Career advice

Why feeling grateful is good for your health

The last thing you may feel at the end of a hard day at work is grateful for the good things in life. But nurturing an attitude of gratefulness can help you cope with daily stress

The last thing you may feel at the end of a hard day at work is grateful for the good things in life. But nurturing an attitude of gratefulness can help you cope with daily stress


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My partner works on a ward that is always full to capacity and often understaffed. Like most nurses, Sarah passionately wants to give the care she is trained to deliver, but resources are so scarce that ‘good enough’ has developed into the new norm.

There have been times when she has come home exhausted, been unable to switch off, and then gone back on shift even more worn-out than the day before. Naturally, I don’t like seeing her stressed so together we’ve frequently vented our anger and frustration at the system. While this has often defused things temporarily, it isn’t a long-term coping strategy.

One thing that has helped both of us is our nightly routine of what we call our ‘gratefuls’. At the end of each evening we each say three things that we are grateful for. Sounds simple? In reality it can be hard, particularly when one of us has had a bad day.

Positive emotions and benefits

At first, we tended to look for ‘big’ things and would sometimes struggle. Through practice, we can now appreciate things that perhaps we used to take for granted, such as when friends or colleagues help us out, or when a particular view while driving home lifts our spirits ­– we are lucky enough to live in the country.

We had no idea when we first started our nightly ritual that gratitude was a hot topic among psychology researchers. This isn’t a case of ‘think positive and everything will be okay’– I don’t think any healthcare worker would fall for that just now. As opposed to simply focusing on the positive, psychologists believe that gratitude is a deeper appreciation for someone or something, and therefore produces longer-lasting positive emotions and benefits.

Engaging your brain

Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, says people notice improvements in their physical and mental health when they nurture feelings of gratitude. Relationships can strengthen and improve. Engaging your brain in grateful thoughts is far healthier than the vicious cycle of rumination and frustration which so many nurses end their day on.

Regardless of what’s happened in the preceding hours, it’s both uplifting and calming to end the evening expressing appreciation, and as a result both of us are sleeping better and waking up more refreshed. It doesn’t take away the strains of the working day but it does bring us pleasure and a heightened sense of connectedness with the world, and this helps us cope.

Some people prefer to say their gratefuls in the morning, as it sets the tone for the day.


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and health/life coach

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