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Where did all those little thankyous come from? And have they helped?
In 2001, the ER doctor told us there were four possible reasons I’d had a grand mal seizure. The least likely of those reasons was a tumor.
“But just in case, we’d better get a CT scan to make sure,” he said
It’s the kind of statement which, when made in a movie, will inevitably prove premature. And, inevitably, wrong. The kind that foreshadows the pain to come.
So there were a lot of emotions flooding over me an hour later when he told us that it was indeed a tumor. As far as I remember, gratitude wasn’t one of them.
But somewhere between the successful surgery in 2001 and the recurrence in 2015, gratitude became a part of my daily life. It wasn’t on purpose.
How did thankfulness embed itself?
I know gratitude started when the surgeon removed the whole tumor (no easy feat with thr type).
I know it grew when my parents came to help take care of me so Rachelle could tend to our one-month-old son Evan.
I know it welled up when our church family at the time gave meals for weeks.
I know it got stronger over the years as relationships formed with other survivors. When I got testicular cancer in 2008, I reached out to Shirley Richner for support. Shirley was a cancer survivor herself who was in her seventies (and has since passed). She invited our family to the second home she and her husband Don had near Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. It was a time of healing, a trip we’ll never forget.
Gratitude like that can grow naturally like it did for me, or it can be nurtured intentionally.
A common exercise is The Three Gratitudes: at some point in your day, write down at least three things or people that have made your day—or your life—better. Then take the second step of thanking those people for how they’ve helped.
That’s a great exercise, but I’ve found it hard to turn into a daily practice.
One of the most powerful gratitude practices I’ve found is micro-gratitudes. In fact, it’s no overstatement to say they’ve changed my life.
I don’t know where these micro-gratitudes came from. I never set out to practice them. They were probably an inevitable result of all those little things people have done to encourage me and my family over the years.
How does it work?
Receptionist checks you in at the radiation clinic? Thank her. Parking attendant gives back your credit card? Thank him. Nursing aid raises her voice in frustration at the pressure the hospital keeps heaping on staff? Wait until the next time she helps you out, then thank her.
Here’s another one: grocery teller charges you for the parsley instead of cilantro? Say something like “That’s okay. It’s sure easy to mix them up, isn’t it?” Then thank him when your groceries are packed. (Rachelle taught me that one.)
Do it even when they don’t smile or look you in the eye. Don’t even think about whether you actually feel grateful.
Why thank them, anyway? Aren’t they just doing their jobs?
Because these people are serving you in a way you really needed, and have been serving people before you got there, and will be serving people once you leave. And there are worries and challenges in their lives you can’t know about that may be making it really hard for them today.
No matter what you’re going through in the moment, you have the power to make someone else’s life just a tiny bit better. That’s a wonderful power.
Acting grateful isn’t fake—over time, it moves from acting to being. I’ve found showing gratitude is an easy way to remind myself that my problems don’t define my day.
Saying a small thank-you gives me a chance to smile, and those smiles add up.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It can boost energy, revive the body and nurture mental health.
As Dr. Kristin Neff says, "By recognizing the good that's already here, we become less overwhelmed by our challenges and can find real pleasure and satisfaction."
How important have micro-gratitudes been in my overall healing? I’ll never know.
But it sure hasn’t hurt.