When my husband met with an accident a few years ago, I got a new insight into life and healing. He was out for a morning walk with our dog, when he tripped and fell on the road. A short while later, he was in hospital and being told he had to have a hip surgery. I’m not sure what happened to us, but without discussing it, we both decided to see the good in everything that happened. We were grateful for the kindness of strangers who waited with him, for a doctor who came as soon as we called, for access to a good hospital, for neighbours who reached out… the list goes on.
What surprised us was that in less than a week after the accident, post a partial hip replacement surgery, he was back on his feet again. We couldn’t help compare his healing to that of the lady in the same room as my husband. She was having an elective surgery, but both before and after the process she and her family grumbled and complained about the doctors, the nurses, the insurance company and everyone else. Nothing seemed to be going well for her and having had a surgery the same day as my husband, she was still confined to bed, when my husband was discharged. We experienced, what I believe is, the power of gratitude on the process of healing.
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some.”
— Charles Dickens
The habit of counting blessings
The effect of gratitude on health is one of the aspects of studies undertaken by Dr Robert A Emmons and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, USA. They encouraged people to cultivate the habit of gratitude in a systematic manner by keeping a record of all they were grateful for in Gratitude Journals. Studying more than a thousand people between the age groups of 8 to 80, Dr Emmons found that those who practise gratitude on a regular basis seem to enjoy a better sense of wellbeing.
Looking at life with gratitude helps us to be more positive and upbeat. Gratitude is, first and foremost, an acknowledgement of what is good in our life. It helps us to focus on all we have and all we receive, rather than on the negative things happening to us and around us. This attitude does not make our problems and complaints disappear. But they seem to get overshadowed by our awareness of all the goodness we enjoy.
Since gratitude creates a feeling of well-being, grateful people tend to feel better about themselves and as a result take better care of their health. They exercise more, eat healthier, sleep longer and feel more refreshed when they wake up.
Dr Emmon’s study found that people who practise gratitude consistently also have stronger immune systems, are less troubled by aches and pains and have a low blood pressure.
Losing the sense of entitlement
Our appreciation of the value of all we have and all we receive from others tends to keep at bay the negative emotions like envy, mistrust, regret. A study by psychologist Alex Wood conducted in 2008 shows that cultivating gratitude can help to reduce the frequency of episodes of depression.
Gratitude about life and its goodness helps us to have a better acceptance of life and all it brings. No longer do we feel that life is all about ‘getting what we deserve’. We lose our sense of entitlement, which contradicts gratitude. This helps us to be better prepared to meet adversity and misfortune when it comes our way. We are able to take everything in our stride and, consequently, become less anxious.
“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”
— Bertrand Russell
Before you can unleash the power of gratitude in your life, you must cultivate it. Here are some simple way you can achieve this:
1. Decide to practise gratitude
Make a promise to yourself that you will be grateful. You could simply write, “I promise to be aware of and thankful for all I have” or “I will count my blessings every day.”
2. Keep a gratitude journal
While there are printed and structured Gratitude Journals available, a simple notebook in which you list out all the things you are grateful for each day, will do just as well. Make time every day for this ritual and watch your
3. Recite prayers of gratitude
Most religious traditions include prayers of gratitude. Learn a few that appeal to you and recite them through the day. You can even create your own gratitude mantra.
4. Mind your language
Words and phrases like ‘if only…’ ‘I wish….’ which express regret and a need to change the situation, should make way for words like ‘blessings’, ‘fortunate’, ‘gifts’, which show an acceptance with gratitude of all things and circumstances.
5. Make sure you thank people
Take time to thank the significant people in your life and even those we tend to forget. A simple thank you to a lift attendant or a driver, costs us nothing, but makes a world of difference to them, and to us.
6. Take time to smell the roses
Our senses—smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing—help us to better appreciate the world around us. When we make time to savour a good meal, or listen to good music, or literally smell the roses, it heightens our awareness of all we take for granted on a daily basis.
Gratitude takes practice but it is certainly worth the effort to start being grateful, for it has such a powerful impact on our wellbeing.