The Attitude of Gratitude in the Presence of Parkinson’s

“The only thing you should feel entitled to is gratitude,” J.S. Mason

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus

Introduction: The blog post’s title is not meant to suggest one needs to be grateful for having a neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s. To say it another way, Parkinson’s is not one of your lucky stars.

However, your attitude in the presence of Parkinson’s is vital to your life. Thus, having an attitude that includes gratitude will bolster your life with Parkinson’s. Be thankful for your ability to learn, react, and respond to this disorder.

Be grateful for the people around you (from friends, family, and loved ones to all of the professionals you use) because they are helping keep the door shut to either slow or halt Parkinson’s progression. And during this time, you will likely meet others living with Parkinson’s, and you will be grateful for this experience as you witness their strength, perseverance, and fortitude to resist Parkinson’s.

Your attitude toward gratitude matters, and being grateful will strengthen your grip on remaining hopeful and optimistic and on being persistent and resilient amid Parkinson’s. Overall, be thankful for everything around you that supports your effort against that scourge named Parkinson’s.

“There are so many things in the world that could be invisible to the material eye, and when you take a moment to stop, to pause, to be present and notice them—that’s gratitude.” Gayle King

Parkinson‘s and Gratitude: I have written about gratitude several times before. Please consider reading these posts if interested:
Posted on August 31, 2022, Word for Wednesday: Gratitude
Posted on August 20, 2021, “Parkinson’s- Reflection on Friday- Gratitude”
Posted on January 25, 2019, “Brief Report: Contentment, Gratitude, and Mindfulness in the Presence of Parkinson’s”
Posted on April 14, 2018, “Understanding The Positive Health Benefits of Gratitude”
Posted on May 18, 2015, “Contentment, Gratitude, And Mindfulness”

“… because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Wallace D. Wattles

Defending Gratitude and the Neurochemistry of Gratitude (this material was originally found in “Understanding The Positive Health Benefits of Gratitude” and parts of it are reproduced below):
Studies on Gratitude and Health– Doing a PubMed search for “Gratitude” reveals >1000 papers/chapters/books; searching for “gratitude and health” shows >500 citations.  Outside of PubMed, numerous magazine/newspaper/journal articles describe the health benefits of gratitude.  Finally, I will list several for your further viewing/reading. Here are some highlights linking gratitude and a better life.

Blessings vs. Burdens In 2003, Emmons and McCullough published a landmark study of gratitude and well-being entitled “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life.”  They described 3 experiments, two groups were healthy college-aged students, and the third group was adults with various neuromuscular disorders.  Within each study, some subjects were asked to maintain a journal every week for 10 weeks and others daily for 2 or 3 weeks.  They all kept records of both positive and negative effects they had experienced, including their behavior in coping with these events (health behavior and physical symptoms), and their overall appraisal of life.  Subgroups from each study were asked to focus their journal entries on different things: (Group A) this group recorded things for which they were grateful (they were “counting their blessings”); (Group B) this group recorded things they found irritating and/or annoying (they were “counting their burdens”); and (Group C) this group recorded things that had a significant impact on them.  After compiling the data from the 3 experiments, two trends stood out. (1) The participants from ‘Group A,’ those recording things for which they were ”grateful,’ showed much higher levels of well-being compared to Groups ‘B’ and ‘C’; and this was particularly evident when compared to those recording events that were ‘annoying or irritating.’ (2) The positive effects of gratitude in the 10-week study, compared to the 2 or 3-week studies, showed better well-being; these participants also showed social and physical benefits.

Feeling Happy- In a separate study from 2002, McCullough et al. reported that recording your blessings regularly was linked with increased happiness. In an independent survey, Kurtz et al. (2008) showed that this feeling of joy through gratitude was sustained for several months.

Optimism– A study by Overwalle et al. (1995) found a definite link between the ability to express gratitude and the feeling of well-being, suggesting these individuals had an improved/optimistic outlook on their future.

Strengthening Bonds and Building Relationships The link between happiness from gratitude was shown to increase bonds, enable friendships, and support social networks.  The results from Reynolds (2008) showed that by practicing gratitude, participants felt more cared for/loved by others.

Mapping Neural Networks of Gratitude In a 2015 paper entitled “Neural correlates of gratitude,” Fox et al. used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map the effect of gratitude on volunteers. They tested a hypothesis that gratitude activity would be linked to brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment, and theory of mind. Their results showed that gratitude was correlated with brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which supported their hypothesis (see drawing below).

18.04.12.ACC_mPFC_Thalamus.

