A sense of gratitude is something a nurse should have.
In this modern age of instant gratification and constant innovation, many often fail to appreciate the good that comes from stopping and smelling the roses; missing on being grateful for what is now is like missing on a big piece of happiness.
The nursing profession has its own unique perks and wonders, true, but no nurse will deny that it can be so stressful and will at times push you to your limits. Every bit of happiness counts when you’re in a highly demanding occupation, and a positive mindset can make all the difference between a happy career and a quick burnout.
So how can gratitude help make a difference to a nurse?
For one thing, gratitude helps keep a positive mindset. Rhonda Byrne, the writer of the Secret, said by putting your energy into being grateful for every thing in your life, you focus on the good things, bringing you a positive charge that draws in genuine and constant happiness–a fact proven by research and affirmations from many researchers and happiness experts. So instead of dwelling on what you’re without, start thinking of the good things you do have. You’d be surprised at the effect this change of thinking can bring to your whole view of things.
Another is that gratitude helps strengthen relationships. Robert Emmons, a scientific expert and researcher on gratitude, describes gratitude as an affirmation of goodness and that it strengthens relationships “because it requires us to see how we have been supported and affirmed by other people.” If you’ve ever felt the uplifting power of a patient’s heartfelt thank you for everything you’ve done for them, you know what I’m talking about. I think we owe it to everyone who’s helped us in every little way a bit of that happiness. In addition, by sharing goodness and happiness, you get a piece of it back. I assure you, it feels just as great to appreciate others as when you yourself are appreciated. Talk about a win-win!
Gratitude comes with a plethora of physical benefits as well. On the scientific side of things, Emmons has listed several benefits your body can get by adopting a thankful mindset, including a stronger immune system, reduced blood pressure, promotes better sleep and motivates people to take better care of themselves. It has also been proven to help combat depression and reduce anxiety. For nurses, it has also been proven to help relieve stress and protect your heart. Nursing leader and educator Cynthia Howard explains that, by concentrating on gratitude and other positive emotions, you keep your heart in a balanced state that helps it encourage the brain to help promote better overall feelings and well-being, in addition to preventing your heart from becoming overworked due to constant stress.
Gratitude is an effective motivator. As well as helping you achieve a positive attitude, gratitude can help inspire you to work harder and be the best nurse you can be. Research has shown that people measure their happiness relative to others. A concrete example that Filipino nurses can relate to is when you are a paid staff nurse in a country when hundreds to thousands of nurses are without paying jobs. Just putting that in the forefront of your thoughts can make you appreciate your job more and will inspire you to do your best to keep that job.
Another example I have is a personal one back in my working days when I was assigned to a bed-ridden patient. I was in the middle of wrapping up her daily bed bath when a thought suddenly occurred to me: it must feel awful to not be able to bathe yourself properly, especially if you’re lying down all day. I’m so lucky to be able to. The train of thought then became longer: I’m lucky that I can turn myself and move around, I’m lucky that I can eat what I want and not via NGT, I’m lucky I can use the bathroom and not have to feel urine and poop gather in my diaper. Realizing how blessed I am enabled me to feel more empathetic and compassionate towards for my patient and motivated me to improve my method of care for her and her family.
Of course, having and maintaining a positive mindset is a bit of a challenge in itself, especially when it’s easier to dwell on the bad things and sourgrape. There are different approaches you can take to learn to build on your sense of gratitude over time. Here are a few tips:
- Keep a gratitude journal: It’s an age old practice, seriously. Be it on a few pages on the back of your planner or a small dedicated notebook, take time each day to jot down things you are grateful for. It could be something you have right now, something you were able to do or something good that you’ve heard or experienced. List down as much as you want and you may just surprise yourself with how much you actually have. You can also try your hand in sketching or taking pictures if writing isn’t your cup of tea. I do the latter usually when we’re about to have a good meal. 🙂
- Practice the art of saying thank you…and meaning it: Nurse Barbara Philips wrote that in order for gratitude to work for you, you have to feel it. An empty or begrudged thank you is like giving someone trash for a present–not only does it not help you feel happy, most people can feel it is fake and won’t do much for them either. A good practice is that whenever someone has rendered service, you think about how lucky you are that you have money to pay that person for doing the job for you and that person has taken time to do it properly. When you say thank you, look at the person in the eye and smile sincerely. It’s also a good idea if you ask for and thank them by their name. There’s more than enough gratitude for everyone in this world so don’t hesitate to share!
- Pray On It: While I can’t speak for the other religions, for Catholics, one of the different kinds of prayers is a prayer of thanksgiving. One of my elementary recollection facilitators said that it isn’t prayed as much because most of us today focus on asking for what we want instead. This goes hand in hand with the “appreciating with what you have to have attract a more positive attitude and more happiness” school of thought. Pray in thanks that you have a good nursing job, a supportive group of peers and co-workers, a stable home and all the other good things you have.
- Pay It Forward: IASIS foundation founder Steve Sims wrote “Generosity begets generosity and creates a circular flow of compassion and gratitude.” Paying it forward by sharing your time, skills and knowledge with patients and practicing acts of generosity in and out of the field is one of the best ways to live in the spirit of gratitude because it helps spread the spirit of giving and appreciating what you have. Sims and other experts encourage us to share what we have, as it is through sharing that we live free from the fear of lacking. “If we do not share what we learn or receive, it fades away or we lose it. We ignite life in others through passing along the gifts we have received.”
- Be True to Yourself: Gretchen Rubin, in her pursuit of happiness in her aptly titled book The Happiness Project, knew the importance of gratitude in becoming happy and started a gratitude journal as part of her August resolutions. However, at some point, she felt like the whole process was becoming more forced to the point that the journal no longer helped boost her happiness. Not that she quit on gratitude altogether–instead, she adopted thinking of grateful thoughts (in her words, “gratitude meditation”). It worked out for her so well that she was able to turn potential complaints or sour points of her day into things that she can be grateful for! In short, it all comes down to gratitude not being something you should force. It is a change of thinking that can happen to us in unique ways, and that is perfectly OK. What matters is what is at the heart: learn to not bother with what you don’t have or what not’s going your way and build on focusing on what good things you have and being thankful for them.
Back in the time I was still applying at BPO industries, I had a turning point when I rejected the offer I mentioned in my very first post. At the time, among us seven new hires, three of us backed out of contract signing. One wanted a different department and left right after she turned her offer down. The other I had the opportunity to get to know better: a licensed physical therapist (PT) in her late 30s who once failed her application to work overseas and, due to several circumstances, was unable to reapply forcing her to resort to working for a call center for at least seven years. But for all that experience, her heart was still set on pursuing her PT profession and confessed that her BPO experience has left her dissatisfied. She had been a big help in convincing me not to go into the industry, telling me that:
“[You’re still young. You still have time. Do the work you really love and don’t end up like me.]”
It was at that moment that I had an epiphany on some things. The most immediate one is that I completely agree with her and that I know we both deserve better than spending the rest of our lives in a call center. The other was the fact that the only reason I didn’t have the chance to get back up was because I didn’t give myself one. That instead of griping about my losses, I should have focused on what I have that I can work on to get past my failures because I have so much to help me to start all over again.
The very chance to get up after a fall is already in itself something to be grateful for.