The Gifts of Gratitude

Nov 21, 2022

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Gratitude is an emotion and a state of mind that brings multiple benefits. Slowing down and reflecting on what we’re grateful for can bring us so much positivity and lift us up. But it’s not necessarily something that comes naturally. We have to work on it. Be intentional about it.

With this episode, I want to encourage you to put some new gratitude “tools” into your personal skill set. Exercising the superpower of recognizing the existence of goodness and staying in that moment can transform your daily experiences. In fact, gratitude is essential to actually enjoying our life. So let’s talk about it!

“The number of positive experiences that you notice is much more important than how special or how exceptional those experiences are… It’s more beneficial to savor ordinary, pleasant, everyday activities, rather than sort of waiting for important or extraordinary events that don’t happen very often.”  – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn

  • What experts say about it
  • Gifts of gratitude:
    • Life improvements
    • Health benefits
  • 3 Exercises to cultivate gratitude:
    • Savor something daily
    • Focus on what you’re grateful for
    • Practice expressing appreciation

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

Articles on the benefits of gratitude:

Podcast Episodes that pair well with this one:

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I'm Dr. Sarah Dill, and this is the Stressless Physician Podcast, episode number 41.

Welcome to the Stressless Physician Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Sarah Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. I am excited to talk to you today about gratitude, which I have to agree in my mind, sometimes I dismiss it or it just seems very, I guess, sort of not that interesting, right? We all have heard that gratitude has amazing benefits, but it doesn't necessarily seem that new or that interesting or something revolutionary.

But it is the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I have to say, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don't know about you, but I like it because it doesn't have to do with any presents. It involves some of my favorite foods, and it involves time with family and friends. I've had a lot of Thanksgivings with friends rather than family since I used to live far away and I have had a lot with family or with a combination, and I like it. It's just a sort of slow day with cooking and eating and talking and hanging out. And traditionally it's also a time where we reflect on what we're thankful for or grateful for, and I really appreciate that. So I hope you have Thanksgiving plans, whether you are going to spend that with friends or with family, or maybe even by yourself, whatever it is.

But I wanted to talk today about gratitude and why getting good at gratitude. Actually is so important, why we should care about it and what the benefits are, what the gifts of gratitude really are. And every time I go, I just do a little Google search to sort of see what's new in the science and studies of the benefits of gratitude.

But before we start, you know, I always like to define my terms and gratitude. Is something that is defined a little bit more loosely, I would say. Of course, with scientific studies, it might be defined a little bit more tightly, but basically gratitude is defined often as the quality of being thankful. Gratitude is also defined as readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

There's another definition by a leading scientific researcher on gratitude, Robert Emmons, who discusses gratitude having two key components. He describes the first component of gratitude as an affirmation of goodness, affirming that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we've received, and the second part of gratitude, he defines as our recognizing that the sources of this goodness, right, the goodness in the world are outside of ourselves, so we can acknowledge that other people or other forces or other powers, right, if you're spiritually minded, give us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

But basically, I like to keep things simple, the way I think about gratitude is this attitude of thankfulness, of appreciation for what we have. So thankfulness and appreciation for something or someone, or some experience in our present, but we can also be thankful or grateful or have gratitude for our past or for our future, right? So it's this feeling of appreciation and thankfulness.

Why is it important? I've talked before about the tendency of our mind to always be thinking about what's next, right? And we have a mind, and we live in a society in which we are always sort of being trained or, advertised to, or in some way prompted to always want more. We achieve a goal or we achieve something, we get a sort of brief shot of dopamine. We feel excited and happy and elated. But then there's sort of the next level, there's the hedonic treadmill of what's next, of sort of acclimating to our current good situation or situation, and then always looking for more. And so we have this never ending sort of sense of craving and wanting more.

The Dalai Lama has a famous quote that says, we need to learn to want what we have, not to have what we want in order to get stable and steady happiness. And so gratitude is an attitude that we can practice and train to, again, cultivate more happiness and more appreciation for our life just as it is now. And I would say that gratitude is actually essential, to actually enjoying our life. To appreciate what we have now and to not miss out on all the things.

I know I've mentioned this before, but before Covid started, I wasn't really grateful for the ability and opportunity to go out to dinner with friends. And then things changed and suddenly I missed it. And I wished that I had been more grateful and appreciative of those things, of the little things in life. And the good news is that gratitude can be cultivated. It is a practice and it does allow us to live a life that is more satisfying and pleasurable right now.

It doesn't mean you have to not set big goals, doesn't mean that you can't want more and try to achieve more, but it's about not missing out on everything that you appreciate and are thankful for right now. And in fact, I think that can springboard you into being able to take more effective action from a place of currently feeling happier and more content rather than from a place of lack and scarcity.