 Linking Gratitude to the Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Basal Ganglia–  The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) can be described as a ‘neural network interface’ between emotion, sensation, and action. The ACC has linked anatomically with brain areas associated with each of these functions. An essential interaction of the ACC is highlighted by its reciprocal connections to the reward centers of the brain, which include the orbitofrontal cortex, insula, and basal ganglia. Thus, the ACC is a target for the dopamine-expressing neurons from the substantia nigra (part of the basal ganglia; see figure below).  Understanding the reward of gratitude within the brain has given us an appreciation of what leads to a healthier and happier self. To further augment the benefits of gratitude, we enlist neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine):

A Squeeze of Serotonin–  Serotonin is an elixir that boosts our mood, enhances willpower, and eliminates self-doubt. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)  releases serotonin (i) when we write about gratitude and (ii) when we reflect on the positives in our lives (and our work).

A Drop of Dopamine Dopamine makes us feel good. Concerning practicing gratitude, we release dopamine (from the substantia nigra in the basal ganglia) (i) when we express gratitude for what’s right in our lives and (ii) when we offer gratitude for someone who has helped us thrive in life/work.

Gratitude Promotes the “4H Club” Remember, I am not a psychologist.  However, I felt that four significant themes could be used to represent the positive impact of gratitude. Borrowing from the ‘4H Club’ name, the benefits of gratitude could make someone Happy, Healthy, Heartfelt, and Hopeful (see Figure below). And numerous studies support the positive impact of gratitude on these four aspects of life (see references cited at the end).

Screenshot 2018-04-10 23.49.01

“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos — the trees, the clouds, everything.”Thich Nhat Hanh

60-something Quotes on Gratitude (the final 12 are mine from the blog and other places):

 Quote on or About GratitudeAuthor
1“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”Melody Beattie
2“I am happy because I’m grateful. I choose to be grateful. That gratitude allows me to be happy.”Will Arnett
3“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”Epicurus
4“Always have an attitude of gratitude.”Sterling K. Brown
5“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”Meister Eckhart
6“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.”Kristin Armstrong
7“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”Eckhart Tolle
8“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
9“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”Randy Pausch
10“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.”Tecumseh
11“Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.”Dalai Lama
12“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Thich Nhat Hanh
13“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”Lionel Hampton
14“Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.”Eileen Caddy
15“When some things go wrong, take a moment to be thankful for the many things that are going right.”Annie Gottlier
16“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”Bob Kerrey
17“No duty is more urgent than giving thanks.”James Allen
18“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”Buddha
19“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”Willie Nelson
20“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything that it is.”Mandy Hale
21“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”G.K.Chesterton
22“I lie in bed at night, after ending my prayers with the words ‘Ich danke dir für all das Gute und Liebe und Schöne.’ (Thank you, God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful.)”Anne Frank
23“There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy.”Ralph H. Blum
24“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”Sonja Lyubomirsky
25“Forget yesterday–it has already forgotten you. Don’t sweat tomorrow–you haven’t even met. Instead, open your eyes and your heart to a truly precious gift–today.”Steve Maraboli
26“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”Douglas Wood
27“Great things happen to those who don’t stop believing, trying, learning, and being grateful.”Roy T. Bennett
28“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
29“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”Carl Bard
30“Wear gratitude like a cloak, and it will feed every corner of your life.”Rumi  
31“People can be so quiet about their pain, that you forget they are hurting. That is why it is so important to always be kind.”Unknown
32“This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before.”Maya Angelou
33“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset. Every sunrise begins with new eyes.”Richie Norton
34“Got no checkbooks, got no banks, still I’d like to express my thanks. I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.”Irving Berlin
35“Thankfulness is the quickest path to joy.”Jefferson Bethke
36“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”Germany Kent
37“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”David Steindl-Rast
38“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”John F. Kennedy
39“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.”Nicole Reed
40“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”Marcus Tullius Cicero
41“There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.”Buddha
42“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.C.S. Lewis
43“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”Robert Brault
44“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”G.K. Chesterton
45“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”C.S. Lewis
46“Rest and be thankful.”William Wordsworth
47“Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe. You open the door through gratitude.”Deepak Chopra
48“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”Karl Barth
49“Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”Leroy Satchel Paige
50“Develop an attitude of gratitude. Say thank you to everyone you meet for everything they do for you.”Brian Tracy
51“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.”Louis E. Boone
52“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”Thornton Wilder
53“The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.”Robert Holden
54“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”Ernest Hemingway
55“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.”Robert Braathe
56“O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.”William Shakespeare
57“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”Charles Dickens
58“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy.”Marcel Proust
   
