As I reflect upon promising treatment developments for chronic illness sufferers of all types , I cannot help but to have a spirit of gratitude toward these developments and physicians. According to Robert Emmons, who wrote The Little Book of Gratitude, gratitude can be defined as, “affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted."

In fact, demonstrating an attitude of gratitude can have powerful health benefits according to an expanding body of research.  These health benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • An increase in happiness and life satisfaction by a corresponding decrease in stress,
  • A lower level of pain and inflammation,
  • An improvement in mental health by improved moods and lowered anxiety,
  • An improvement in sleep.

Similarly, generosity is also linked to happiness and it has many of the same health benefits.  In fact, gratitude can be considered a form of generosity, as it involves offering or extending “something” to another person. This doesn’t have to involve money, per se, but you could extend gratitude toward another person by saying a kind word or writing them a note.  That’s also generous.

When it comes to living with chronic illness, and the degree of suffering associated with it, it is easy to let negative thoughts dominate, particularly toward those who have hurt us. I admit I am as guilty of this as anyone. But I also know that trying to maintain a spirit of gratitude in all circumstances will work to my advantage – and to the advantage of others.  In fact, having a chronic illness – and the adversity associated with it – helps me to much better appreciate the small things in life that are often taken for granted.

Our minds hold a potent influence over us and, while certainly it won’t cure the physical condition, mindsets of gratitude and generosity can contribute to or enhance improved health.  Three such ways to practice gratitude include maintaining a gratitude journal, trying to reframe situations in a more positive way (e.g., the doctor who was unable to help me was not being uncaring, but rather did listen to me and offered a useful treatment idea or insight that somehow helped me), and attempting to see all circumstances as potentially personally beneficial, such as viewing adversity as helping you to develop patience, understanding, and personal growth.

So where is your focus in life?

  • Are you focused on negative thoughts toward others, particularly those who may have hurt you, or are you focused with positive thoughts toward the seemingly more caring people in your life who gave you hope and maybe even an idea that helped you? 
  • Are you focused on the helplessness associated with a treatment that was ineffective and useless, or are you seeking and therefore focused on a treatment that works?
  • Are you focused on other sufferers who may have – in their despair or distress – said an unkind word, or are you focused on the other chronic illness sufferers who have been kind and caring, and with whom you share an unusual, but very strong connection and understanding of your challenging condition. 

Personally, I deeply appreciate the many wonderful, resilient chronic illness sufferers I have met and corresponded with. Having a unified sense of purpose, these connections have given me strength, hope, and courage, for which I am and always have been very grateful.

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