And so first I just wanted to talk a little bit about what is some of the current research on the benefits of gratitude. And I will put a couple links to at least some review articles here. But one thing, I know I've talked about this before, is the importance of sleep. So there's actually some interesting studies that show that grateful people sleep better. So I appreciate that and. I think that's super important.

Gratitude, not surprisingly, helps people have better relationships. You can have more friendships, you can have better relationships with your spouse or your partner. I think about this in terms of with patients, right? Having gratitude for patients even can allow us to have better relationships with other people.

Gratitude can make us more effective at work. It enhances managerial skills, in some research studies. It reduces impatience and can improve our decision making. Gratitude can help us find meaning or cultivate meaning and purpose in our work as well. People who feel respected and who feel appreciated, and sort of feel gratitude for work can reduce turnover. Having people reflect on why you might be grateful for the people that you work with, you can see that that could improve workplace relationships.

Gratitude has a lot of studies that show it can significantly reduce stress in the workplace and also improve mental health, both for oneself, but also for staff and other people with whom you work.

Gratitude makes us happier. So there's some multiple studies actually in the positive psychology literature that gratitude, journaling and reflecting on things for which we are grateful can enhance our long-term happiness by over 10%. And this has sort of a buffering effect for future stress and future challenges. So this idea that people who pay attention to what is good in their life instead of what is bad, are more likely to feel positively about their life.

There's some studies as well that show that even when controlling for sort of personality traits, a high level of gratitude can have a strong impact on psychological wellbeing, self-esteem, and depression. Feeling grateful can reduce feelings of envy. It can facilitate positive emotions and make us more resilient. It can increase our self-esteem. Again, it can improve our romantic relationships. It can improve our friendships. Gratitude is associated with improved or increased social support. It can strengthen family relationships, especially in times of stress.

Gratitude actually has some health benefits as well. It's been shown to reduce depressive symptoms for weeks. It can reduce your blood pressure. Again, as I mentioned before, it can improve your sleep. Being grateful can contribute to being more fit. It increases people's frequency of exercise and can improve your overall physical health. There was a study that showed enhanced recovery from coronary health events in subjects who practiced gratitude.

So again, even though these sort of ideas of being grateful seems very trite. Sometimes things that are sort of common sense we tend to overlook, and so I am recommitting to really redeveloping more of a gratitude practice. I am going to just offer two exercises, simple exercises that you can practice and see what happens. A lot of the research with gratitude and a lot of the, the benefits of gratitude are really cultivating, again, a focus on what you appreciate, what you're grateful, what's going well in your life, things that you appreciate, people that you appreciate, and the key is actually getting very specific, not keeping it at a high level, but getting very granular. And then also really spending time sort of savoring those things. It's the idea again, that our brain tends to focus on the negative, which confers a survival benefit, but we don't tend to pay attention to positive events.

My favorite saying is a quote from Rick Hanson that our brain is like Velcro for the negative and like Teflon for the positive. And so really what we need to do is start to spend intentional time cultivating a focus on things that we appreciate, things that we're grateful for, things that are going well.

So the first exercise, I like to keep these simple, and I would encourage you to try both of these, but one is enough. So I'm gonna give you two exercises. The first is about savoring something every day, and the second one, is about basically focusing on three things that you're grateful for so you can decide. They're both very simple to do. And the benefit really comes from making it a habit, making it something habitual. And so this is actually something that I do already.

So the first is to savor something every day. I would recommend savoring something in the morning. So the idea here is that an opportunity to savor, to really enjoy and to spend time appreciating a pleasant experience is always available to you. It can be found almost anywhere, even while you're experiencing challenging or stressful life events. So the idea here is that the number of positive experiences you have, especially the number of positive experiences that you notice is much more important than how special or how exceptional those experiences are.

And in fact, I think it's actually important to savor sort of common everyday things. So it's more beneficial to savor ordinary, pleasant, everyday activities rather than sort of wait for important or extraordinary events that don't happen very often. So the goal of this exercise is to help you sort of stop or pause, notice, and enjoy and prolong positive experiences that you are already doing every day.

So the first step for this exercise is just to identify some everyday activities that bring you pleasure. I would especially focus on maybe something in the morning or something in the evening. I like to start my day off with coffee. This is very common. Maybe you're a tea drinker, but I like to think about it as sort of, what's your ritual in the morning? It might be scrolling through email even. It doesn't have to be something like coffee, although I love my cup of coffee in the morning. But I want you to make a list of everyday things or activities that bring you pleasure. That you find pleasant.

