Living with a chronic illness is challenging and can wear one’s emotions thin. Between the doctor visits, pain, medication and physical limitations that some experience with rheumatic diseases, it can be difficult to remain optimistic. One way that I help my patients cope is by encouraging gratitude.
Yes, I know it sounds a bit hippie, but there is evidence that an attitude of gratitude can be beneficial. Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to you and is a general state of appreciation. While some consider it a moral virtue, an attitude, an emotion, a habit, a personality trait, or a coping response, researchers have defined gratitude as a positive emotional reaction to the receipt of a gift or benefit—such as life. Regardless of the definition, being grateful can include physical, psychological and social benefits.
Benefits of Gratitude
When we are appreciative of the world around us and we limit overburdening ourselves with the inevitable, out-of-our hands stressors, we encourage a sense of self-appreciation and self-respect. This state of gratitude can further strengthen our immune systems by promoting wellbeing in actionable ways like increased physical activity (when possible) and improved dietary habits, which in turn may indirectly lessen pain and other comorbidities associated with rheumatic diseases (e.g., elevated blood pressure, blood glucose). You may also see an improvement in your sleeping habits.
The positive emotions that come from gratitude can help you feel more alert and allow you to experience a greater sense of optimism. This is ideal for those suffering from chronic illness, depression or anxiety. You might also find yourself being more compassionate, generous, forgiving and outgoing, which can lead to more social interactions and less social isolation.
While I can’t guarantee that you will experience all of these benefits when you take on a grateful attitude, it doesn’t hurt to test it out.
So, the next time you’re feeling less than optimistic, remember the benefits of being grateful. With each new day aim to be compassionate, generous and grateful for time with loved ones or the ability to do what you love. I challenge you to smile and say good morning to the first five people you make eye contact with and hold the door for the person behind you.
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Vaneet Sandhu, MD, is a rheumatologist an assistant professor in the Division of Rheumatology at Loma Linda University Medical Center and the director of fellowship and clinical operations at Riverside University Health System. Dr. Sandhu is also a member of the American College of Rheumatology’s Communications and Marketing Committee.