March 5, 2024

How To Practice Gratitude as a Busy Nurse

How To Practice Gratitude as a Busy Nurse

Podcast Episode

>>Listen to How To Practice Gratitude as a Busy Nurse with Carol Simpson and Jackie Noll


As defined by Oxford Dictionary:

noun: gratitude

  1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness

Nursing is the most trusted and the largest profession among healthcare providers.  Over the last several years, challenges among nurses have included emotional distress, exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction and burnout.  As physical and mental health suffered, nurses began exiting the profession or leaving the bedside for less exhausting roles.  Disengagement on the part of nurses can put patient care at risk and lead to further nursing shortages, which we already suffer today.


It is no wonder the American Nurses Association (ANA) has teamed up with the American Nurses Foundation and the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley to create the Gratitude Practice for Nurses Toolkit for Well-Being.  There is a growing body of research which suggests that practicing Gratitude not only improves our overall well-being, but that the practice can reduce burnout in nurses and improve the overall work environment. 

As a Nursing Leader, I wanted to explore how Gratitude can help nurses rediscover the joy in what they do each day.  Read on for a brief synopsis of why Gratitude Practice in Nursing is both an art and a science. 

The Science Behind Gratitude

In a 2016 article from Wharton Healthcare Quarterly, Linda Burton describes the Neuroscience of Gratitude.  When we express gratitude, our brains release both Dopamine and Serotonin.   This release of “feel good” chemicals leads to better moods, enhanced performance and increased motivation.    The more we practice gratitude, the stronger our positivity neural networks become.  We start to notice more readily what is going right, and less readily notice what is going poorly.  Practicing Gratitude also drives what are called pro-social behaviors.  Pro-social behaviors are behaviors that involve giving of time or effort to relieve someone else’s burden or to improve their well-being.

How can Gratitude Practice help nurses? 

Numerous studies show gratitude practices' benefits for nurses and other healthcare professionals.  In a randomized controlled study of gratitude journaling among nurses in China, Cheng et al found that the practice of gratitude journaling was associated with fewer depressive symptoms and decreased stress.  Tully et al also evaluated the benefits of a 21-day gratitude exercise in nursing.  Their results showed lower levels of stress and burnout among participants following the 21-day exercise.   Literature suggests that using the practice can improve work performance, job satisfaction, and relationships at work.  A study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed gratitude to be a consistent predictor of more proactive behaviors, decreased cynicism, higher job satisfaction and decreased absences due to illness among nurses specifically.  More research is needed to describe the effects of gratitude practice in the workplace. 

How can Nurses take steps to implement Gratitude Practices? 

As noted, the ANA has created a wellness toolkit which includes information on using gratitude as a practice to improve nurses’ wellbeing and improve the work environment.  There are simple and inexpensive ways to begin implementing a gratitude practice as an individual today including,  

  • Gratitude journaling via pen and paper or via a free app on your phone are simple ways to get started.  
  • You can start and end your day with thoughts of 1-2 things you are grateful for.   
  • On a larger scale, nurses or nursing leaders or can begin to implement gratitude programs among their staff.  
  • Leaders can use huddles, meetings, or formal recognition programs.  
  • It is simple to send an email of gratitude to an employee for a job well done. 
  • Each leader should assess the team and work environment for the proper fit. 

There are so many simple ways to start.  It does not have to be perfect or intricate.  Individual and group gratitude practice efforts can make a difference personally and professionally.  Collectively, we can get through this stormy season of nursing.  It will not happen overnight, and it will not happen because we all start practicing gratitude.  But every step toward a more positive future counts. 

Here is one of my favorite quotes about gratitude, “The point of gratitude is not just to feel it; it’s to show it.  Experiencing gratitude serves our happiness.  Expressing it reminds others how they matter.”- Adam Grant

Connect With Carol on social media:

Instagram: @nurseconverse_host_simpson

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