Gratitude lets me feel positive emotions, linger in good experiences, and gives me a sense of tending to my overall holistic wellness.
About 1 year after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and finished active treatment, I met a kind woman named Maria who was years into her breast cancer survivorship. Maria was supportive of me and gifted me a book one day about finding gratitude, which was filled with journaling prompts. I didn’t know it then, but she had given me something that would eventually be a tool in my mental health toolbox.
To be honest, when I received the book, I wasn’t feeling it despite the fact that I did have things to be grateful for. On one hand, I cherished Maria’s gift as it symbolized she cared about me. On the other hand, I was still raw, angry, and sad from the mental and physical changes that came after my diagnosis.
I wasn’t in a grateful state of mind. Of course, I was grateful to have my life. But inside I felt minimized by that sentiment — like I was giving myself platitudes every time I said it.
Cancer crashed the party with so many changes I was trying to process and make sense of. My diagnosis brought up so many overwhelming thoughts and feelings like:
Ungrateful me didn’t want to open the book Maria gave me. I kept it on my shelf where it caught my eye occasionally. Now and then, it made it to my bedside table waiting for me to flip through it. I didn’t.
I smirked at it, thinking cancer is a mindf*ck and I’m not grateful because I am scared, angry, and sad. I devolved into a place of self-induced toxic positivity, masking my negative feelings with dumb platitudes like “No bad days!” and “Every day I live is a good day!” Not a lot of healing was going on.
A couple of years passed, and I did find some healing through other avenues. I finally felt ready to look at the book Maria gave me and ask myself why she gave me this book. I read some of it and used some of the journal prompts.
Over time, something in my head changed and I began to practice gratitude.
It started small. At first, I used the book and slowly began to put gratitude into practice a little more. I had been facilitating support group meetings in the breast cancer community and realized closing a support meeting on a lighter vibe was helpful in transitioning out of the meeting headspace and back into the day.
So, I closed the meeting by asking people to share something they were grateful for. I let the group know it’s OK to skip if you’re just not feeling any gratitude right now, and that I myself was really only feeling grateful for my coffee, but that that was OK, too.
Nobody ever opted to skip this.
There was always gratitude to be found. Those moments suspended in gratitude were satisfying — from frivolous joys to mind-shift resets that left you pondering the beauty of life.
Sometimes that coffee is still the only thing I’m grateful for. But recognizing the smallest bits of gratitude enough times helped give me deep appreciations that led me to a mindful and intentional headspace with my thoughts.
Making space for gratitude also gave me room to set aside negative feelings and experience reprieve. I didn’t have to mask negative feelings with toxic positivity. I could still honor and process negative feelings, but they didn’t have to be the head boss in charge.
Maria’s gratitude gift became an ongoing practice. I dip in and out of being intentional with it, but I do keep it going in some fashion because it simply makes me feel good.
Gratitude is impactful. It brings lightness to my spirit. It helps me be intentional with my thoughts. It has shifted downward spirals. Gratitude lets me feel positive emotions, linger in good experiences, and gives a sense of tending to my overall holistic wellness. It brings ease in difficult times.
I remember 2 back-to-back hot summer days a couple of years ago when I had to drive all over to scary medical appointments. By now, gratitude was a regular tool I knew to pull out as needed. I let myself dwell on the gratitude I had for an air-conditioned car taking me to my appointments while listening to a favorite podcast. It tempered some anxiety.
Need some tips on how to practice gratitude? I’ve got you! Start small or go deep — just find what works for you.
I promise you won’t regret practicing gratitude. Whether you’re in the chaos of being newly diagnosed, navigating your new normals of life after diagnosis, or many years out from diagnosis, gratitude can be the tool you’re looking for to bring some positivity to your life. Maria knew what she was doing when she gave me that book years ago, and I am grateful.
Medically reviewed on September 20, 2022
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