The power of gratitude

Blogger Gabi MacEwan explains how gratitude has helped her to live through a terminal diagnosis

We all experience some soul searching when facing a serious illness. If we’re contented with our lot, we may fret about what we could lose. If we’ve been meaning to make improvements to our relationships, careers or lifestyle, we may worry our chances to do so are running out.

At the age of 50, I was in the latter category when I was diagnosed with bladder cancer and embarked on a nightmarish journey. But through it all, I hung on to my sense of humour and determination to enjoy life as much as possible, for as long as possible. I already felt this should be a goal for all of us, but the trick of course is to live it and not just talk about it.

I received help from the Penny Brohn Cancer Care centre and a local charity called FORCE. Then after reading David Hamilton’s book Why Kindness is Good for You, I came up with the idea for my blog, Losing the Will to Die.

This combines noting at least five things I’m grateful for each day, with the kindness of sharing the gratitude with others. I realised if I shared these five things with five other people and inspired them to think of five positive things of their own, that equalled ‘happiness squared.’

I’ve been writing the blog every day for more than year, barring a few days in hospital, and it’s become a way of life. Sometimes it’s a narrative, sometimes a list, and it might include something I’ve read, the view from my window, or perhaps a memory, a musing or a photo.

It’s sometimes a challenge to see through the layers of an apparently less than perfect now. Maybe you’re not spending the evening sipping champagne while watching a stunning sunset, but instead of wondering where the next holiday is coming from, how about being thankful for a well-brewed cup of tea, the cup itself, or the fact that you have running water?

We tend to suffer from a cultural inclination to share bad news rather than good, to grumble rather than praise and to take so many of the wonders around us for granted. Cultivating a mindfulness of the ways in which we are fortunate provides a healthy counterpoint to the background noise of negativity.

I don’t live in a constant state of bliss. Sometimes I’m frustrated, disillusioned and sad, but I heartily recommend the cumulative effect of noticing and noting the moments of delight, relief or humour each day.

In March I was given the surgery I’d been told three and a half years ago wasn’t worth having and now I’m no longer considered terminal. I may not be out of the woods yet, but meanwhile I’m enjoying the trees.

Gabi’s blog can be read at: