You’ve heard the platitudes about being grateful and expressing gratitude, but you’re still not convinced that gratitude matters all that much. Chances are, you’re not using gratitude as much as you could.
I’m here to prove to you how gratitude changes everything.
This past fall, I walked part of the Camino de Santiago with my friend Heather Waring of London. It was a trip I’d planned and trained for over eighteen months. It just didn’t go as I had planned.
On the first day from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, we trekked in ninety-six-degree heat. There was little shade for our climb up and up and up. My feet swelled enough to create what we hikers call “hot spots,” areas that, if not treated, would likely turn into blisters. Thankfully, I had blister plasters, which I used to cover those spots. We trekked nearly nineteen miles that day up and over the Pyrenees.
The second day was just as hot and nearly as long a hike. Over the course of the day, those hot spots grew into bona fide blisters, with the one on my right heel proving to be the worst. About four miles from our destination, we encountered a steep descent on loose shale outcroppings. The footing proved treacherous and slow-going.
It was midway down the shale that I felt the blister on my right foot pop. Knowing if I took my shoe off, I’d never get it back on, I opted to keep walking (really, there was no other choice). On a scale of one-to-ten, the pain ratcheted up to a twelve. Each footstep was agony.
Changing my focus
Realizing I had a choice to focus on the pain, which only amplified it, or focus on gratitude, I opted for the latter. I repeated this mantra, “Thank you toes for holding me upright. Thank you feet for taking me all over the world. Thank you, legs. Thank you, knees. Thank you, lungs. Thank you, heart.” After a few rounds, I added, “Thank you blisters for giving me the information I need to be successful.”
That’s when I realized I felt no pain. None. Zero. Zilch. As soon this realization dawned on me, I immediately became aware again of the sharp, cutting pain in my heel.
“Wow!” I thought. “When I don’t focus on my wound, but instead thank my body for its miraculous work, I felt no pain.” You can imagine that I immediately returned to my mantra, which helped me descend pain-free into Zubiri, Spain. (I lost my heel that night and my feet swelled so badly that I lost four days on the trail.)
Turns out, there’s a scientific reason for this switch from intense pain to painless, and it has to do with neurotransmitters. While focused on gratitude, my body released the feel-good chemical called endorphins, which overrode the pain-focused chemicals of serotonin and dopamine.
Talk about a transformative experience! Gratitude not only feels great, but it also changes the chemical composition in my body, so my sense of well-being and joy are heightened. I don’t know about you, but I’m leaning into this knowledge!
I’m curious about your experience with gratitude over physical or emotional pain. Comment below and share your insights.
If you’d like to further explore how pain can keep us stuck, check out my Journey Program, which is transforming lives!