“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar
It’s often been said that we don’t miss something until it’s gone. If you are caring for a parent or spouse living with dementia, you might be longing for the good old days. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable emotions, ranging from anger to worry and even depression. At times, you might feel swallowed up by the situation, unsure if you can handle it. So, when someone swoops in and suggests that you should feel more grateful and thankful, your first response might be, “yeah, right, give me a break.”
But the concept of gratitude is more than a warm and fuzzy, feel-good notion. Getting into the gratitude zone has a measurable, positive impact on the brain for seniors and caregivers alike.
Why Gratitude Helps Seniors Thrive
According to dictionary.com, the word gratitude means “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.” While most will agree that expressing gratitude for what we have is a good thing, it turns out that nurturing the gratitude habit is good advice for people living with dementia.
A variety of researchers report that the benefits of expressing gratitude include improved physical health, enhanced mental health, better sleep, and even lower blood pressure.
Scientists say that consistently expressing gratitude can make us feel happier. Gratitude also helps improve the relationships in our lives. When we meet the world with an attitude of gratitude, it often results in positive emotions.
For example, if you express thankfulness and appreciation to your loved one, they are likely to feel it, especially when communicating with a loved one living with dementia. You might notice a reduction in irritation or anxiety, and an increase in contentment. Of course, as we all know, lowering the stress in our lives boosts physical health and well-being.
In a study performed by a British psychologist, 65% of adult professionals said it was more important to be happy than to be healthy!
The researcher suspects that unhappiness is the underlying cause of conditions such as anxiety and stress.
Just think of it: Something as simple as telling your loved one how grateful you are to have them in your life could send their day to a happier place.
“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”
The Benefits of Gratitude for Caregivers
Sooner or later, most caregivers come face-to-face with the reality that there are limits to what can be accomplished in this labor of love. If your
mom or dad is struggling or having a bad day, you might not be able to turn it around. However, there is something you can always do: you can work on yourself, adjust your expectations, and let go of the frustrating impulse to try and make their pain go away.
Thinking about gratefulness, expressing it, and cultivating it are things that are available to us, whatever misfortune shows up in our path. Remember, the same benefits your parents may receive — from better sleep to reduced stress and increased feelings of contentment — are available to you, too!
How Gratitude Works
Does gratitude have a real impact on how our brain functions? According to The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center of UCLA, the answer is yes.
Being thankful and expressing appreciation fires off “happy hormones” and helps tune up our immune system.
In a book called Upward Spiral, author Dr. Alex Korb explains how gratitude creates pathways to positivity. He points out that something as simple as writing a thank you note (or receiving one!) shifts our attention toward the things we already have in our lives.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” —Melody Beattie
5 Ways to Practice the Gratitude Habit
The nice thing about honing a practice of gratitude is that most of what we need is right between our ears. In fact, the only potential expense is to purchase a notebook to use as a gratitude journal. Here are a few ways to build the habit of gratitude:
- A gratitude journal. So, what do you do with a gratitude journal? Mostly, you will jot down things that reveal what you are thankful for. It might be the people you love, and who love you. It could be an unexpected occurrence from today. It might be something about your mother or father that you love, or a memory from a favorite family trip. Maybe it is something as simple as the peace and wonder of a sunrise.
- Pray or meditate. You might also benefit from beginning a meditation practice, or exploring the many prayers about gratitude. Some believe that prayers praising gratitude are especially powerful, since they acknowledge the fundamental mystery and majesty of life.
- Pay attention. It’s also a good idea to do something very simple, yet often challenging: keep your mind on the present. Pay attention to how you are feeling. Pay attention to what you are thinking. Pay attention to the language you use. Ask yourself: are the things I am thinking and feeling promoting a grateful approach to life?
- Get Creative. Next, it’s time to flex your creative muscles. Art therapy can help caregivers and those with dementia connect and understand each other on a deeper level. If you don’t feel creative, try being resourceful. Seek out new experiences, people, and places that cultivate gratitude.
- And we quote. Finally, you might wish to read, print out, and post the quotations below on the subject of gratitude. Sometimes, a visual cue can shake us free of frustration and return us to a thankful state.
“When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree.” —Vietnamese Proverb
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” —Alphonse Karr
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” —William Arthur Ward
“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.”
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”