The past couple of years I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of gratitude and have been intrigued by research documenting the concrete physical and emotional benefits related to a gratitude practice. This time of the year we give more attention to being thankful than we typically do the rest of the year. During challenging times though, I wonder what role gratitude plays, if any.
In everything, give thanks is a verse found in I Thessalonians 5:18 and is a directive I’ve found challenging to say the least. How can anyone honestly be thankful for the hard things in life: a cancer diagnosis, dismissal from a job, a broken relationship, or a fatal accident? I’ve never been able to give thanks for those things. Is that even possible? While early on I had a hard time coming to terms with that concept, over the years my understanding of giving thanks has changed – from giving thanks for everything to giving thanks in all things.
I’ve heard so many cancer patients talk about how they eventually came to see their cancer diagnosis as a positive because they made needed changes they might not otherwise have made, and they became appreciative of things they previously had ignored. I’ve heard others say that while they wouldn’t have chosen the pain of a difficult situation, after a period of time they could look back, reflect on lessons learned and realize there were positives that came from the losses.
In James Miller’s, An Affirmation for Those Who Have Lost, he says, “I believe a time of loss can be a time of learning unlike any other, and that it can teach some of life’s most valuable lessons. In the act of losing, there is something to be found. In the act of letting go, there is something to be grasped.” While his writing is related to the loss of a loved one, it’s relevant to all of our struggles. We may have lost a body part, a job, a relationship, or a loved one. We don’t have to give thanks for those things, but in those circumstances, might it be possible to be grateful, for outstanding medical care, new priorities, new opportunities, and cherished memories?
The research link above shows that giving thanks, in good times and hard times, is actually a self-care activity resulting in more positive emotions, better sleep and a stronger immune system. We are able to rewire our brain for more joy and less stress. Check out How to Practice Gratitude to start your gratitude practice and live your best life.
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SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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