Gratitude

November 20, 2018

By Karen Wilkinson, RN, NHA, CLNC – CareerSmart Learning Contributor


The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner.  It’s a day to gather with friends and family, eat very well, and even watch a little football.  But more than all of those good things, it’s the one time each year we pause and think about the people and things we are grateful for and deeply appreciate having in our lives.  Most of us can come up with a fairly lengthy “gratitude” list, and we are reminded by Novelist and Playwright Thornton Wilder that, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” [1]

Does gratitude come to mind when you think about your job?  The privilege of being entrusted with the care of another is just what we signed up for when we became healthcare professionals.  But, the responsibilities of our day-to-day experience can be exceptionally challenging.  We can allow our focus to become task-oriented and lose the sense of satisfaction that comes from helping others.  Or more tragically, we can lose sight of the very people we have the privilege of helping.  Our capacity to pour into the lives of others requires our own well-being, which is based, in part, on our ability to see the good in our situation, and not to wallow in discouragements and disappointments.  A friend who just wrapped up her final chemotherapy treatment explained how the uncertainty of her future made her grateful for each day.  But she didn’t stop there.  She also told me about her extreme gratitude for the kindness of her nurses and physicians, for the social worker who really helped her husband, and for many others who had crossed her path.  Her words caused me to stop and think about the connection between gratitude and well-being, both personally and professionally.

Gratitude for our treasures will not be automatic.  It requires a conscious decision to slow down and reflect in order for us to appreciate.  Drs. Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough tested some of the general claims about the effects of grateful thinking on well-being in some of their early research on gratitude.  In one of their studies, those who wrote down up to five things they were grateful for each week were found to  view life more favorably, have fewer symptoms of physical illness, and even exercise more than the other groups who wrote about their irritations or general events.[2]  In a later study, Dr. Emmons noted that participants who consistently practiced gratitude reported overwhelming physical, psychological and social benefits, such as enhanced immunity, reduced blood pressure, improved exercise and sleep, decreased aches and pains, increased positivity, alertness, joy, happiness, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, and decreased loneliness and isolation.[3]

In the Harvard Mental Health Letter, In Praise of Gratitude, we are reminded that gratitude is simply appreciating what we already have.  We are offered some simple ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis:

  • Get in the habit of writing one thank-you letter a month that expresses your gratitude for another person, or at least think about someone who has been kind and mentally thank them.
  • Keep a list and write down three to five things you are grateful for each week. If you journal daily, include thoughts of appreciation each day.  In other words, count your blessings.
  • Use prayer or meditation to cultivate appreciation and gratitude.[4]

Whatever method you use, take the time to develop an attitude of gratitude.  Your well-being will thank you.

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[1] Oxford Living Dictionaries.  (2018). Definition of gratitude in English.  Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gratitude

[1] Wilder, T. (n.d.).  AZ Quotes.com.  Retrieved November 01, 2018  from https://www.azquotes.com/author/15650-Thornton_Wilder

[1] Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003).  Counting Blessings Versus Burdens:  An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84:2, 377-389.  DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

November 20, 2018

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