Feel grateful? Offer Thanksgiving? When I feel like this? When everything seems to be falling apart – my health, my finances, my family – whatever it might be. How do you have an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ in of the midst of the maelstrom that has gripped your life? Is it possible to be grateful under such dire (or what feels like dire) circumstances?
It is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain from a grateful perspective on life. When we are sick, an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ has the power to heal. When we are demoralized, an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ has the power to invigorate and encourage. When we are in despair, an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ has the power to bring hope. To put it in other words, changing perspective and taking your ‘glass half empty’ to a ‘glass half full’ will help you cope.
I am in no way suggesting that changing your mindset is at all easy…particularly for those of us that are suffering greatly. It’s easy to have an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ for the good things in life, but much more difficult to have an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ when something devastating hits.
You have to make the distinction between ‘feeling’ grateful and ‘being’ grateful. Feelings come from our viewpoint; how we see the world. No one ‘feels’ grateful when their health takes a turn for the worse, when they’ve lost their job, or when tragedy strikes. Being grateful is definitely a choice; an attitude that endures and is relatively unwavering through the ups and downs of life. Rather than being overwhelmed by temporary circumstances we need to have hope and a perspective that views life in its entirety.
Research has demonstrated that having an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ greatly impacts health, in some cases having a more significant impact on health than other medical interventions. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, exercise more, and require fewer medical evaluations. Having an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’ improves psychological health by effectively increasing happiness and reducing depression as well as experiencing increased self-esteem. Studies also reveal that those with grateful attitudes demonstrate more sensitivity and empathy towards others. Gratefulness leads to optimism, a characteristic that researches say boosts the immune system.
How do we manage to have an “attitude of gratitude” in the face of challenging life circumstances rather than sink into despair? We know from experience, this isn’t easy to do sometimes.
Here are some ways we practice and encourage our patients to cultivate an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’:
• Keep a gratitude journal – write down two to five things per day that you are thankful for or that bring you joy
• Thank someone – either write a letter (even if you end up not sending it, just the act of thinking about it, writing it, and expressing your thankfulness is powerful) and if possible hand deliver it to the receiving person
• Meditate on Scripture and consider your many blessings
We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate an ‘‘attitude of gratitude’’. Take a few moments today to focus on all you have been given and BE THANKFUL!