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Giving Thanks: A Single Cell

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Sometimes it’s hard to find something to be thankful for. It’s always so easy to see the things that are going wrong in our lives, and much more difficult to stop and take account of what’s going right. Why are we so ungrateful?

Since this is Thanksgiving, what an appropriate time to take stock of all that we have to be thankful for, and remind ourselves that gratitude breeds more good things. Sarah Ban Breathnach did a great job of reminding us how important it is to express gratitude in her book Simple Abundance. Oprah raved. Thousands started gratitude journals.

Finding five things to be grateful for everyday was sometimes tough when I first started my journal. I had just broken my ankle in multiple places on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe over new years with my boyfriend. He lived in Miami. I was back in Denver post-surgery in my cast, on my crutches. Perched in my second floor condo with outside stairs covered in ice, and unable to drive myself anywhere or even carry a cup of tea to the sofa, I was feeling big time sorry for myself.

I am a hugely independent person, and find it very difficult to ask for help. I now know that I had this experience in order to learn to do just that. I couldn’t grocery shop, take out the garbage, or even get myself to work. And it’s tough for other people to really understand what you’re going through, so I didn’t even get a lot of sympathy. People would walk past without holding the door open—stop for a minute and try to imagine opening a door and getting through it on crutches. Have you ever thought about how many of your pants won’t fit over a bulky cast? Kind of narrows down your wardrobe.

In the end, it was my gratitude journal that helped me get through this difficult situation and realize how good I actually had it. My injury was temporary. Many people deal with permanent disabilities or chronic diseases every day. My ankle would heal and I would be able to go back to the same activities I had done before I was hurt. My cancer diagnosis brought a similar scenario to bear, though this time I got a lot of attention, sympathy and support. Surprise—I was much better equipped to ask for help this time around, and was astonished about just how many services there are for people with cancer.

I believe that we get what we expect and manifest what we think about. I even believe I manifested my cancer. That is a tough one for many people to swallow, and I don’t expect everyone to feel as I do. I feel that challenges in life present themselves to teach us something, and that they will keep presenting themselves until we learn the lesson. It was easy this time to feel grateful—we had caught my cancer very early, it was rare, but non-aggressive, and I would respond well to treatment and probably live a long and healthy life.

All through my treatment, people kept talking about what a great attitude I had, and how positive I was able to stay. And for the most part, it was true. I didn’t get down very often, and I was largely optimistic. And yet, I still say things to myself on a regular basis that I would never allow anyone else to say to me. I give myself horrible labels, and hate my body, and wonder what anyone sees in me. I am way harder on myself than anyone else ever is. My sister and I were talking the other day about how we can sometimes be our own worst enemy, sabotaging ourselves with negative thoughts and doubts about our abilities.

When this happens, as it does to all of us, I try to turn my focus to what I like about myself, and my life. Ilan Shamir wrote a wonderful book called, A Thousand Things Went Right Today. Why are we so quick to focus only on what went wrong? During this holiday season, try viewing life through a different lens. Instead of dreading the family get-together with critical Aunt Gladys, think about how you can enjoy your time with family.

Whether you do it everyday, or just when things get rough, write down what you’re grateful for. Appreciate what you have. When you appreciate the good things, more of them will come your way. Also, tell someone important that you love them—YOU!

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