 Quotes from Journey with Parkinson’s
59“I start each day with a simple plan: ‘This will be a good day.’ I remain hopeful, not hopeless, positive, not negative, happy, not sad, driven, not complacent, and educated, not naïve.”Frank C. Church
60“Wake up each morning full of hope. Finish each day full of gratitude.”Frank C. Church
61“Live your life with a foundation of gratitude underneath you; it reinforces all that is good with your life today.”Frank C. Church
62“Gratitude will lead you to the fountain of hope; it is good for your heart, soul, and mind, and practicing gratitude will benefit your life with Parkinson’s.Frank C. Church
63“Be grateful for what you have, not bitter for what is missing; give thanks to those who helped you along your journey because you were not alone.”Frank C. Church
64“Gratitude is a potent potion, a drink powerful enough to quench the biggest thirst.”Frank C. Church
65“We need to embrace the attitude of never giving up, never giving in, and never yielding to the slowly evolving menace named Parkinson’s.”Frank C. Church
66“Each day, we wear a cape on our back labeled with the letters PD.  Each day we bring a positive reaction to handle our symptoms; when we begin to fade those letters, we begin to gain control of our symptoms.”Frank C. Church
67“Stay hopeful, persistent, and positive. Yes. Yes. Yes.”Frank C. Church
68“Live each day; your disorder does not own you.  Make every new day better; remember, you are still in charge.”Frank C. Church
69“Taking life as it comes, mindful to remain in the present moment is vital to thriving (and living) with Parkinson’s.”Frank C. Church

A Final Take on Gratitude: With a chronic disorder like Parkinson’s, it is easy to get trapped and driven down emotionally by its daily burden. But life happens, and we are continually making micro- and macro-decisions, big and small changes in direction, and it seems to me the list grows with time. So, today’s post was centered on gratitude, not to complicate your life but as a reminder that being thankful can improve your health all on its own.

References For Your Further Reading:
Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology. 2003;84(2):377-89. Epub 2003/02/15. PubMed PMID: 12585811.

Fox GR, Kaplan J, Damasio H, Damasio A. Neural correlates of gratitude. Frontiers in psychology. 2015;6:1491. Epub 2015/10/21. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01491. PubMed PMID: 26483740; PMCID: PMC4588123.

The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life (click here).

McCullough ME, Emmons RA, Tsang J. The grateful disposition: a conceptual and empirical typology. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2002;82:112–127.

Kurtz JL, Lyubomirsky S. Towards a durable happiness. In: Lopez SJ, Rettew JG, eds. The Positive Psychology Perspective Series. Vol 4. West-port, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group; 2008:21–36.

Overwalle FV, Mervielde I, De Schuyter J. Structural modeling of the relationships between attributional dimensions, emotions, and performance of college freshmen. Cognition Emotion. 1995;9:59–85.

7 Surprising Health Benefits of Gratitude (click here).

Martins A, Ramalho N, Morin E. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and health. Personality and Individual Differences. 2010;49(6):554-64. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.05.029.

Alspach G. Extending the tradition of giving thanks recognizing the health benefits of gratitude. Crit Care Nurse. 2009;29(6):12-8. doi: 10.4037/ccn2009331. PubMed PMID: 19952333.

Emmons RA, Crumpler CA. Gratitude as a Human Strength: Appraising the Evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 2000;19(1):56-69. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2000.19.1.56.

Ma LK, Tunney RJ, Ferguson E. Does gratitude enhance prosociality?: A meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin. 2017;143(6):601-35. Epub 2017/04/14. doi: 10.1037/bul0000103. PubMed PMID: 28406659.

7 Ways to Boost Your Gratitude (click here).

Reynolds DK. Naikan Psychotherapy: Meditation for Self-Development. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; 1983.

O’Connell BH, O’Shea D, Gallagher S. Feeling Thanks and Saying Thanks: A Randomized Controlled Trial Examining If and How Socially Oriented Gratitude Journals Work. Journal of clinical psychology. 2017;73(10):1280-300. Epub 2017/03/07. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22469. PubMed PMID: 28263399.

Sirois FM, Wood AM. Gratitude uniquely predicts lower depression in chronic illness populations: A longitudinal study of inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis. Health psychology: official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association. 2017;36(2):122-32. Epub 2016/10/28. doi: 10.1037/hea0000436. PubMed PMID: 27786519.

“Pause and remember – Every single event in your life, especially the difficult lessons, have made you smarter, stronger, and wiser than you were yesterday. Be thankful!” Jennifer Young

Cover photo image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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