10 Sincere Ways You Can Still Feel Thankful When You’re Sick

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 21 November 2022
  • 10 minute read
10 Sincere Ways You Can Still Feel Thankful When You're Sick | The Health Sessions

You’ve probably heard that practicing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most effective things you can do for your happiness. And it’s true: being thankful improves your mental health, boosts your resilience and helps you cope better with everyday stress. Even more so, gratitude can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immunity and help you sleep better.

But actually feeling thankful can be easier said than done when you’re sick, lonely and in pain. You’re probably more likely to experience more frustration, deep sadness or generalized anger at the world than appreciation for life. What’s more, there’s nothing more upsetting than hearing “you still have so much to be grateful for” if you’re struggling to make it through the day.

But there are things you can do to cultivate gratitude, even if you don’t feel like it. That is, if you want to. And I don’t mean forcing yourself to smile through your tears or making toxic positivity statements like “others have it worse.” Even if that’s true, that doesn’t take away the physical and emotional pain you’re experiencing, or your right to be devastated by that.

There’s also little point in rationally rattling off all the things you know you’re supposed to be grateful for, like having a roof over your head and food on the table, without having any emotional connection to what you’re listing. No, I’m talking about genuinely feeling thankful for the good things in your life, despite all the hardship you’re facing.

It won’t be easy, but here are 10 sincere ways you can still feel thankful when you’re sick.

1. Know it’s ok to have mixed feelings.

When we think about gratitude or other positive emotions, you may unconsciously visualize this perfect picture. As if being happy and thankful means that you’re always jumping for joy and never miss your bus, grumble on rainy days or secretly curse your mother in law.

But it’s perfectly natural to have mixed feelings, even at the same time. You can feel deeply disappointed about having to miss your best friend’s birthday party, and still feel grateful to have such a wonderful person in your life. You can thank the heaven’s for living in a country with great health care, yet feel let down by that doctor that didn’t take your symptoms seriously.

Feeling thankful does not mean you don’t experience any other (negative) emotions, but practicing gratitude does help to reduce unhelpful feelings like envy, resentment and loneliness.

2. Zoom out.

Pain tends to narrow your focus. After all, the function of pain is to alert your brain that something harmful is going on, and that you need to take action now. Pain demands your attention, which brings you to focus on yourself, often in a not so mindful way. And when you’re stuck at home for most of your waking hours, your world literally becomes smaller too.

So if you’d like to cultivate thankfulness despite your problems, try to look at the bigger picture. Zoom out mentally – from your home and your street to your neighborhood, town and country. Think about all the different people living there, facing their own problems, big or small. Not to compare who has it worse, just to see if it triggers some genuine gratitude. For example, zooming out makes me so thankful I live in an area with lots of facilities – shops, schools and playgrounds – within walking distance, because it makes my life with limited mobility so much better.

You can even zoom out further, to your place in the world and in history. Maybe you feel sincerely grateful that you live in a mild climate without hurricanes or earthquakes or in a country with equal rights for women. It’s easy to take basic things like being able to eat, read, walk and vote for granted, and this short exercise can help you to truly appreciate (some!) of those things again.

10 Sincere Ways You Can Still Feel Thankful When You're Sick | The Health Sessions
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via pexels.com

3. Pay attention.

If living with chronic illness has put you in survival mode, you’re probably fully focused on getting better and making it through the day. So much so, that you may have stopped noticing the good things also happening around you. And that’s ok! That simply means that if you want to feel more thankful, the first step is to become more mindful and pay attention to what is going well in your life.

One of the most recommended – and effective – ways to practice gratitude is by writing down 3 good things that happened that day. Jotting down positive events retrains your brain to look for and notice the good things in life. You can list anything from hearing from a friend or finally qualifying for an experimental treatment to feeling the sun on your skin.

Do you struggle to come up with positive items for your list because you’re really sick and not in the most grateful mood? Then, with the tips below, focuses on feeling thankful first, rather than expressing it.

4. Engage your senses.

Another way to notice the good things in life is by tuning into your five senses. All too often, we’re so caught up in our thoughts and emotions that we don’t really pay attention to our bodily sensations (especially if you try to ignore that nagging pain).

Take a moment each day to focus on how it all feels – the sun on your skin or the wind in your hair, the way your feet touch the ground and how your belly rises each time you take a breath. See if you can hear birds chirping or kids playing. Take in the smells coming from the kitchen or when you cuddle the ones you love. You can also easily tune into your bodily sensations by doing a walking meditation or mindful body scan.

If paying attention to your body only makes you aware of how sick you are, you could add pleasant sensory activities to your day:

  • Really listen to your favorite song, without doing chores or checking your phone at the same time.
  • Light a scented candle or place a lavender sachet between your fresh laundry.
  • Add aromatic herbs to your standard weeknight dinner.
  • Replace one hour of screen time for a hands-on activity like coloring, baking or gardening.
  • Upgrade your self-care routine with dry brushing or self-massages.

Engages your senses helps you to become more mindful and thus notice the positive things in life that you could spark genuine gratitude. Plus, by consciously savoring those moments, you intensify and lengthen your positive experiences.

