Several years ago, my mom tried to start a Thanksgiving tradition in our family that she called ‘the blessing cup’. Before dinner, she would read a prayer and then pass a cup around the table. Each person would take a turn holding the cup and talking about what they were thankful for that year. This ‘new’ tradition didn’t last very long because we all had a hard time taking it seriously. We would all give a generic, canned answer to get it over with so we could start eating. Looking back now, I wish I took this exercise in gratitude a bit more seriously.
Research has shown that there is a significant relationship between gratitude and well-being. People who experience more gratitude in their lives tend to be happier and healthier than those with less gratitude. On the surface this makes sense. But looking a little deeper, the bigger questions are how does one experience gratitude, and in turn, this greater sense of well being? Can a person who lives with challenges like diabetes, experience gratitude?
Gratitude can be defined as an appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself. In other words, gratitude is a general state of thankfulness. The same research that found a relationship between gratitude and well-being found that people who experience more gratitude are those that look for it. No matter what you have going on in your life, gratitude is not something that just happens, but is something that you can actively seek.
For people with diabetes, finding the time and energy to look for and appreciate what is meaningful can sometimes take a backseat to the daily hassles of managing this condition. But I would argue (and research supports) that taking time to find the positive and experience gratitude may actually be a critical aspect of your diabetes management. Here are some things that can help you be more aware of the good in your life.
Don’t compare yourself to others: Looking at what others have (or in the case of diabetes, what they don’t have), can make us lose sight of the positives in our lives. Take some time out and focus what you do have, no matter how insignificant it may seem, rather than what you don’t have. Recognize that you have challenges, but notice the ways that you are living well, even with these challenges. If this is challenging for you, try this: Ask the person that you most often compare yourself to what they would be thankful for if they were in your shoes. Their answer will probably surprise you!
Don’t let diabetes block your view of the positive: Sometimes, diabetes may feel like it has overtaken your life. You may feel so overwhelmed with diabetes that the stress shades the way you see the world. Some people get so focused on the challenges of diabetes that the positive things in their lives get blocked out. Take a minute (and a deep breath) and try to take the stress of diabetes off your plate for a couple of minutes. During this time, write down a couple things you have to be thankful for and put this list somewhere where you will see it. Refer back to it when things get stressful again.
Pay attention: In several studies the people who experienced more gratitude were people who were asked to write a daily or weekly journal entry about what they have to be grateful for. Because they knew they would have to write something down, these people began looking for things throughout their day or week to write down. In effect, they were forced to pay attention and and look for things to write down. Use this strategy to your advantage! Every evening for a week, take 5 minutes and write down where you found gratitude that day. As the week goes on, chances are you’ll start noticing ways you find gratitude simply because you know that you have to write something down.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, take some time and really think about what you are thankful for and appreciate what is valuable and meaningful to you. Make the choice to experience gratitude while living with diabetes. And if a blessing cup goes around your table this year, remember that taking it seriously can be good for your health!