According to Oprah Winfrey, it’s when we feel least thankful that we are most in need of what gratitude can give us: perspective. The neurologist Oliver Sacks expressed a similar idea; his reflections on what it means to live a worthwhile life were published posthumously in a book titled Gratitude. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Sacks wrote that his predominant feeling was one of gratitude, expressing appreciation both for what he had been given in life and what he had been able to give in return.
The vulnerability experienced in the time of a major illness provides an opportunity for reflection, but the practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be limited to such times. We can also expand our understanding of gratitude from simply being a response to things we have received or experiences we have had to include the idea that gratitude in itself can be its own reward.
In a very literal sense, the book Gratitude is a gift from its author to his readers, including future generations who never had the chance to interact with him during his lifetime. Generically speaking, gratitude itself can serve as a gift to those who engage in its deliberate practice. The practice of gratitude can have a positive influence on our mental health, and research has shown that it is associated with increases in dopamine and serotonin levels.
On a personal note, I’m grateful that I can trust my colleagues to take excellent care of me when I become a patient and have to go under anesthesia, as I recently did. I’m grateful for the friends and family members who took time out of their busy schedules to care for me and support me in various ways.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to combine my scientific and artistic interests and express them fully. My creative interests led me to spontaneously start crocheting last weekend, something I had never done before. The end result was a new strap for one of my musical instruments.
As I read Musicophilia, another book by Oliver Sacks, I am grateful to the author for his insights on music and the brain. And I’m grateful for my own ability to express myself through writing.