Practical Tips to Practice Gratitude With RAby Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate
November is traditionally the month to practice gratitude. It is a time to look at our family, friends, health, and feel thankful for all that we have, rather than focusing on what we are lacking. I believe one month is not enough. In my opinion, gratitude should be integrated into every health plan — 365 days a year. Here’s why and how to embrace gratitude more often with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Gratitude lets us see beyond RA
When living with a chronic illness like RA, we often get caughtup in the pain, negative feelings, and fear of the unknown. Gratitude is a skill that, when practiced regularly, can get us through tough times. It allows us to see outside of RA — the flowers outside our homes, the laughter of our children, the kindness of others. It lets us know that the world outside of RA is still thriving. It reminds us that we are a part of something more than our diagnosis.
Make a plan
Like a workout routine, gratitude requires a plan. (It doesn’t come naturally, even to the most optimistic person). But with regular use, gratitude grows, like a muscle getting stronger. To add more gratitude into your day, find reminders to stop and make it a habit. I like to focus on the everyday happenings of my day rather than big events. For me, I like to pause at the top of the stairs and listen to my children laugh with each other. This way, I know that each day, I will be able to find something good.
One of the most popular ways to get started is to keep a gratitude journal. Find a time each day that will allow you to sit and think of three things you feel grateful for each day. It could be first thing in the morning or right before dozing off for the night. Keep it simple so that you will continue to return to it: “Today I am grateful for a clean house, medication, and a warm bed.”
Create a gratitude jar
Take a jar and put it out where it can easily be seen — maybe your kitchen cabinet or work desk. Then, throughout the day, stop and consider what you are thankful for. Write it on a slip of paper and drop it in the jar, like: “I received a complement from my boss today.” When you are having a down day or a day when you can’t find anything positive, take out a gratitude slip and see if it doesn’t help nudge you into seeing outside of the day you are currently experiencing.
Share with a friend
Sharing positives with others is my favorite way to practice gratitude. Daily, my sister and I send texts with two positives from the day before. This makes me look for small everyday good things. Plus, I learn from her as I read her positives. I also share gratitude with a small group of RA friends. Not only does it let me see what is right outside of their pain, but it creates a bond of positivity. Positives might be: “I survived an all-day class and my husband picked up pizza.”
Add a morning practice
Before even stepping out of bed, make gratitude a ritual. It is amazing how starting off the day focusing on what is right, rather than what is wrong, can change our attitude the entire day: “Thank you for this comfortable bed and the coffee I get to drink today.”
Embrace sound association
I have windchimes in my backyard and on my front porch. One day I felt like my mind was being taken over with negative thoughts: “Why are my hips hurting again?” Then I heard the melody of my chimes and thought: “What if I used this sound to remind me to stop and simply be thankful. Now, I look forward to windy days, when I can say: “Thank you for just allowing me to be me.”
Use location to trigger positive feelings
Like sound, choosing a structure you drive by frequently can be used as a reminder to practice gratitude. For me, it’s a building where my husband worked. I drive by it every time I go to work and say: “Thank you past, present, and future jobs. Thank you for the income, the opportunities to learn, and the friendships.” It’s a simple way to show appreciation for all that I have.
Smell and taste
We all have to eat, so why not make this a time to be thankful? If you are cooking, take time to smell the food you are preparing. If the food has been prepared for you, enjoy the tastes of the food rather than gobbling it down without thought.
“I am grateful for the smell of hot soup on my stove. I am also grateful that I have leftovers for tomorrow, so I can rest my body.”
Appreciate your people
Taking a minute to recognize the online community that supports you, a family that tries its best to understand what you are going through, or even a stranger who smiled at you. There are so many wonderful people in this world and we often focus on the negative ones rather than those who are nourishing us emotionally.
“Thank you for the kind Facebook comment.”
Play some music or offer up a prayer
For many people, music naturally takes them to a happy place. Maybe the pain of RA is more than you can handle but hearing a song from your past lets you go back to a happier time: “Thank you for the summer of 1990. I have so many wonderful memories.” If you pray, just add more of it during the day focusing on what is beautiful in your world: “Dear God, I appreciate that you let me sleep through the night.”
Change how you think
Gratitude is about changing your mindset. It is pausing during the day and seeing outside your pain and your busy life. It is changing negative thoughts to more positive, encouraging words. It is noticing what is right rather than getting pulled into a world of all that is wrong. With regular practice, it becomes a part of your being. Give it a try! Challenge yourself to start seeing all the beauty that surrounds you.