Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude
by Betsy Kohn, MA, PC, and Mary Fisher Bornstein, LISW-S
What does it mean to be grateful? Does living a life where you practice gratitude change your perspective? Do you notice any changes in your relationships with others or with yourself when you practice an attitude of gratitude? These questions often arise for those who focus on the concept of gratitude. For those on the cancer journey, these questions may surface both during and after treatment, as this is often a time of reflection and contemplation.
Even when times are difficult and challenging, we still have control over our attitude.
It can feel overwhelming when you hear you have been diagnosed with cancer. Studies have shown that those who can eventually replace their fears and feelings of uncertainty with joy and gratitude often lead happier, more peaceful and serene lives. They experience a sense of calmness and are able to live in the present moment instead of worrying about what has already happened or what may happen in the future.
People who make an effort to practice gratitude report that their positive perspective on life allows them to appreciate the fact that wherever they are and whatever they are doing, it is enough; they have chosen to let go of worry and negative thoughts. Reframing and refocusing helps create a more balanced, happy lifestyle, which allows them to be more productive and energized.
Getting Started on Your Path to Gratitude
This simple questionnaire may help get you started on your path to gratitude. Write a number between 1 and 5 next to each statement, with 1 meaning the statement least describes you and 5 meaning the statement most describes you.
___ I have so much in my life to be
___ When I look at the world, I see much to be grateful for.
___ I am grateful to a wide variety of people in my life.
___ My perspective on gratitude has changed since a diagnosis of cancer.
___ Very short amounts of time go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.
Add up your points. The higher your score, the more grateful you are. A score of 20 or higher means you are intensely grateful, 15 to 20 means you are in the mid-range of gratitude, and under 15 means you might want to consider taking that first step on the path toward practicing gratitude.
Practicing gratitude means appreciating what you have and focusing on the support you receive from others. Gratitude is a choice. It can help you see the true beauty in life. It can also improve your health, emotional well-being, and relationships. To begin to live in a grateful state, start simple – say thank you on a regular basis, count your blessings, show someone you love them, take pleasure in nature, spend time with family and friends, and offer encouragement and support to someone in need. Even when times are difficult and challenging, we still have control over our attitude.
Here are a few more simple ways to begin practicing gratitude:
Maintain a daily gratitude journal.
♦ Create a space in your environment filled with objects that remind you of things for which you are grateful.
♦ Create a memory book of times when you felt grateful.
♦ Write a thank you letter.
♦ Read books on the subject of gratitude.
Additional benefits of practicing gratitude include feeling more optimistic, more rested, better equipped to handle tough situations, more likely to make progress toward goals, and less envious of others. People who practice gratitude report they are more open to recognizing the good in themselves and others. As the seasons evolve, take time to recognize the gifts that are offered and be grateful. Experience new growth and renewal in the spring, be playful and creative during the summer, reflect on your life during the fall, and celebrate special occasions with family and friends in the winter.
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Betsy Kohn is the director of volunteers and a member of the clinical program staff at The Gathering Place, a cancer support center located in Northeast Ohio. Mary Fisher Bornstein is also a clinical program staff member at The Gathering Place. They have developed gratitude and forgiveness workshops to help individuals and families find additional ways of coping while on the cancer journey. To reach Mary or Betsy, call (216) 595-9546 or visit touchedbycancer.org.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2013.