“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” ~Amy Collette
By Susan Sportsman, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN
The world continues to be a chaotic—and often frightening—place in 2021. The pandemic continues to affect our lives and those of us in nursing regularly see the negative consequences play out in our work. Fear, frustration, and burnout abound. A shortage of nurses and other healthcare workers seems to be everywhere. While there is an upsurge of people who want to be nurses, there are too few faculty to accommodate them. Who could be blamed for feeling depressed and hopeless?
Yet as Thanksgiving approaches, gratitude seems to be required. The benefits to a grateful heart are many. The Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota reports that the experience of gratitude can induce relaxation, improve the immune system, and decrease blood pressure. Grateful people are more likely to cultivate better health habits and develop optimistic attitudes.
Cynics among us (including me, on occasion) would say it is easy to feel grateful when things are going well. Gratitude is much harder to come by during adversity. Yet, psychological research has demonstrated that gratitude has the capacity to rejuvenate us when we are depleted by stress. Simply stopping a moment to pause and reflect on what is good in one’s life can serve as a “stress antidote.” Such a mindset can change our perspective, reduce feelings of self-pity, self-centeredness, impatience, intolerance, negative judgment, indignation, anger, or resentment, and increase our sense of well-being.
So how can we develop the habit of gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but throughout the year? Here are some suggestions.
- Write down three things that have happened during the day for which you are grateful. To support this habit, some folks keep a gratitude journal. A friend of mine decorated a small “gratitude” box that I keep on my desk. I start the day writing three things for which I am grateful on a slip of paper and putting it in the box. Not only is it helpful to write these down each day, but on a stressful day I often open the box and read some or all the slips, reminding me of all the things for which I am grateful.
- Saying what you are grateful for aloud can also be helpful. This can be an activity for your family around the dinner table, not just at a Thanksgiving dinner, but regularly when the family is together. Saying thank you out loud when you are alone can also be a powerful way to lift your spirits.
- When you are angry, a quick inventory of five things that you are thankful for in the moment can cool your anger. These may be important things, like good health, or small things, like seeing a beautiful sunrise as you drove to work. Directing your attention to a positive emotion can reduce those angry feelings.
- Say “thank you” to a family member or colleague who did a favor for you. Bringing you a cup of coffee during a busy morning is certainly something to be thankful for!
- Thank yourself for something you have done for yourself. Say thank you when you clean out your closet or when you exercise. “Self-appreciation” has a positive effect on your mood.
- Since technology plays such a key role in our lives, use some sort of technology to send out some good vibes to those you care about. For example, text friends the reasons you appreciate them. Writing this will help you and reading it will help your friend.
In times like these, it may be hard to find something to be grateful for. Although we often find it difficult to find something positive in a negative situation, adopting an attitude of gratitude is important to our wellbeing. Looking for the “silver lining,” as my mother use to say, is a strategy that can help. Even the most difficult life event comes with some benefits. For example, making a mistake teaches you a lesson. An illness may bring forth compassion and support from others. When times are hard, ask yourself, what is good here?
In keeping with the notion of an attitude of gratitude, here are some things in nursing that I have found to be grateful for during this time of the pandemic.
- Despite a national lockdown of sorts, nursing education continues to produce creative methods to prepare students for practice.
- The effects of the pandemic have stimulated others to become nurses.
- The pandemic has highlighted the gaps in our current health care system, providing a road map to improve health care for all.
I hope that those reading this blog will also think about what you are grateful for in your nursing career. Those of us at Collaborative Momentum would add all of you who have supported us over the last five years to our own gratitude list. We hope you have a wonderful and grateful Thanksgiving!