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Practicing Gratitude for Better Health

It’s November the month our nation sets aside a special day to be thankful. Already I am seeing numerous posts on social media asking people to post one thing a day that they are thankful for. Sometimes when we are dealing with a chronic disease like macular degeneration it is a little difficult to feel thankful.

Optimist, pessimist, or realist

We all seem to fall into the category of optimist or pessimist. My youngest daughter tells me she falls into a third category as a realist. Optimism comes easier if like me you are naturally a “glass half full” kind of gal or guy. I grew up in the bible belt singing “Count Your Many Blessings Name Them One by One,” so being thankful is just part of my DNA.

Macular degeneration challenging my optimism

Being thankful got a little harder in my 60’s when seemingly overnight I developed dry macular degeneration and osteoporosis. It was bad enough that I could not see well but now I had to fear falling and breaking a bone. On top of all that I tore a gluteal (butt) muscle and walked on crutches until it healed. Now who tears a butt muscle?  Seriously my idea of working out is a leisurely 2.5-mile an hour walk. I must admit I had a serious pity party.

Practicing gratitude for health

It took some time but slowly I regained my natural optimism. I once again began to count my blessings. It turns out that being thankful is good for your health. Studies show that as we spend time thinking about all the things we are thankful for we experience fewer aches and pains.1

Depression

Depression is common to those living with a chronic disease such as macular degeneration. Being thankful helps us have a more positive outlook on life. This in turn leads to better self-esteem and less frustration about our health.

Sleep

Practicing gratitude at bedtime can result in better sleep.  When we are thankful we feel less stress and anxiety.  This in turn helps us to fall asleep more easily.

Relationships

Gratitude can enhance our relationships. We are attracted to positive people and becoming more thankful can help us project a more positive attitude to others.  This in turn can lead to more satisfying relationships. Finding support groups where you can connect with people who “get it” are also very important.

Learning to be thankful

So what about people that are not naturally optimistic and may find it difficult to be thankful? 

It turns out that they can take steps to foster gratitude. One study on cultivating gratitude while living with chronic illness suggests making lists daily of things we are thankful for.

Over time practicing gratitude can lead to a more optimistic outlook on life. That is not to say we will never feel sad, depressed, or even anger over our chronic disease. A worsening of our condition, an encounter with an uncaring health care provider, or a particularly painful injection can plunge us into momentary despair. Some days we may even have a pity party. By taking a few minutes to think about what we have to be thankful for we may find our mood-lifting.2

As we enter this holiday season, I hope each of us can focus on the positives in our lives and truly be thankful.

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