How to practice gratitude

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude" A.A. Milne

When you have a chronic illness and particularity when you’re in the midst of a very bad episode or flare, it’s difficult to feel grateful for anything. We get overwhelmed by everything we have to cope with and forget to express gratitude, yet if you think about it we all have something to be grateful for.

I think that possibly the longer you have an illness, the more likely you are to be able to find things to be grateful for. When you first get a diagnosis you often feel overwhelmed with just coping and don’t have much time to think about anything else.

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Expressing gratitude is an important skill to develop, even more so if you battle a chronic illness as it promotes feelings of well-being and happiness.

A study showed that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook. So by practicing gratitude and reminding yourself of everything you have to be grateful for you are actually helping your health.

People think that gratitude is looking on the bright side or ignoring all the other things we go through, but it’s more than that. There is an element of positive thinking involved, gratitude thoughts also help to shift your focus away from the any bad things you have going on and remind you of the good things in your life.

There’s pretty much not one of us that can’t find something to be grateful for, from the big things such as the house we live in, family/friends/partners/pets to smaller things such as enjoying a lovely cup of coffee or getting the perfect parking spot. Start simply, when you’re in bed be grateful for the soft bed you’re lying on. Has your water supply or electricity supply ever been turned off or failed? It suddenly reminds you of how vital something that we take for granted is, so be grateful you have these things.

A gratitude journal is a good idea – I call mine my Happy book and have mentioned it before. The idea is that you write down things you are grateful for, the suggestion is five things but honestly if you just wrote down one every week that’s fine. Writing things down then rereading them focuses your mind on how much you have to be grateful for, so even on days you feel very down you can remind yourself of what you have right now. Giving gratitude for anything, no matter how silly or small you think it may be, is powerful.

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The other thing people use is a gratitude jar. You write something you’re grateful for (as with the gratitude journal the suggestion is every day, but even if you add something weekly that’s still good). and pop the slip of paper into a jar. At the end of the year you reread all the slips to remind yourself of all the things you have to be grateful for. You could even make it a family gratitude jar and have the whole family join in. Even Oprah Winfrey put a gratitude jar on her list of favourite things!

If you don’t want to use a gratitude book or jar you can simply remind yourself of the things you are grateful for. I find the best time to do that is when I go to bed. Try thinking about good things before you fall asleep, rather than all the things you’re concerned about, which are likely to keep you awake.

Can you have too much gratitude? Apparently some people can! In one study it was found that counting blessings once a week boosted happiness, but doing so three times a week didn't. That suggests that for some people, three times a week was too much and too much gratitude can sort of backfire. So try it out and find what works best for you.

I found a few things that other people with chronic illness said they were grateful for:

  • “I am grateful that I managed to have a morning coffee at the cafe! Long time no see.”

  • “Today I’m grateful I was able to take my son to the library. We’ve had a lot of ‘at home’ days lately so it was really nice!”

  • “I’m thankful that I have my wife to care for me. Rough and painful day today, unable to do anything.”

  • “I got to my Doctors appointment and then sat in the park to sketch the scenery in the afternoon”.

  • “I am not homeless”.

  • “Escaping the house today, something I can’t always manage”.

  • “Daffodils out in the village and the sound of the birds singing at 7am this morning”.

  • “Feet up watching a documentary about Elizabeth 1 with a lovely cup of lemon ginger tea”.

Hop over to our facebook page and tell us what you’re grateful for.

Angie Davidson

The content on this blog should not be seen as a substitute for medical advice. If you have, or think you may have lupus, always seek advice from a qualified physician. Find out more in our Terms of Use.