Chronic pain can have a disastrous impact on one’s physical and mental health and the interplay of both can exacerbate the problem. For example, the psychological toll that physical pain induces can make it more acute and vice versa. However, changing one’s psychology can also break the cycle of pain, Dr Michael Mosley reported in his podcast Just One Thing – with Michael Mosley – BBC Radio 4.
How gratitude helps
Researchers are actively investigating the science behind gratitude’s soothing impact.
Dr Mosley spoke to doctor Fuschia Sirois, a researcher at the University of Sheffield, who is investigating gratitude, self-compassion, and their role in health and wellbeing.
“A lot of the research I’ve done into gratitude has looked at the potential benefits of gratitude in ongoing stressful situations, specifically people living with chronic health conditions,” she explained.
Dr Sirois continued: “Because when you’re living with a chronic health condition it’s very much like you’re living with ongoing stress.
“You’re living with a lot of pain and you have functional limitations to deal with.”
Knowing how to execute an abstract concept such as gratitude may seem tricky but Dr Sirois offered some tips.
“One of the simplest ways is just asking people to think about three things that they’re grateful for that day,” she advised.
“And often these are events that are triggered by people, so we refer to this as a benefit-triggered gratitude, where somebody has done something nice for us so that might make us feel grateful.”
Sometimes it can be just a general sense of gratitude.
Doctor Sirois explained: “If you wake up and maybe you didn’t have much interaction with other people but you could have just noticed it was a bright, sunny day and you were just grateful for that and the opportunity to maybe get outside and enjoy that.”
When asked about whether keeping a journal of gratitude helps, Dr Sirois replied: “We’ve looked at this sort of idea of a gratitude journal where we get people either daily or every couple of days to write about something that they were grateful for that day.
“So that’s often how we do it.”
She also acknowledged that gratitude can be implemented in a much more free-flowing way too.
“So you can think about gratitude as being along a continuum for those moments where we feel grateful, where somebody’s done something for us.”