growing-gratitudeThe unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

Every morning when we wake up, we get to choose whether to see our glasses as half full or half empty.  I imagine we’ll all agree that some days, an optimistic, positive attitude is hard to come by. Caregivers face emotionally and physically exhausting challenges on an hourly basis, and there are plenty of mornings when we dream of being able to pull the covers over our head and hide from the world.

Fill Your Glass

Unfortunately, no matter how attractive that escape sounds it’s probably not going to happen, which leaves us back at the choice I mentioned above. The good news: there is something we can fill our glasses with and it doesn’t cost a thing. That special ingredient is gratitude.

Yes, as cliché as it may sound, researchers have shown that humans actually possess the ability to consciously cultivate gratitude. Not only that, but doing so can increase happiness, reduce stress, and improve physical well being, and when we express our gratitude to others, we boost our own optimism even more.

Growing a Garden of Gratitude

Stay with me for a minute, because I’m going to guess right about now you’re thinking I’m nuts. You were up all night with a wandering parent, just had breakfast thrown at you, and all you can think about is how much you miss your BA (before Alzheimer’s) loved one.  I completely understand; there are many days – maybe even most days – when gratitude is the furthest thing from your mind.

This is where the idea of conscious cultivation comes in. When we plant a garden, we must remember to water it each day, and growing gratitude is no different. The more deliberate we are, the more we’ll realize that even in the darkest moments, there are blessings. Find a few minutes each day to sit quietly and ponder those blessings, or better yet, write them down. You might keep a small notebook next to the bed and jot down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day.

It’s the Little Things

I’ve been amazed at how this exercise can intensify our awareness of life’s simplest pleasures. Let’s face it folks, every night we aren’t going to have “won the lottery” as one of the items on that gratitude list! The beauty of this exercise is that it reminds us to pay attention to everyday things like how happy we feel when the dog greets us at the door or how beautiful that blooming rosebush is.

On a good day, you might write, “Mom said ‘I love you’ today.” To the average person, even that’s probably a “little thing,” but when Mom has dementia and rarely speaks, hearing those three words IS like winning the lottery! Another day, you might be thankful you were able to have lunch with a friend or spend an hour alone reading a great book. Some days, finding just one tiny thing to be grateful for will be a challenge, but don’t let that stop you.

Watch the Blessings Multiply

Try it for just a week, and see if you notice a difference. At the risk of sounding hokey, I think you’ll be astounded at the blessings you’ll begin to recognize in your life. Give it a whirl, then stop back and leave a comment about your experience. We’d love to hear your thoughts!







  1. Ella

    I have found my caregiving role with my brother, 66 years young with AZ, can be more emotional right now. I know as this terrible disease progresses, my caregiving duties will change, being more physical I presume, I question when that will be and what I will be able to do. It’s a challenge for me to assist him mentally at times, he’s in denial, yet aware of what he is experiencing. I sense his anger and depression, witness it, yet realize I must tread carefully on how to handle his emotions. We cannot say the word AZ or mention memory loss, it seems we just creep around the issue, continue to pretend that nothing is wrong, or that he’s going to get better. How I wish. I monitor myself during our conversations, keeping them simple with less detail, being aware of what I say, my tone and actions. Who would think this is work unless you’re doing it almost all the time. I know he senses his loss of doing, he strives so hard to manage for himself, it’s sad to watch his errors and struggles. I gauge my timing on when to intervene, using an excuse if need be. I carefully utilize prompting and encouragement, to avoid any confrontation or insulting, never my intent. I feel anger and sadness, too many times to mention, the unfairness of it all. Time to recharge my batteries I tell myself. There’s a sadness that has occurred these days, our younger sister/older brother role was a challenge, that has prevailed. I believe he would have been content to grow old alone, miles away, just as long as he was on his familiar turf, cherishing his independence, his life. I get it, that’s not to be now. He knew to reach out for me at a crucial time, meant to be, I believe. I am thankful. I try to be grateful for any and all pleasantries these days and give thanks for them in my prayers. A dear friend advised me to not waste time, to try to bond as brother and sister. I will not relinquish any and all opportunities. God Bless All Caregivers.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Hi Ella. I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through a particularly rough spell. I can imagine how mentally and emotionally exhausting it must be for you to walk on eggshells much of the time. Please be sure you’re getting enough rest and taking some time for yourself. I know it’s much easier said than done, but try to stay in the moment rather than worrying about the future. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and make things better for everyone suffering through this illness, either as a patient or caregiver… Hugs to you. ~Ann

  2. jackie

    For a long time, I have tried to think of what I DO have, instead of what I don’t have. i had been flipping through magazines with photos of the rich & famous, with their pools, 5,000 square feet of closets, rolling, manicures grounds, & feeling a bit envious. I stopped the subscription, and now consciously think every night of how grateful I am for the roof over my head, and my loving pets alongside me. working on turning around your frame of mind DOES work- get into the habit of giving Thanks to whomever you believe in, for the good in your life- there is always something to be grateful for- don’t compare to the past, & lost relationships- live in the present, smile, & acknowledge the gift of life.
    don’t regret growing old, it is a privilege denied to many.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Jackie – Excellent advice. Thanks for your comment! ~Ann

  3. Ella

    Thank you Ann for your understanding and your kind words of support. I realize, as a caregiver, the importance of taking care of ourselves. Speaking to other caregivers, it seems we all cherish our rest, I often wonder if some of the exhaustion is due to the sadness of our role? It does seem when I do pull myself away I seem to get a burst of energy, it actually feels good, I feel more like myself again. I remember the doctor telling us, “Keep things easy for you.” Your suggestion of staying in the moment, rather than worrying about the future, is part of keeping it easy. I am going to try to just take care of what I need to do at the moment and not dwell on the circumstance so much. Letting go a little may not be a bad thing. Thanks for the hugs, always needed!

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