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Practicing Gratitude in Everyday Life

Jennifer Bradtke, PsyD, Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Saint Kitts)

October 2017

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Practicing Gratitude in Everyday Life

Busy veterinary professionals often feel life is constantly about identifying and solving problems, which are not in short supply. They get caught up in the day-to-day troubles, which can leave them tired, stressed, and feeling hopeless, and they can ultimately find themselves in a state of burnout that negatively impacts work, relationships, and health. These overwhelmed, stressed individuals frequently search for ways to cope with and eliminate distress, sometimes choosing unhealthy strategies (eg, another glass of wine, staying one more hour at work to catch up).

Research has revealed a healthier, more effective strategy that appears to be easily within reach, at least partiallyand does not come in pill form. The answer? Intentionally cultivating gratitude every day.

What Is Gratitude?

Defining gratitude is not easy. Is gratitude an emotion, an attitude, or an action? Where can gratitude be found? One of the clearest definitions was published in the Harvard Mental Health Letter: Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible....As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individualswhether to other people, nature, or a higher power.1

The good news is that gratitude is easy to practice and comes with a number of benefits.

The Practice

Gratitude can be cultured and expressed in a variety of ways, including committing to volunteering, sharing, and celebrating instead of complaining. (See Take Action.)

The Benefits

In recent decades, mental health research has grown in the areas of wellness and positive psychology. The practice of gratitude, a currently researched topic, is demonstrating noteworthy benefits.

  • Decreased stress and improved perceptions of wellbeing

The continued practice of gratitude has been found to lower stress and depression2-5; in one study, participants who practiced gratitude for just 2 weeks felt better in aspects of wellbeing and had less perceived stress.6

  • Mood improvement

Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can decrease negative effects, improve mood,4,7 and reduce depression and anxiety.4,5

  • Improvement in relationships

Gratitude is linked with higher social support levels and feelings of connectedness.4,7 Expressing gratitude for a partner can:

    • Enhance positive perceptions of the partner and the relationship
    • Motivate both parties to engage in activities that maintain the relationship8
    • Increase compassion and decrease aggression, positively impacting relationships9
    • Increase feelings of self-efficacy and social worth in others10
  • Health improvement

Study participants asked to practice gratitude reported fewer physical illness signs and lower blood pressure, and they exercised more.7 Even asymptomatic heart failure patients who expressed more gratitude had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers.6 Research continues on the link between practicing gratitude and health benefits, but the results look promising.

  • Improved sleep

Practicing gratitude has been linked to better sleep patterns including total and subjective sleep quality (ie, how an individual perceives how he or she slept, feelings of restfulness), sleep latency (ie, time taken to fall asleep), and sleep durationand reduced daytime dysfunction (ie, excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy, irritability).3

Conclusion

The compelling research on practicing gratitude is linked with an overall sense of improved wellbeing that helps veterinary professionals cope with stress and see their interactions and relationships with family, friends, and colleagues more positively.

Setting aside a few minutes each day to reflect on the positive aspects of life is worth the investment toward improving our own lives and our patients livesand such introspection is more effective than counting sheep.

References and Author Information

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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