The Lightness of Gratitude

Man jumping with umbrella

By Dr. Peter Abaci

Happiness is kind of difficult to measure or describe, but you know it when you see it or feel it. Chronic pain can take away many things in our lives, including joy. Loss can be one of the biggest frustrations of dealing with ongoing pain, but there are ways to regain happiness despite the pain. 

One approach to increasing internal happiness is to embrace gratitude. Think of gratitude as the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to you. During the good times, this may be easier to do. When you have just gotten a big raise at work or watched your little one walk for the first time, it is easy to pump your fist and celebrate these nice milestones. But thinking this way in the midst of life’s storms and challenges is another matter altogether. Thinking good thoughts and expressing gratitude when you are hurting and not able to do things that are important to you or make you happy can be a really difficult but important step in finding relief.

Gratitude can be more than a fleeting thought where one moment it is there, and in the next it is gone. Becoming a more grateful person is a valuable process that can be learned. One way this can happen is by keeping a gratitude journal. Once a day or once a week, write down a short list of things you can feel grateful for having in your life. Experiments done with subjects doing this very type of exercise showed significant benefits including:

  • A tendency to exercise more
  • Reports of fewer physical symptoms
  • Improved well-being and a more optimistic outlook
  • Greater success in achieving goals
  • More likely to perform acts of kindness for others

Other studies done on gratitude have also shown positive health benefits, including:

  • Decreased stress levels
  • Improved sleep
  • A better functioning immune system
  • Lower depression and a boost in mood
  • Better general health habits

One of the remarkable things about gratitude is how instantaneously it can change how we feel. It can very quickly shift our mood from stressed or depressed to something lighter and calmer. Consider gratitude as one way of lightening a heavy burden. While embracing gratitude might be especially difficult during the tough times, this is precisely when we might need it the most. 


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