Sometimes, you don’t know the power of a practice until you’ve had the opportunity to really use it yourself.

I’ve written and talked about the power of gratitude on this blog and with patients, students, and their families. I’ve emphasized it with my own kids and even integrated it into a few staff meetings. I even try to take a few minutes each week to think about what I’m thankful for.

I’m sure that I’ve harnessed the power of gratitude with each of these activities, but it took a family crisis to make the power of gratitude personal and for me to realize just how much power it really carries.

What Is the Power of Gratitude?

Gratitude has come to the forefront as part of the positive psychology movement. Simply defined, positive psychology looks at how we can live a “good life” rather than the focus on abnormal behaviors of traditional psychology. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our ability to live that “good life.”

Research has shown that individuals that regularly experience gratitude have increased happiness and a more positive mood. In other words, they experience more positive emotions like joy, love, and happiness, and fewer negative emotions. Gratitude can lead to greater satisfaction with life, and for our kids, improved academic performance. Not surprisingly, gratitude can lead us to be less materialistic.

There are also some studies that have shown that gratitude can have physical health benefits. It may lead to lower cellular inflammation and can reduce fatigue.

Perhaps most importantly, gratitude has the power to build resiliency and encourages the development of patience and maybe even wisdom.

What’s incredible is that gratitude doesn’t have to be an activity that you share with others. It can be deeply personal and internal while still having the same power. There are even studies showing that expressing gratitude just through writing letters can help rewire the brain!

A Personal Journey Toward Gratitude

Sometimes, it can take trauma to make you truly realize the impact that gratitude can have on you. When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, our world turned upside down. I remember vividly sitting in the car outside the doctor’s office with tears in our eyes and a lump in our stomachs as we tried to figure out just what this meant for my wife’s health and for our family.

It’s taken a lot out of us over the past year as we journeyed through my wife’s treatment and recovery. Now, thankfully on the other side of that battle, I’m starting to realize what allowed us to march forward through this.

I’ve seen communities pull together before to support one another, just like our community on Long Island did after Superstorm Sandy, but it’s different when you are at the center of that circle of support. Everywhere we turned there was an offer of a playdate, a meal, or even just an offer of a hug or a kind word. With each piece of support, my gratitude grew.

Integrating gratitude into our lives can improve our mental and physical health. The power of giving thanks shouldn't be limited to just the holidays, but rather a regular practice that allows us to gain perspective and build resilience.

I’ve been asked a number of times just how we managed to keep our heads above water through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. With reflection, I’m realizing that taking the opportunity to be grateful for every offer of help strengthened my resilience and pushed me to recognize the places where there were joy and happiness. It wasn’t always easy and I certainly had my darker moments.

Being able to say thank you, whether directly or just acknowledging it in the quiet of the night, has helped me build up my own strength.

And that is the power of gratitude.

Gratitude Resources

As part of thinking about my own gratitude practices over the past year, I have collected a number of resources from this site and across the Internet to help you and your family integrate gratitude into your lives. Practices like gratitude work best when they are a consistent and regular part of our routine.

If you are looking for resources to talk to kids about cancer, check out this list of resources.