Currently I have so many people around me who are seriously ill: a dear friend with blood cancer, and large masses throughout all the organs in her chest; a relative about to have a permanent peg feeding tube (never to eat or drink by mouth again); a friend about to have a double mastectomy; a relative needing to repair a cleft palate again so he may eat normally; and so it goes with so many various and differing health problems. My reaction to each of these individuals is “what might I do to help you?” “What might I say to provide support and encouragement to you?” Personally, I am not sure that I have the proper background and knowledge to offer help, yet they contact me regularly so perhaps my “listening” to their fears and anxieties is of some assistance.
What I really feel right now is that I want to reach out to each of them to invite them to practice gratitude, but against their serious health concerns, my comments seem so minimal when compared to their anxieties and fears. Yet I believe and know that if they can get in a “State of Gratitude” they will connect to something larger than themselves. But, how may I accomplish this goal? What words might I choose to start the conversation and encouragement with each person?
Gratitude is an emotion, and so I want to use such emotion to help if I may.
My own background as a professor and researcher prompts me to read, to seek the help I need to assist others. Recently, in the positive psychology source I will reference here, I noted that the positive emotion of gratitude is drawn from psychological, social, and religious contexts. Thus, sometimes I will select stories that link me to my family and friends socially. At other times I will draw from an individual’s psychological makeup to find links to their moods, sleep patterns, and stresses in life. Finally, it is common for us to offer prayers and support as persons undergo medical procedures. But are these actions enough?
Gratitude is a “culture”. Gratitude is a cognitive-affective state. This cognitive-affective state takes the form of a perception that someone receives a personal benefit that is not intentionally sought, or deserved, or earned, but the benefit received comes from another person with good intentions. (Emmons & Stern, 2013). I want to give to each of these individuals with the best of intention to do so.
One process I recently read described the concept of ” reciprocity”. This concept is from social psychology and places emphasis on the exchanging of actions. In my case, I believe that my listening and other actions focus on an exchange of “positive emotions”. As I talk with seriously ill persons, I try to focus on the positives, what is still available to the individual, not what the individual may be losing. For example, even though one may not be able to eat again, one may still have the ability to walk, hug their grandkids, share stories, and participate in social outings. Though the loss of food is major, there are still many other activities in which one may still participate. So I would tend to focus on the gifts of each day, rather than the losses of each day. The literature tells us that if one receives an act of gratitude from another person, then the recipient may someday offer something gracious to another person and these favors continue down stream in, as we say, paying it forward.
Further, I want to explicitly tell people about the benefits of gratitude. For example, when one faces life’s hardships, one typically will develop stronger coping skills for the future. Personally, I believe my own cancers were a gift to me. I am much happier each day now than before I faced the seriousness of possible death. Each day is a gift. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I can joyously celebrate today.
When one focuses on gratitude, one may learn to redirect their energies from anxiety and fear to positive results.
Look at the list of positive results from redirecting your energies through gratitude:
Enhanced well-being, meaning gratitude is inversely related to depression. If one is positive and satisfied, one cannot be depressed at the same time.
Gratitude is linked to improved optimism regarding well-being and health. My son frequently comments on my positive attitude these days in spite of negative or adverse events. But, I believe I have experienced a life change from my positivity as discussed below.
When one is stronger (not anxious or depressed), such self-control helps one make decisions for health, the financial needs for the future and so forth. Illness colors one’s thoughts and decision-making processes. You need a clear head to make medical decisions.
A clear head leads to calmly considering all possibilities available to you. It minimizes impulsive decisions.
Gratitude has been shown to be linked to better mental health, better moods, deeper sleep patterns at night, reduced inflammation, a reduction in stress hormones, and reduced heart rate variability. If I may speak with my seriously ill relatives and friends and explain the benefits of “gratitude”, perhaps they may acquire a new set of coping skills to deal with their current hardships.
Gratitude promotes thoughtful actions that redirect a person’s energies. Even an action as simple as planning to get out of bed each morning seems to me to be a helpful beginning.
Since gratitude is derived from not only psychological root causes, but social factors, I believe that gratitude can be shown to have relevance to each person individually, as well as to those members of each individual’s community, family, and/or social networks. These collective networks may be linked to fund raisers, food deliveries, points of care after hospitalizations, driving and rides to doctor appointments, care of animals, house keeping and much more. It is well know that people who volunteer are more reliable and engaged and passionate about their actions than are paid employees.
In summary, maybe what I may give is information. Perhaps I may offer education about the benefits of gratitude. If information and alternative ideas will be useful to those people around me, then maybe that is my place in their worlds for right now.
My mother taught me to be self reliant. Life is not always easy, but it is good and worth seeing the sunrise each morning. Gratitude is an emotional process in which we are all involved with each other as we live, and care, and share. I hope some of the above content may be useful to those of you in pain right now.
Remember, gratitude is linked to improved optimism regarding well-being and health. I pray I have given you a few tools for your improved health. My best to those of you with health issues at this time.
For those persons who would like to listen to this posting, please find the audio version in this YouTube: