How Gratitude and Pain Made Me a Better Person (I Think!)

Can pain and gratitude make you a better person? Although there is not an extensive amount of scientific data that states that gratitude can affect pain, there is some evidence that gratitude can provide some positive outcomes in our brain and body.  Therefore, gratitude might be a practice you want to start to implement in your daily activities.

What Is Gratitude?

According to the Oxford dictionary, gratitude is an expression of being thankful and appreciative of something.  That appreciation can be expressed in various ways, such as saying thank you or returning a kindness.  

It sort of involves a positive outlook, as a person looks at an experience to see the goodness in it.  Granted, not all experiences are good, but many are, and we can be grateful for them.  

For many, gratitude doesn’t come easily.  It is natural to default to negative thinking instead of gratefulness.  In fact one author said that to practice gratitude takes humility (humility = a modest view of oneself).  

Which is actually sort of a relief.  Not everything is about me nor should I think my life is special and I deserve special treatment.  

Gratitude
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Practicing Gratitude

So practicing gratitude may take some work, requiring a shift in our thinking.  If you have trouble finding things to be thankful for, I suggest a small activity to start with.  It is:  Just write down 3 things you are thankful for.  It can be anything.  Small or large.  This activity is to start your mind looking for blessings, and not negatives.

You can do this in the morning or in the evening.  Or the middle of the day.  But begin to make it a practice everyday.  

I use an app called Calm.  It helps me in guided meditation.  There are sections that highlight gratitude, and pain.  I recommend this app for you to get started in practicing gratitude.  

Throughout the day, stop to think about what you have.  For example, I am thankful I can look out my window and see green plants and flowers.  I couldn’t do that in my last job, the office felt like I was in a prison as I had no view of the outside.  

How Does Gratitude Affect the Brain?

Because gratitude doesn’t come naturally to many of us, we can find hope in knowing it can be learned.  Starting with that simple activity of listing three things each day will begin to change your brain.  Science has shown that the brain has plasticity, which means it can form new connections.  

When we are grateful, we affect the brain in new positive ways, releasing serotonin.  Serotonin generates dopamine, which is the “feel good” hormone.  This is a different message to the body; different from the stress hormones released by pain sensations.  With dopamine, we feel better!

A UC Davis study states that gratitude has many other positive effects on the body and brain.  Read this article Gratitude is good medicine.  Or for a more focused scientific study, see this from the NIH, Gratitude and Well Being.

Showing Gratitude
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How Gratitude Can Affect Pain

As stated above, with gratitude stimulating dopamine to the brain, we feel better.  This hormone provides messages to the brain that can counteract the pain messages.  

In addition, while our brains are focusing on good things, and things to be thankful for, our brain is busy.  Therefore, it can’t focus on the pain.  Our mind is distracted from the pain.  

What If I Don’t Feel Grateful?

That’s okay.  Some of us have had past experiences that have impacted our ability to feel grateful.  Some research says that trauma can blunt our ability to be grateful.  If that is the case, I recommend some therapy.  I am a Christian and recommend you find a counselor that is certified through ACBC.

In the meantime, starting with three things as I recommended above, which can begin to change the pathways in your brain so that you will be more and more grateful as the days pass.  

Still not sure?  Here’s a video that may address some of your concerns.

So How Have Gratitude and Pain Made Me a Better Person?

First of all, I have learned to be more grateful.  I did begin my gratitude journey just as I recommended above.  It took some work and discipline, but it now is a regular, daily practice.  And here’s the kicker; there is always something to be thankful for.  

And because now I know from science, that gratitude stimulates positive hormones in my body, I feel better.  Which when you have chronic pain, you always want.  

Furthermore, I have learned these truths in my pain journey.

  • Because of my pain I know how to help others better.  I know what it means to have pain everyday.  I am able to be a bit more compassionate and patient of them.  Compassion goes a long way for those of us in pain.
  • Taught me to depend on God more.  Learning to look to God in my suffering has provided hope each day and for the future.  I am learning character qualities that I could not learn without knowing God is with me in my suffering.
  • Life is not about me.  I believe we are put on earth to make it a better place.  How can I do that?  By being more patient with people in need.  This is not a natural character quality for me.  But perhaps those that need help are suffering in some way.  I can understand suffering.  Truly there are others suffering more than I.  
  • I am learning almost everyday about pain, pain management, the brain’s perception of pain, and what I can do to feel better.  I am proactive. I am grateful for my pain.  I hope that I am helping others by writing blogs about pain. I have learned about how distractions can help me as well. Read my articles about Distraction Techniques for Pain.

Conclusion

Can you take my advice and decide to look for things in your life to be grateful for?  It will take a determined attitude to decide to practice this.  Make it one of the first things you do in the morning.  That way it will begin your day on a grateful note, and hopefully carry you through the day.  

What are you grateful for?  Leave your comments below.

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