By Marley Cameron
Oftentimes in life we find ourselves in situations that may seem impossible. At some point or another, we have all faced adversity, ignorance, misfortune, or challenge, and that can leave us with a diminished sense of identity, little desire to move ahead, and even a poor outlook on life. When I was diagnosed with cancer at age 20, I certainly didn’t think that life could get any worse. Recovery is different for every person, but for me, once I began to fully understand how to find and harness gratitude despite my illness, I was able to begin to live the full life I was so desperately seeking.
The world is changing drastically right now as the COVID-19 virus begins to find our communities, and I know that it is a scary time for all my fellow cancer thrivers. I write this article from a mandatory 14-day isolation period, and to be honest, I haven’t been in the best head space for the last week. I worry for my health, I worry for my family and friends and I worry for the effects this will have on our communities. Everything is so uncertain, and I really struggle with uncertainty. I am writing this article in hope that I can remind myself, and whoever reads it, to find a little gratitude in an otherwise dark day.
Why gratitude? Gratitude turns what we have into enough (Aesop). Even on the worst days of your life, you can find something to be grateful for, but it is okay to have trouble spotting it. Some days, your gratitude moments might be big and jump out at you quickly: “I am grateful for my supportive family.” Other days, they may be small and hiding in the little autopilot parts of life: “I am grateful that I could put my socks on by myself today.” The size of the gratitude does not change the value, it is how you use it to serve your mindset that matters most.
When I first started on this gratitude journey, I wasn’t really sure how to approach it, and was worried that I was doing it all wrong. I’ve learned over time that there is no wrong way to be grateful. What worked for me may not work for you, and that’s okay!
To start, I purchased a “gratitude journal.” It was pretty, floral, brightly coloured, and had a cute quote on the cover. At the end of each day, I would make a point to sit down with my gratitude journal and write down three things I was grateful for that day. Again, sometimes it was easy and sometimes it was hard. As I wrote them out, I realized that even my worst days had some light in them, and in the grand scheme of life they really weren’t that bad at all. It helped me to understand that often a bad day is simply a single moment that created a negative view of the entire day and 99 per cent of the time, I actually had many more good moments that day that outweighed the bad. I found that as I continued to fill my journal, my mindset began to shift, and suddenly I was having more good days than bad. When those hard days did come up, I could flip through my journal and be reminded of all the amazingness that makes up my life.
Here is a little peak in to my gratitude journal:
May 19, 2017
- Quiet days at work
- Watching Netflix with my husband
- A full refrigerator with warm meals to eat
June 24, 2017
- My friend, Sandra
- Spending time together in beautiful weather
- Good drinks and lots of fun
May 21, 2018
- Sleepovers with my sister
- Someone to help me brush my hair
- Staple removal day!
It is important to note that recognizing gratitude may not change your mindset overnight. In 2017, Joel Wong and Joshua Brown with UC Berkeley conducted a study on how gratitude can affect mental health and found “the mental health benefits of gratitude writing in our study did not emerge immediately, but gradually accrued over time. Although the different groups in our study did not differ in mental health levels one week after the end of the writing activities, individuals in the gratitude group reported better mental health than the others four weeks after the writing activities, and this difference in mental health became even larger 12 weeks after the writing activities.” (Brown J, Wong J. How Gratitude Changes You And Your Brain. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley., June 6, 2017. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain. March 23, 2020)
I know that journaling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so what else can you do to find gratitude? I turned to my family and friends. I shared my gratitude mission with them and looked to them for inspiration when I didn’t know where to go next.
One of my best friends surprised me with a “kindness jar.” Inside the jar were 50 handwritten notes about gratitude, love, and kindness. She knew I was going through a tough time and wanted to remind me that I was loved. It inspired me to write letters and cards to my friends and family telling them why I was grateful that they were in my life. I texted them or called them to remind them that were special to me. I left little surprises or small gifts to show my appreciation. I found that the more I was spreading my gratitude the happier I was and in turn, the stronger my relationships became.
Each person’s journey to finding gratitude will be different. I can say that it will not be linear. I think of it as more of a wobbly circle. It fluctuates daily for me. I have my ups and downs like everyone else, but eventually it comes back to me.
I hope that this article has inspired you and that you take the time to find a little gratitude in your day today. Harness the good, spread some love, and never stop searching.