About a month ago, my son almost died. It was a huge emotional upset for our entire family, and after the initial shock wore off, my heart was filled with overwhelming gratitude. I felt so thankful for life -- that his life had been spared and that so many highly skilled medical personnel had worked so hard to save him. I was thankful for my family -- without their love and support I would not have been able to be as strong as I was. I felt gratitude for my friends, who even if they did not know what to say to me or how to help, were there by my side, holding me up with their love and praying for us.
I realize now that gratitude helped me to make it through that very difficult time, and it is still helping me now. If all I had focused on was the pain of the situation, or if I had allowed myself to dwell on what could have been the outcome, I would have probably not have made it through. Having gratitude in my heart helped me to heal, and to move past the painful events that occurred. There is a real power in gratitude. The alternative, in my opinion, is despair.
A few weeks after the event, I returned to the hospital to thank some of the people, doctors and nurses, who helped us so much. It was one of the hardest and yet most rewarding things I have ever done. It was hard to go back to that place that held so many bad memories for me, but I felt compelled to show my gratitude to those who had been compassionate and caring and who went beyond their job descriptions to serve. One nurse I spoke to said she had been ready to quit her job, it had been such a horrible day. But then we came and she felt like she had done something worthwhile.
Being grateful is reward enough all on it's own. But the health benefits are also a great side effect of gratitude as well. Recent studies show that the benefits of gratitude may include: less stress, more joy, enhanced vitality, improved sleep, and faster recovery from illness. People who keep a gratitude journal have been shown to be happier, sleep a half hour more per night and exercise 33 percent more each week than those who don't. (Count your Blessings, by Valerie Reiss, Natural Health Magazine Nov 2010)
I remember a story I heard once about some women in a concentration camp who prayed daily and gave thanks for everything, even the lice infecting their scalps. They found out later that those lice had protected them from being raped by the camp guards. If we are able to see the positive things in our lives, even while enduring the painful things, our lives will ultimately be better, richer and healthier.