Gratitude: Helping You Cope with RA
Gratitude as a coping tool for RA? It’s true – it can help you live better and be happier.
This time of year, gratitude is everywhere and the closer we get to Thanksgiving, the more intense the pressure to be thankful gets. When you’re in the middle of an RA flare or having trouble getting through the day because of chronic pain, finding your way to that level of equanimity can be a challenge. Yet, it is also what can help you get through to the next day and beyond. To find hope. But how do you get there?
I still remember the first time I heard the term “gratitude journal.” I was flipping channels and had stopped on an episode of Oprah. Wearing that patented huge Oprah smile, she was talking about using a journal to catalog her gratitude. And yes, I admit that I rolled my eyes. It seemed entirely too contrived to actually work. I didn’t realize that I had actually already been practicing gratitude.
One Good Thing
Once when my family was going through a rough time, we came up with an idea to bring a little light into our world. At the dinner table, we would take turns telling each other about one good thing that had happened that day. As each of us shared our one good thing, the rest of us would start to smile. By the time all four of us had finished, the mood was much lighter.
In the beginning, finding one good thing in a day filled with challenges was hard. Sometimes, I’d pick something that I felt was so small it was positively ridiculous. Maybe it was our dog doing something funny or having a ladybug land on my sleeve. Sometimes, it was simply that no major catastrophe had happened that day. However, what I initially thought it was ridiculously small, gradually built into something bigger. So much of joy and beauty can be found in small moments. If you wait with having a moment of joy until you win the lottery, you may never feel joy. On the other hand, if you take a moment to breathe and laugh at the dog’s antics or look closely at a ladybug, you are more likely to find joy every single day.
Look at What You Have
A long time ago, I learned an important lesson at a Psychic Fair. I was having a reading done and remember next to nothing about it, except for when the psychic showed me a card called the Five of Cups. In it, a man is looking sadly down on three broken cups in front of him, not noticing the two full cups behind him. The psychic told me that I needed to learn to look at what I had, not at what I didn't have.
Loss is part of everyone’s life, but when you live with chronic illness and pain, there’s an extra generous helping of it. Grieving those losses is an important part of adjusting, but you also have to know when to let go of the loss. Focusing on what you have helps you see that your life is still rich and good — not in spite of RA, but with it. Focusing on what you have makes it easier to see your one good thing every day.
Practice Makes Perfect
Including gratitude in your everyday life doesn’t happen overnight. It's a new habit, just like flossing and making a new habit takes time. In the beginning, it can sometimes feel like work. Luckily, practicing gratitude and joy is a self-perpetuating phenomenon — the more you see, the more you see. You may start out with finding one good thing today, but after a couple of days of doing this, you’ll see more than just one. Creating a habit of looking at what you have, instead of what you don’t, takes commitment, but it, too, pays off as you begin to like your life better than before.
All these years later, I still don’t have a gratitude journal, but I feel like I have something even better: I have a habit of looking at what’s good in my life. During challenging times when the darkness start to encroach, I remember that I have a way to cope and start to practice gratitude more consciously. And every time, it leads me out into the light.
Lene is the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain. Her new book is 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.