Gratitude – It’s What the Doctor Ordered

It’s that time of year. The time when we are supposed to concentrate on what we are thankful for. For some, that’s an easy task. For others it may be more difficult. When you live every day with a debilitating illness it is often hard to see past the negatives to take a closer look at what you have to be thankful for. This is the challenge I am giving you. I know what you may be thinking: “That’s a lot easier said than done.” I know. I have been there. I’ve been in that space where you are so sick and everything seems so overwhelming that you can’t think of anything to be grateful for. All I am asking you to think about are the small things in your life. As one of my patients today said “I’m grateful I was able to shower by myself this morning”. Those small things can add up.

Living with a chronic illness can force you to change your life in ways you didn’t intend or to give up some of your dreams and goals. But it can also make you more empathetic to others who have an illness. It can teach you to appreciate the small things on the days you do feel okay, like taking a shower on your own, walking your dog down the street, listening to good music, or eating a good meal. It can teach you to appreciate the good people you have in your life. It can help you focus on the things in life that really matter.

How else can being grateful improve your life? Over and over, studies have shown that people who practice being grateful are healthier both mentally and physically. In terms of chronic illness, studies have shown that grateful people may be more likely to:

• Take better care of themselves physically and mentally
• Get a better night’s sleep
• Engage in more protective health behaviors and maintenance
• Have better responses to various difficulties
• Get more regular exercise
• Eat a healthier diet
• Schedule and keep regular physical examinations with their doctor
• Cope better with stress and daily challenges
• Feel happier and more optimistic
• Have reduced physical symptoms
• Maintain a more optimistic view of the future

So, your challenge this week is to think about one thing each day that you are thankful for, even it’s as small as “I read a good book today”. Sometimes the small things can be huge.