Practicing Gratitude

Dec 6, 2016

Whether you’re grateful for the warm cup of coffee in your hands or for another day of life, the act of being grateful can be powerful. Many question whether the act of being grateful can have physical benefits as well.

“Gratitude is sort of like a vitamin for the brain, in a way,” says Cindy Nichols Anderson, a clinical child psychologist and owner and founder of Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants in Coralville. “It helps us. When we are grateful, we’re more likely to have an uplifted mood, we have more energy, we sleep better, and we exercise more. There’s lots of really great things about it, but it’s not always very easy to put into place.”

During what she describes as a rough patch, Anderson created what she calls a “Gratitude Tree” in her office hallway, which allows patients, staff, and community members to share what they are grateful for.

“I made a big tree, and put out about twelve leaf shaped post-it note packs, and our goal was to have people just write one thing they’re grateful for when they’re coming in or out of our office," she says. “It’s been really powerful and wonderful for us to see what people are grateful for and to learn about them, but also for people to share. There’s research that says that when we share what we’re grateful for, it sort of enhances the effect of gratitude as well.”

She goes on to describe the beneficial effects of gratitude.

“The benefit is noticing good things in the now,” says Anderson. “There’s a school of thought that reflects on mindfulness, which talks about how the present is where we really experience our joy and our happiness and contentment. The past is already done and we can’t change that, and the future is something we can’t control really well, but in the moment we can find significant joy and enrichment in our lives.”

Happiness doesn't make us grateful, gratefulness makes us happy. - Dr. Richard Deming

Practicing gratitude may seem like a difficult task sometimes, especially for those who are in times of personal crisis. Dr. Richard Deming, a radiation oncologist and founder and chairman of Above + Beyond Cancer, works with cancer survivors and those battling cancer each day.

“I’ll start off by saying, ‘It’s a great day to be alive’, which has become a mantra for the gang I work with,” says Dr. Deming. “It’s an expression of gratitude that I am alive today, and that I have the joy and beauty of the day to experience.”

“It’s because we know we are mortal; it’s what makes the day so valuable. It’s really being present in the moment, that’s where joy is found,” says Dr. Deming. “It allows you to celebrate and catalog and rejoice all the opportunities that you’re given. The knowledge that you don’t have forever to do that, really is a motivation to do it today.”

This gratitude not only effects your wellbeing, but actually effects others around you.

“It’s hard for me to separate gratitude by itself without then the extension of gratitude into compassion and generosity,” says Dr. Deming. “It provides this tremendous positive feedback loop that creates more happiness. Happiness doesn’t make us grateful, gratefulness makes us happy.”

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with clinical child psychologist Cindy Nichols Anderson, and radiation oncologist Dr. Richard Deming about practicing gratitude, and the positive effects of doing so.