Gratitude, even in the Midst of Challenge


If you are in the midst of a Health Challenge — newly diagnosed, dealing with an exacerbation/flare up, in pain or just generally having a “why me”/”this sucks” moment or day (we all have them) —  I understand that you may not be feeling much gratitude.  But, keep reading because gratitude plays an important role in happiness and health.  And, while this post is mostly about finding gratitude in spite of a health challenge, I think there is something here for everyone.

Research has found that gratitude has several benefits:

  • increases happiness and life
  • boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm
  • reduces anxiety and depression
  • strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains
  • better sleep
  • makes us more resilient
  • strengthens relationships

These results were found even when studying individuals with health conditions such as neuromuscular diseases and breast cancer.

Several sites recommend cultivating gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal, writing a “gratitude letter” to someone important to you, staying present/mindful of moments that bring you joy and hope, meditating on gratitude, writing a gratitude list, and focusing on what’s right instead of what’s wrong (especially before falling asleep).2010-05-19-gratitudepic  

When you are dealing with a health challenge (or any other life-changing situation), that last suggestion can be difficult.  It’s so easy to slip into worrying about the future or spend time wishing you could turn back the clock to before you became sick. But focusing on those things will get you no where. I’m not saying be a Pollyanna or Suzy Sunshine.  Nor am I suggesting you live in denial about what you are facing.  There are times when you need to get a little angry and belligerent with the illness.  The trick is to not let the anger consume you or become the only emotion you feel.  I have found that taking time to remember what’s working helps(and being grateful there are things that are working) diffuses the “I don’t want to be sick” internal tantrum pretty quickly.

Illness can bring gifts into your life.  If you haven’t gotten to this point yet, I understand this sentence may make you want to puke.  When I was first diagnosed with MS, I sought out stories of inspiration.  I kept coming across articles about people who said that if it wasn’t for their illness they never would have found the rewarding work they were now doing.  At the time, those stories really chaffed me.  I was already doing meaningful work — raising funds for a nonprofit serving individuals who had experienced domestic/sexual abuse or sexual assault.  I didn’t need MS to find meaningful work.  But, the truth is, if it hadn’t been for the MS, and later the fibromyalgia, I wouldn’t be practicing yoga on a regular basis, let alone teaching it.  And as regular readers know, yoga has been a gift for me and led to mental and emotional healing I don’t know I would have found elsewhere.

Let’s look at a couple of the suggestions for cultivating gratitude:

If you like the idea of meditating on gratitude,  The Mentors Channel is running a FREE meditation event called “21 Days of Gratitude”. You can join via Facebook or create a user name.  It started November 4th, but it looks like the meditations will continue to be available throughout the event.  A good thing since I didn’t get this post out as early as I’d planned.

Lake Michigan, photo by Lisa DeShantz-Cook

Lake Michigan, photo by Lisa DeShantz-Cook

photo by Lisa DeShantz-Cook

photo by Lisa DeShantz-Cook

Enjoying the moment — or as one site refered to it, savoring life. This is about awareness. It’s the old cliché of “stop and smell the roses.”  Take time to notice the beauty around you and the beauty that resides in those you love and value. Or maybe you are inspired by that which is interesting and different in life — what some may call hidden beauty. What is it that stops you in your tracks? Or makes you pause and ponder the universe? Not only does this help cultivate gratitude, it takes your mind off whatever else is going on in life.  Images that inspire you are a great last image to hold in your mind as you go to sleep. Want to see other great photos, check out the cedar suite entries blog.

To help you get started on your gratitude list, I’ll share some of what’s on mine:

  • my husband, family and friends, who accept me as I am, even as my abilities ebb and flow
  • researchers working hard to find a cure for MS and fibromyalgia, as well as new medications to slow their progress or ease their symptoms
  • those who fund this research
  • my 3 cats, each of whom can make me laugh even on a bad day
  • my yoga practice
  • the people who attend my classes and allow me to share this awesome practice with them — and who are patient and understanding if I have to cancel a class due to a flare up

My own suggestion for those of you who practice yoga is to take some time, either at the beginning or end of your practice to express gratitude for your practice. Don’t focus on what you were or weren’t able to do. Instead, just feel what yoga does for you and extend a thank you to the universe, God, etc. for its existence.  Also thank yourself for taking the time to come to your practice. This is something I learned from my mentor and I end all of my classes by inviting students to partake in this moment of gratitude.

Last November I created a “Gratitude Playlist” for the classes I taught the week before Thanksgiving (kind of corny, I know).  In the process of looking for songs I discovered this one from Racheal Brady.  Hope you enjoy it.