for them, you can find a few breaks where the sun shines in for a little bit.

I’m not saying that I look at life through rose-colored glasses or walk around with a smile on my face all the time, but I look for balance. Again, I’m not suggesting that you deny reality or be grateful for being sick. I’m also not encouraging you to minimize your pain and suffering, but when you try to embrace both the good and the bad in your condition it helps you find balance and harmony in the hurricane and makes your days a little easier to get through and your life much richer.


Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving thanks can make you happier. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

Amy Morin. Psychology Today.” 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

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