- the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return support”
As nurses, we live overwhelmingly busy lives, and confront a seemingly endless parade of challenges every day. So, how often do we take the time to count our blessings?
In psychology research, gratitude is strongly correlated with happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Grateful people are happy people, regardless of their circumstances.
In one set of studies, Watkins, McLaughlin, & Parker (2019) demonstrated that
gratitude is important to flourishing and happiness. They found that gratitude is strongly correlated with various measures of well-being. Any number of experimental studies suggest that gratitude actually causes increases in happiness. “If gratitude is good, then it behooves us to investigate how the disposition of gratitude can be enhanced. We suggest that grateful responding can be enhanced by training in noticing the good in one’s life, and by encouraging interpretations and appraisals that have been found to promote gratitude.”
An overwhelming body of research strongly supports the idea that the cultivation of gratitude should result in a “harvest of happiness”.
And, there is more: Research shows that feeling grateful doesn’t just make you feel good, it actually improves health.
A positive mental attitude fends off depression, stress and anxiety, which can increase the risk of heart disease, says Dr. Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Mills specializes in disease processes and has been researching behavior and heart health many years. He wondered if feelings of gratitude made a difference in heart health.
To answer this question, he recruited 186 people with the average age of 66 years with varying degrees and causes of heart disease. They each filled out a reliable, valid inventory for feelings of gratitude (see link below).
Results demonstrated that the more grateful people were, the healthier they were. “Subjects with higher levels of gratitude had less depressed mood, slept better and had more energy.”
It will not surprise you to learn that gratitude is the cornerstone of self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) and is a powerful tool in overcoming addictions.
Psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl got it in one: “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So, how can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude? We each find our own ways to appreciate what we have but here are some strategies that work for many people:
Count Your Blessings.
Spend a few minutes every morning & night thinking about the things for which you are grateful. Make this something special – more than a daily task to check off your list. It requires a choosing a mindset of abundance and focusing what we have. Family, friends, people to love & be loved by.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to appreciate the simple things that bring joy to life. Rather than wanting bigger and better things, rushing through each day, or feeling sorry for ourselves, try relaxing and taking time to concentrate on what makes life great. Rather than eating hurriedly, savor your food and taste each bite. Focus of the pleasure of swallowing water and how it cools your lips, mouth, and throat. Assume you are entitled to nothing and that anything, including a laugh with a friend or a beautiful sunset, is a blessing that makes another day of worthwhile
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. Once you become aware of the simple things that make life worth living, write them down each day, whether you feel like it or not. Even if it feels awkward at first – and even if the list is made up of seemingly insignificant things – many people find that within days this approach gradually shifts their mindset in a positive direction. Some days, it may be as simple as being grateful for being alive.Other days, life may seem so tough you don’t feel grateful for anything. But if you get quieter and breathe deeper you can always find two or three people, places, things or experiences you wouldn’t want to be without. If nothing else, you can be grateful for recognizing that you need to work on gratitude. Soon enough, gratitude will become second nature whether or not you continue to keep a list.
- As nurses, we spend our lives doing for others: Patients, families, friends, staff, people we have never seen before. Value all the amazing things you do for others. Then, deliberately and thoughtfully, value and care for yourself. Take a walk. Rest yourself. Drink some cooling water. Eat a piece of fresh fruit. Stand tall, smile at yourself, and always remember, you are the most trusted.
I am grateful to you and for you, my dear friends and colleagues!
Mahalo nui loa for all you do!
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