Practicing Gratitude When Times Are Tough

Caregiver & Patient Support

October 30, 2018

The holidays may not feel as festive when you are facing difficult life circumstances. Once simple practice can help you get through those circumstances: gratitude. Being grateful changes one’s perspective and even has positive scientific effects.

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, defines gratitude in two parts. First, it is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

Second, he explains that “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

It’s easy to feel grateful when life is easy, but it’s important to do so when life is difficult. Why? Here are five ways that being grateful can positively impact your health.

Gratitude can ease anxiety and depression

Practicing gratitude will reduce stress levels almost immediately. There is a significant amount of scientific research backing this up. Gratitude reduces the stress hormone cortisol and dramatically increases the feel-good hormone DHEA. We can all use a little “feel good” hormone from time to time, can’t we?

Gratitude can decrease pain levels

Believe it or not, something as simple was as saying thank you can alleviate physical pain. Yes, really. In a 2003 study called Counting Blessings vs. Burdens, sick patients were told to keep a journal and fill it with gratitude. 16% of those patients reported a reduction of symptoms, and 10% reported a decrease in pain. Participants in this study were also more willing to exercise and were more motivated in their recovery.

Gratitude can lead to better sleep

A number of studies on gratitude also show that it increases the quality of your sleep, decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and lengthens the duration of your sleep. When you are thankful, it becomes easier for you to fall into a deep sleep. Sleep is connected to many bodily functions and enough of it can remedy anxiety, depression, pain, and stress. Not to mention, this boosts your immune system resulting in a healthier body overall.

Gratitude can reduce stress

When life’s stress seems too great to bear, shift your focus to something else. Begin by thinking of two or three things that you are really grateful for, then write them down in the moment. To make it a habit, keep a daily gratitude journal and record ways in which you expressed gratitude to someone or they expressed gratitude towards you each day. Before you know it, you will have an easier time staying focused on things within your control.

Gratitude can increase your energy levels

Expressing gratitude has so many health benefits, including increasing your overall well-being. Being happier and thankful for the little things makes you feel more relaxed, healthy and refreshed. Your positive emotions – your increase in physical and mental well-being – will help you to feel more energized.

Numerous studies done on the subject of gratitude show that it benefits your mind, body, and soul. When times feel tough this holiday season, remember to focus on the people and things that you are grateful for.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder