If there was one thing you could do every day or every few days that would make you happier, healthier, more productive, sleep better, and a better person to be around, would you do it? Oh, and it can reduce pain levels, too. That’s what actively choosing to practice gratitude can do, according to research done over the past decade or so. 1
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More
Gratitude has been defined as “the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself … a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.” 2 Research has indicated that the practice of gratitude can “lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being … [and reduce] lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.”3 There has not been much formal research on the effect of gratitude on chronic pain, but there is a lot of research on the effect of mood, sleep, social interaction, and illness on chronic pain. And there are no known adverse effects to the practice of gratitude, so you really have nothing to lose.
Feeling grateful about something special that you have experienced or received is something with which almost all of us are familiar. Where gratitude becomes truly powerful is when there is a conscious decision to actively seek out and recognize the gifts all of us receive on a daily basis. This can seem like an impossible thing to do, especially if you are in pain, depressed, or in the middle of an emotional upheaval, but it is possible.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman politician, lawyer and orator, 106-43 BCE
The first step in practicing gratitude is paying attention and noticing the small and large gifts in our lives that we usually take for granted. This can be something as small and fleeting as the warmth of a cup of coffee in your hand, as profound as a loved one’s smile, as loving as a thoughtful message from a friend, or as simple as a pretty flower or the green of new leaves. It can be deeply personal, such as a clean bill of health after a cancer scare, or broadly political, such as improvements in gender equality. It can be as ridiculous as a child’s goofy antics or as sublime as a hug. Some believe it is most important to notice gifts that come from other people, others feel that gifts from the natural world are just as important. Most people agree that things are less important – rather than having gratitude for your smartphone, be grateful for your grandchild sending you photos on it. Find new things to be grateful for every time.
The second step is journaling – writing it down or somehow recording it. This does not need to be in a fancy bound journal. A pad of paper or a document on the computer does just fine. There are apps for that (of course!), but you certainly don’t need anything more than paper and a working pen or pencil. Some people like to write sentences or paragraphs, others write a word or two in a list. The idea is to keep track of what is important to you, help you focus on the gifts in your life, and give you a way to look back and remind yourself of the good things in your life. This is only for you – you don’t need to share it with anyone else so you can be as silly as you like, but it must be a place to record only positive things.
Often people ask how I manage to be happy despite having no arms and no legs. The quick answer is that I have a choice. I can be angry about not having limbs, or I can be thankful that I have a purpose. I chose gratitude.
Nick Vujicic, motivational speaker, author, actor, musician, with tetra-amelia syndrome
Journaling of any sort may sound easy enough, but it can be difficult to get started. Pick a time that you can stick to, like the first thing in the morning, just before bed, or mid-day when no one else is around, but you can write anytime the mood strikes you in addition. Some suggest writing every day to get into the habit, others say weekly or every few days is more effective. Don’t worry about feeling awkward or weird at first – you are the only one who needs to see this. Sometimes getting started isn’t the problem, it’s continuing to find things after you’ve run through the easy stuff. Get creative and pay attention. Actively choosing to practice gratitude could be the route to a happier, healthier you.
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.
Denis Waitley, Motivational speaker, author of The Psychology of Winning
Here are some resources to help you get started
- Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-journal/
- Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal
- Journaling for Cynics https://medium.com/the-mission/gratitude-journaling-for-cynics-88e01c6d2b64
- Morin, A. 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude. Forbes, posted online 4/3/2015 https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#4c1bb42f183c
- Sanson, RA, and Sansone, LA. Gratitude and well being, the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry, 2010 Nov; 7(11): 18-22 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/
- Emmons, RA, and Stern, R. Gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. J Clin Psychol: In Session 2013; 69:846-855 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23775470
At North Shore Pain Management we provide advanced, evidence based, multidisciplinary and cost effective pain management. Our goal is to improve your ability to return to the activities you have been missing as well as provide a meaningful reduction in pain