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  • Writer's pictureSimone Grove

The powerful practice of gratitude

This year I’m focusing even more on health and wellness consciousness – and each month I’ll be sharing insights on qualities, practices and techniques you can use to support your wellbeing journey.


Many scholars and sages over the years have stressed the importance of patience and self-compassion on your journey to better health, which is why breaking down complex or challenging concepts into bitesize chunks is one of the most effective ways to improve your emotional and physical wellbeing. Today I’m focusing on gratitude – a simple yet incredibly special quality we can all cultivate that is often overlooked.


What is gratitude, and why is it important?


Gratitude is the practice of noticing the good things in our lives, and being thankful for them. It is also an attitude and emotion in itself, embodied by recognising and appreciating good things, people, experiences, or aspects of our lives.


Gratitude isn’t the absence of bad things. Instead it’s a practice of placing the emphasis on the good and maintaining a positive outlook - remaining in a state of being thankful and expressing appreciation for what we have rather than focusing on what is lacking or negative. Gratitude can be directed towards various aspects of our lives including relationships, achievements, opportunities and health and can be expressed through actions, such as saying ‘thank you’, as well as through internal reflection and mindfulness about the positive aspects of your life.

Cultivating a sense of gratitude involves consciously acknowledging and appreciating the positive, even during challenging times. Being grateful is something we all know how to do – but it’s also easy to forget to be thankful, especially when life feels overwhelming. It can be even more difficult to count your blessings when you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis or find yourself living with a life-limiting illness – understandably so. When we’re faced with any kind of serious health challenge, thoughts filled with fear, anxiety, sadness and helplessness can often feel all-consuming. These negative emotions leave little room for gratitude – which is why introducing a gratitude practice can be transformational for anyone living with a life-changing condition.


Studies have shown that expressing and focusing on thoughts of gratitude can have a positive impact on both our mental and physical wellbeing – including reduced stress levels, improved sleep, reduced inflammation and pain and enhanced immune function.


How does gratitude support improved health and wellbeing?


If you take a moment to examine your most dominant thoughts surrounding your condition, what do you notice? When we first start working together, the majority of my patients and members within my membership, tell me that their thoughts on their condition, treatment and even prognosis are mostly negative. This makes sense given that much of the messaging we receive around serious illness is based on worst-case scenarios. Reminders such as pain, scars, treatments and medication side-effects can also represent ever-present triggers which never seem to go away. And the more you focus on the negative aspects of your condition, the more dominant those unhelpful and negative thoughts become.


Before we continue, I should mention that by this, I don’t mean you should ignore or start stuffing down your feelings. Fear, anxiety and worry are all normal emotional responses when dealing with an ongoing illness. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean you can never feel disappointed, down or despondent. It’s really important to acknowledge and feel your feelings.


Many people find that incorporating gratitude practices, such as keeping a gratitude journal or regularly expressing thanks, can lead to a more fulfilling and positive life experience and can help them to better cope with their diagnosis. As mentioned above, practicing gratitude has also been associated with numerous mental and physical health benefits. For anyone living with a serious or long-term illness, it can improve overall wellbeing and quality of life, reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and improve our relationship with ourselves and others. Gratitude also helps us to adopt a more positive outlook on life and on our current situation and any challenges we may be facing.


Practice: Harnessing the power of gratitude


One of my favourite books of all time is The Secret. Written by Rhonda Byrne in 2006, it’s now become a cult classic with several sequels all focused on harnessing the power of thoughts and beliefs to inspire positive change. 


The Secret has helped me (and many of my patients and members) through tough times, revealing the ever-present aspects of life to be grateful for even when everything feels hopeless, and reminding us how powerful a positive perspective can be in shaping our realities. This super-easy and simple gratitude practice is inspired by the advice in The Secret series.


Every morning and evening, simply write down just three things you are grateful for. What’s incredible about this practice is that at first it might feel difficult to think of anything – but you’ll very quickly start to find that ‘too many’ things to be grateful for come to mind. Keep the gratitude flowing and add these ‘extras’ to your list.


The powerful impact this practice can have is deceptive because it is so simple to do and doesn’t require any effort or special equipment – but I’ve seen it transform lives. If you become more serious about maintaining a long-term gratitude practice or need a little help, there are dedicated gratitude journals which can help you to keep up this healing habit long-term.


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