5. Evoke awe.

Awe is not an emotion that’s often talked about, but research shows that experiencing a sense of wonder can have similar psychological affects as feeling thankful. Being in awe of stunning nature or moving art boosts your mood and wellbeing, makes you feel more connected to others, and increases your overall satisfaction with life.

So even if you don’t feel genuine gratitude deep down because life’s hard right now, you can do things to trigger awe. Look up at the stars at night or head out into nature to experience a sense of vastness. If you’re housebound, have inspiring pictures of the mountains as your screensaver or watch a beautiful documentary about space. Spiritual experiences, big or small, can also elicit awe.  And we all know how it can feel like time stands still when you hear a song that gives you goosebumps or you see a timeless piece of art that touches you. All these awe-inducing experiences can make you feel more appreciative of life.

10 Sincere Ways You Can Still Feel Thankful When You're Sick | The Health Sessions
Photo by Anna Shvets via pexels.com

6. Be kind.

Being kind to others actually makes you feel good too. Any act of kindness, no matter how small, makes you feel more connected and part of something bigger than yourself. Plus, it helps you to see the positive things in life, even during troubling times. Like Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

When you’re sick and need help yourself, you may not feel like you have enough energy to give back. But you don’t have to donate blood or work in a soup kitchen to do good. You can give a compliment, and mean it. You can really listen when someone talks, without interrupting or offering well-meant advice.

Text your friend to let them know you’re thinking of them. Leave a book for someone else to find, read and treasure through Bookcrossing. Donate old blankets to an animal shelter, support small business owners when you can or keep a bee-friendly garden. Kindness doesn’t have to cost a lot of time, energy or money.

In the end, performing doable acts or kindness doesn’t just make someone else’s life better, but yours too.

7. Add simple pleasures to your daily life.

It’s easier to feel thankful when you have positive things happening in your life, right? So make an effort to sprinkle simple pleasures through your day.

Start your day with an upbeat song – bonus points for singing or dancing along! – and put on bright lipstick or your finest aftershave. Next, treat yourself to a cozy warm drink. Eat your lunch outside on a beautiful day. At night, light a candle to make your weekday dinner a little more special.

You can do anything that warms your heart for a moment, so make your own happy list with simple pleasures to actually do them frequently. And the best thing: you don’t have to get luxurious treats or do extraordinary things in order to feel good; savoring tiny moments of bliss will also do.

8. Think back about what you’ve overcome so far.

Even if you’re (still) sick or in pain right now, looking back on all the tough challenges you’ve overcome and how far you’ve come forms a clear contrast in your mind, which is the perfect breeding ground for feelings of gratitude.

Of course you worked really hard to overcome hardship and get to where you are now. But chances are that you also had some practical help or support from others, certain advantages in life or just luck. Something else you could feel appreciative about!

10 Sincere Ways You Can Still Feel Thankful When You're Sick | The Health Sessions
Save these tips for later.

9. Make meaningful connections.

Everyone has one special person in their life that they are thankful for. But did you know both experiencing and expressing gratitude to the people we care about strengthens our relationships? Saying thank you or letting someone know you’re grateful for their support makes both parties feel satisfied. It also celebrates the positive things in that relationships, which makes your bond even stronger.

When it comes to gratitude for the people in our lives, our inexplicit expectations of help play a role too. We feel it’s normal for our partner, parent or sibling to help us out, while we’re thankful for the unexpected favor from a stranger. But if you take the time to think about all the small things your family and friends do for you – even if you do plenty in return – that may evoke sincere thankfulness too.

Finally, use social media mindfully. When used to make meaningful connections, Facebook and other social networks can actually increase feelings of gratefulness. However, envy is a strong barrier to feeling truly thankful, so make sure you do not fall in the comparison trap when you see other’s picture-perfect lives online.

10. Build your own gratitude ritual.

All those benefits of thankfulness? You can only get them if you practice gratitude regularly, not just once in a while. So building your own gratitude ritual that’s meaningful to you will help you form a habit that you can consistently stick too. What that looks like depends on your personal preferences, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Say grace before dinner every night or start your day with a prayer or meditation on gratitude.
  • Use journal prompts like ” Thank you for…” and “What I’ve been loving lately is…” during your weekly reflection.
  • Do a loving-kindness meditation and mentally expand warm feelings to the world around you.
  • Make a habit of saying “thank you” in the supermarket, at the doctors office, on the street and to the people around you with a smile on your face and really feel it. Pause just for a few seconds to experience genuine gratitude in everyday moments.

It’s not easy to feel thankful when you’re sick and struggling, but hopefully these 10 strategies will help you find your own way to practice gratitude genuinely – and support your overall wellbeing in the process.

What helps you to feel truly thankful during tough times? 

Related articles in Coping with Chronic Illness

16 Let Go Quotes That Will Help You Move Forward

16 Let Go Quotes That Will Help You Move On | The Health Sessions

It All Starts With You: 11 Radical Self Love Quotes

It All Starts With You: 11 Radical Self Love Quotes | The Health Sessions

How to Learn to Accept Your Chronic Illness

How to Learn to Accept Your Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions