NOVEMBER 2020 – Giving Thanks in “The Worst Year” (and in Chronic Pain)

So far 2020 is shaping up to be the worst year most of us can remember.  For those of us suffering with severe and unrelenting pain maybe it doesn’t make as much of a difference – every month and every day can be tormenting.

But every November for the past couple hundred years (and at many other times in many other places in societies and cultures around the world throughout history) we take time to reflect upon our blessings and give thanks for all the good things in our lives.  And for those who choose to follow the instructions St. Paul left us in 1 Thessalonians 5, we should be giving thanks at all times, in all circumstances.  Even the worst of times.

This year I’d like to focus your attention though on some pragmatic benefits of gratitude.  Yes, even science confirms that life is better when we choose thankfulness.

One recent German study looked at the effects of gratitude on the experience of fibromyalgia, and found that increasing gratefulness traits correlated with significantly improved quality of life with decreased anxiety and depression (Qual Life Res 2017; 26: 2449–2457).  This was echoed by a British study not too long ago showing the same thing in people suffering with arthritis and with inflammatory bowel disease (Health Psychol 2017 ;36 :122-132) and a Chinese study (J Health Psychol 2013;18:263-71) of folks with more generalized chronic pain issues.

I could have told you that, though.  More intriguing (to me anyhow) is the link between thankfulness and objective measures of health, and… decreased inflammation (Spiritual ClinPract 2015;2:5-17).

Gratefulness…will help loosen the bonds of suffering. It helps to refocus us on what we have rather than what we have lost. It brings us into communion with acceptance and with allowing and these, in turn, open our spirits to greater flexibility and resilience. – Bruce Singer, Psy.D.

Everyone knows that when we choose optimism and positive thinking, the day (or hour) goes a little better.  Not saying that’s always easy.  But there are some simple and practical steps we can institute, focusing on gratitude; one of them we often advise here at NAPM is to try to write down three things in your life you are grateful for every week, and spend focused time every day thinking about those three things.  It may look like:

  1. I’m thankful for heat in my home.
  2. I’m thankful I have two functioning arms and hands.
  3. I’m thankful I’m not in a war zone.

Or maybe a lot more positive than that even:

  1. I’m thankful for the benefits and blessings of modern science and technology that help improve the quality of our lives.
  2. I’m thankful for the people in my life that love me.
  3. I’m thankful for the civil liberties and protections we enjoy in this country, and the freedom to worship as I desire.

This website has a number of other practical ideas to help you get started if you’re new to this sort of thing.  It may seem difficult at first if you’re not used to it, but I can tell you from personal experience, the more you do it, the easier it gets.  Gratitude begets not only gratitude, but I believe it also begets things to be grateful for.  Including your improved health.