Voices: The Science of Gratitude | Lynn Calat, NP
“When we live in the spirit of gratitude, there will be much happiness in our life. The one who is grateful is the one who has much happiness while the one who is ungrateful will not be able to have happiness.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Living in gratitude is sometimes challenging with all that is happening but it is our right to be happy. It’s so easy to ruminate over all the bad in the world and focus on the suffering. In our chosen field of work, we encounter much suffering. However, caring for women with gynecologic cancer also provides us with so much. We who have the ability to help others already have so much to be thankful for.
A study of the literature on gratitude, its benefits and practices demonstrate there is science of gratitude. Gratitude works because it allows individuals to celebrate the present and be active participants in their lives (Emmons, R.A 2013). Having a practice of gratitude enhances our gifts. Gratitude may enhance health by changing our perceptions of daily life events from negative to positive.
Gratitude contributes to increased happiness, health and other desirable outcomes and also decreases negative effects. Several gratitude interventions show improvement in wellbeing and reduction in depression (Seligman, 2005; Wood, 2010; Cheng, 2015). The simple interventions were writing either weekly short letters of appreciation or daily positive experiences or feelings.
Gratitude allows individuals to focus and appreciate the positive aspects of life, even in the context of great loss and difficulty (Griffin, 2016). A randomized controlled trial study of 67 breast cancer patients had half of them doing a gratitude intervention that involved spending 10 minutes weekly writing a letter of gratitude. The control group wrote for 10 minutes listing activities or occurrences that happened during their week. The practice lasted for 6 weeks with a 1-month and 3-months follow up. The patients in the gratitude intervention group experienced a significant decrease in fear of death compared to the control group. This effect lasted for the 3 months studied (Otto, 2016).
Another study of physical effects of gratitude examined associations between gratitude, sleep, mood, fatigue, cardiac function, and inflammatory markers. The study included 186 men and women with Stage B asymptomatic heart failure. Gratitude was associated with better sleep, less depressed mood, less fatigue, and improved cardiac function. The patients expressing more gratitude also had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers (Mills, 2015).
A study of health care providers as participants who either completed a four-week gratitude journaling intervention or instead wrote about hassles that were encountered. The gratitude arm had a significant reduction in stress and improved mood (Cheng, 2015). As practitioners we should think about adding these simple practices such as counting blessings, writing letters of thanks or speaking about things you are grateful for in order to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.
The study of gratitude is continuing to look at its benefits. Writing three things you’re grateful for can have a positive impact on your life. Such a small action can have benefits. Take a few minutes to tell someone you appreciate them. We can choose what to focus on. This author believes that each of us makes a difference. Look at the positive attributes and gifts and things that benefit us and have a grateful attitude. As each individual experiences a grateful heart it is generated to others around them. Consider doing this for our loved ones, patients and community. That is how the healing begins. Wishes for a healthy, grateful holiday season.
Lynn Calat, NP, is a nurse practitioner at New York University Langone Health in New York City.
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