Embracing Gratitude While Coping With Lupus

Adapted from an open discussion by members of the SLE Workshop of the Hospital for Special Surgery, November 17, 2005

Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation that can influence our emotional and spiritual experiences. Our sense of gratitude can bring enhanced meaning to our lives. Embracing gratitude in relation to Thanksgiving and living with a chronic illness like lupus can be challenging, but also very healing in terms of coping with the stress of the holiday season.

Sister Margaret facilitated the dialogue about gratitude as a wellness tool and how the meaning of gratitude can affect our living with a chronic condition. Through the sharing of stories of gratitude, Sister Margaret and the SLE Workshop members described obstacles and suggestions bestowed by gratitude in relation to Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

The following describes the obstacles and suggestions of gratitude discussed by our SLE Workshop members:

  1. Expressing emotions of thankfulness

    People attribute words like thankfulness, acknowledging, appreciation, and recognition to the meaning of gratitude. Unfortunately, however, as our members discussed, it is difficult to express emotions of thankfulness and appreciation when dealing with lupus. They pointed out that it is even more difficult to show these emotions when other people expect you to show them, such as on Thanksgiving. The group talked about the importance of remembering the better times when trying to express gratitude and using images and visualization techniques to bring you to those better times. One member recommended using relaxation tapes and imagery to help mentally transform to a former place of happiness and calmness.

  2. Taking initiative

    Sister Margaret mentioned that gratitude happens when we take the initiative to name what we need and let it be known to others how we are feeling. This act shows courage, and courage is an essential part of feeling and showing gratitude. Taking initiative in showing gratitude can mean listening to others share their stories, sharing and hearing our own stories, and being an active and reflective listener. Sharing your story with someone can be healing, and being open and honest with someone will allow for your needs, and your appreciation, to be heard. One member stated that telling your story will allow for a weight to be lifted from your shoulders and a sense of freedom to be felt throughout.

  3. Dealing with anger

    Many of the SLE Workshop members have expressed how their anger towards lupus hinders their ability to show gratitude. One member talked about how it was impossible to get to the point of expressing gratitude until dealing with the anger associated with the pain, fatigue, and uncertainty of the chronic condition. However, the member also said that once overcoming anger, communicating gratitude towards doctors and family members seemed to flow naturally.

  4. Components of being thankful

    The components of being thankful, as described by Sister Margaret and the group members, include being spiritually centered, touching the inner part of the self, longing for inner peace and connection, and relations with the higher being or your own personal beliefs. One member said that in order to show thankfulness and gratitude it is essential to count your blessings and to search for and recognize the good things that you have. In essence, a grateful heart nurtures the heart. Sister Margaret also recommended several books to help us embrace gratitude, including Learning to Cope in These Anxious Times by Patrice J. Tuoht, and What Illness Can Teach Us About the Meaning of Life by Reverend Mary Kendrick Moore.

It is important to be patient with yourself when trying to reach a state of gratitude. Many members said that they yearn for something yet to come, but in the meantime, they will concentrate on how they are feeling at the moment and try to emotionally overcome the uncertainty of lupus. Our own definition of gratitude can affect how we live our lives with lupus, but can also serve as a healing tool. Like Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

SLE Workshop

Learn more about HSS’ SLE Workshop, a free support and education group held monthly for people with lupus and their families and friends.

Summary by Jennie Salomon, MSW Intern


Sr. Margaret Oettinger,
Director of Spiritual Care
Department of Patient Care and Quality Management
Hospital for Special Surgery

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