So common things that I hear are, again, a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, a hot shower or a hot bath. IF you're an early morning person, maybe watching the sunrise, or watching sort of the change from darkness to daylight. Maybe it's taking a walk sometime in your neighborhood or at lunch hour. But I would just make a list of activities that are already pleasant for you that you enjoy. And then I want you to pick one or two that you are going to focus on. You're really gonna practice savoring every day for the next couple weeks. So you might typically just rush through these or multitask, but the opportunity here is to focus on fully immersing yourself in the experience.

So if you enjoy scrolling through your email in the morning, I want you to focus on that. I want you to focus on giving the activity your complete attention. That's why I think it's nice to do something that has sort of engages your physical senses a little bit more, like a cup of coffee or tea or breakfast or a hot shower, shaving could be something like that, whatever it is. Slowing down and noticing and appreciating all of the positive, pleasant aspects of whatever it is.

If your mind wanders, you just redirect it back. This is really how you create a memory. So paying attention to your senses right will help savor the moment thoroughly, and it sort of makes the memory of it more robust. So that's why I think picking something that you can see or smell, feel, or taste. So for my morning coffee, I like to focus on what coffee do I wanna drink? I've lately become an espresso lover. I love it. Which one do I want? Putting it in the coffee machine. I like to focus on the sound of it brewing the coffee. I love holding my cup of coffee in my hands when it's warm, I like to smell the coffee, that first sip, I like to really savor it. How would I describe it? I top it off with a little heavy cream and just enjoying that. Maybe I look outside while I'm drinking my coffee. But can I appreciate it? Can I not multitask?

So I really want you to focus on that. It could even be driving to work. But can you just enjoy the sensations or the present moment, whatever it is that you find pleasant. So that's the first exercise that you can do is to practice savoring something every day. I would recommend every morning. It can be a great way to get you in a frame of mind of looking for all the things that you appreciate and enjoy.

The second gratitude exercise, and this is actually in my book, is basically cultivating an attitude of gratitude by focusing or finding three things that you're grateful for every day. I think this is a great thing to practice at night. I know I have some clients who do this with their children at the dinner table, or maybe when their children are getting tucked into bed. I l ike to do this in my journal, I just jot down three things that I'm grateful for.

Again, I mentioned earlier that focusing on things that you're grateful for in clinical studies have shown improvements in sleep. Possibly, the theory is, is that by focusing on things that we're grateful for, and cultivating that sense of appreciation, we're sort of redirecting our mind away from worries or problems. And again, that might help with more rapidly falling asleep. So this is something though you could do in the morning when you wake up, or if you have time before bed. You could do this at nighttime.

But what I want you to do is think of three things, specific things for which you are grateful. Ideally try to find three new things every day. I find it easier for me to do this at night and to think about three things, experiences, people, or events. Again, just can be everyday things or they can be less ordinary. That I'm grateful for experiencing every day. It could be as simple as like hot water. I've had my hot water heater break, and that makes me very appreciative of hot running water for a while.

Could be grateful for sort of easy day at work, or having all your staff show up for maybe a patient who is a special patient or who appreciated gratitude for you or who thanked you for taking good care of him or her. Whatever it is. It could be being grateful for getting into bed sometimes. I'm just really grateful to have a bed that I love and be able to get to bed and sleep.

So I want you just to reflect on this, again, spending some time, just even a couple minutes. Three things you're grateful for. Bonus points, if you can write them down. Maybe you can keep a journal and keep a list. Spending two to three minutes, really thinking about these three things can make such a difference. You might even notice how it feels in your body when you're feeling grateful.

And then a third option. I know I said I'd only give you two, but a third option is to practice expressing something that you're grateful for to another person. I'm gonna actually do another podcast episode on this, but how to basically improve your relationships by focusing on what you appreciate about another person, but you may just want to every day compliment someone or let someone know how you appreciate them. This can be with staff or with a patient. It can be with a partner, with family members, with friends. But notice how it feels when you tell someone else what you appreciate about them, why you're thankful to have them in your life, anything like that, that can then really give you a sense of gratitude.

All right, that's all I have for you today. Happy Thanksgiving this week for anyone who is celebrating. And I just wanna say that I am grateful to you for listening to this podcast. It gets me excited to think about what I wanna talk about, and so I appreciate each and every one of you who has taken the time to listen to this episode or any other episodes.

Feel free to always reach out. I'm gonna be starting a new group coaching program at the beginning of the year. I am recording this podcast in early November, but I will let you know more about it. But this work, while simple is not always easy, right? But I really encourage you to experiment with implementing one of these gratitude tools, getting good at gratitude and notice what changes show up in your life. If you do indeed find that you tend to be happier, more appreciative, more content, and enjoy your life more. Love talking to you with you. Have a wonderful week, and I will talk to you soon. Bye.

If you are a busy practicing physician, ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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