The healing power of gratitude


By Edward Ellison, MD

Edward Ellison, MD

“Count your blessings.” We often hear this recommendation during times of turmoil, stress, or sadness in our lives. While it can often be dismissed as a timeworn cliché, I think of it as a mantra, as a daily directive, as something so simple yet so powerful that it has proven health and wellness benefits.

Good for your heart? Check. Good for your mental health and keeping depression at bay? Check. Making you more capable and prepared to handle stress? Yes. What’s not to love about that?

In today’s world of competing priorities and information overload, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated. Gratitude can help to change that. Counting your blessings comes down to intentionally expressing gratitude. It means you’re mindfully taking stock of what’s good in your life, acknowledging that someone in your life has made a meaningful difference, and valuing your professional and personal attributes that are unique to you and only you.

As a physician leader at Kaiser Permanente, the power of gratitude holds particular importance for me because we are seeing that gratitude not only provides significant health benefits but can also have a positive impact on preventing burnout in health care.

Does practicing gratitude mean that your life will be carefree? Of course not, but it is an extremely effective habit we can all put to use – one that helps me advocate for the well-being of the 8,000 physicians who care for our 4.5 million Kaiser Permanente patients and members in Southern California. It’s so vitally important for me to care for our caregivers, and I’m grateful each and every day that I chose Kaiser Permanente as the place to practice medicine. Over the course of my career, I have seen time and time again our passionate, compassionate professionals dedicated to making our patients’ lives better by practicing our special brand of equitable, inclusive, evidence-based medicine. They humble and inspire me.

In today’s world of competing priorities and information overload, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated. Gratitude can help to change that.

Gratitude can even be born from pain or trauma. When I was five, I had a condition that left me bedridden for some time. That’s excruciating for a child. Yet, the pediatrician who cared for me was wonderfully kind and caring and served as the role model who inspired me to become a physician. I often reflect on how grateful I am for that childhood illness because not only did I recover from it, but it also brought me to the calling of medicine.

Practicing gratitude becomes easy if you do just that: practice. You can keep a gratitude journal; send someone a thank you text or email or, better yet, say it in person; before going to sleep, think back on your day and identify one thing you’re grateful for and why; or as my family did when our kids were growing up, go around the dinner table and take turns saying what you were grateful for that day.

Keep it simple, have fun with it, make it part of your daily routine, and you’ll be giving yourself a gift of better health … which is something we can all be grateful for.

Edward M. Ellison, MD, is executive medical director and chairman of the board, Southern California Permanente Medical Group; chairman of the board and CEO, The Southeast Permanente Medical Group; board member, Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine; and co-CEO, The Permanente Federation LLC. Follow Dr. Ellison on Twitter: @EdEllisonMD.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.