Gratitude: Bringing Awareness to the Positives in Life

It’s been a long day at the hospital, and you’re finally getting home. You’re tired, you barely have the energy to shower and eat. Your mind keeps wandering back to that procedure you weren’t able to complete, that plan you didn’t flesh out as well as you wanted to, the wrong answer you gave to your attending. You dread having to go back to work tomorrow, in barely 12 hours. At times, you wonder why you’re even doing all of this…

We’ve all been through strenuous days, days that weigh heavy on our shoulders and drain our physical, mental and emotional energy. During those times, it feels especially difficult to give ourselves a little time to breathe, and our mental health can take a huge hit. So, what can you do when you’re feeling down in the dumps? An easy routine to try would be to practice gratitude. 

What does your mind go to when you’re thinking of gratitude? Do you think of the people in your life that you’re grateful for? Do you disregard the idea as another meditation practice you’ll get to one day? Does it make you think of Thanksgiving and turkeys? 

To me, gratitude is the recognition of what I might be taking for granted in my life. It’s a reminder to appreciate each one of the 86 400 seconds in my day, knowing that each of them is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s about bringing more awareness to the positives of my day, without only focusing on negatives.

The benefits of gratitude span across multiple different spheres of life, including emotional, social, personality, career and health benefits (an interesting article about those benefits can be found on 
Let’s have a look at some of those benefits:

  • Gratitude can make us happier (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
  • Gratitude can increase our self-esteem (Lin, 2015)
  • Gratitude can help relieve stress by lowering the heart rate (Kyeong, 2017)
  • Gratitude can reduce depressive symptoms (Seligman et al., 2005)
  • Gratitude helps us feel physically healthier (Hill, 2014)
  • Gratitude can help us sleep better (Digdon, 2011)
  • Gratitude can improve our friendships (Lambert & Fincham, 2011)
  • Gratitude can help us find meaning in our work (Dik et al, 2015)
  • And so much more…

How can you foster gratitude in your day-to-day life?

  • Notice your Thank You’s
    • An easy first step towards gratitude starts with being mindful of the Thank You’s you already say on a daily basis. Do you say them out of habit, such as when someone holds a door open for you? What do these Thank You’s mean to you? Once you become more mindful of these gestures of gratitude that we all use so often, you can begin to truly say them with intent and meaning. The more you recognize and support the feeling behind the Thank You’s you already say, the more you practice gratitude. 
  • Keep a gratitude journal (or app)
    • Another simple step towards a practice of gratitude can be to record 3 things you’re grateful for every day, whether it be in a journal or on a phone application! Reminding ourselves to recognize what we’re grateful for, even on the worst days, can help us feel our best in the long run.
  • Express your gratitude (and be specific about it!)
    • If you’d like a simple exercise to try right now, here’s a fun one: write a letter to someone expressing how grateful you are for them, for the experiences or opportunities you’ve had with them. You can choose to send this letter or not, that’s up to you! On a day-to-day basis, try to be specific when you’re expressing gratitude towards someone. For example, “Thank you, X, for having noticed and corrected the dosing error on the medication I prescribed! It was truly helpful to me, especially during this busy day.” Being specific helps us recognize exactly what we’re grateful for, and the person receiving your thanks feels so much more appreciated.

So, what am I grateful for today?

I’m grateful for the warm cup of mint tea that I’m drinking from the comfort of my couch as I’m writing this post. I’m grateful for the beautiful Mindful Medical Learner team that I’m lucky to work with. Lastly, I’m grateful to you, dear reader, for taking a few minutes to read this article. I hope you spend some time taking care of yourself today, even if only for a bit. And remember…

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

It’s been a long day at the hospital, and you’re finally getting home. You’re tired, but you’re happy to finally shower and eat. Looking back over the past 12 hours, you think about all the things you’re grateful for today. Your mind wanders to that procedure you had the chance to practice for the first time; the kind patient you were able to have a nice conversation with; the teaching you received from your attending. Although it’s been a difficult day, you feel rewarded, and you’re reminded of why you’re doing all of this…

This article was written by Lea Sultanem, a medical student at McGill University and member of the Mindful Medical Learner Team.

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