It can be difficult to feel thankful when you live with chronic pain. Because pain may interfere with important areas of life, you may have suffered some difficult losses. Over time, you may have become more resentful and less thankful. But, if you take the time to notice, you may find that there are relationships, activities, and experiences to be grateful for, even though you have chronic pain. With practice, you can discover gratitude again and experience the many benefits of feeling thankful.
What is Gratitude?
Drs. Robert Emmons and Robin Stern study the therapeutic effects of gratitude. They say that gratitude is “… an affirming of goodness or “good things” in one’s life and the recognition that the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self”.
According to Drs. Randy and Lori Sansone, feeling thankful is: “The appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation”.
Dr. Alex Wood and colleagues define gratitude as: “Involving a life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life”.
The idea of gratitude as a “general state of thankfulness” or a “life orientation” is interesting. It suggests a way of life in which you regularly focus on what is positive and less on what is negative, on what you can do rather than on what you can’t do, and on what you have rather than on what you don’t have. People who genuinely feel grateful on a day-to-day basis tend to report greater well-being, better functioning, and less depression. The better you feel overall, the better you will manage your pain.
How Can you Cultivate Gratitude?
You may think that only people who have “everything” – love, health, wealth, lots of friends, career success – can be grateful. People who “have it all” are no more likely to be happy than those who have less. But everyone can experience the benefits of gratitude. It is noticing and being happy for what you do have. Some researchers who study gratitude have found that you can cultivate it in a couple of different ways. You can keep a list of what you are thankful for at the end of the day or once week. A friend of mine posted what she was thankful for each day on Facebook. As a means of increasing gratitude and feelings of happiness, Dr.Martin Seligman and colleagues suggest writing and delivering a letter of gratitude to someone who has been especially helpful, but who you haven’t properly thanked. Another technique for increasing gratitude, is changing your “mindset” so that you try to regularly focus on what is positive, on what you have, and on what you can do. To help you get started, I have created a Gratitude Worksheet. Take your time and work your way slowly through the worksheet. Click here to see an example.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.