The following is an extract from Cathy McCarthy’s book, Not The Year You Had Planned, on the subject of gratitude.
I asked for Cathy’s permission to share this particular extract here today as our loose theme this month on Happy Magazine has been gratitude. I could never have put my thoughts on gratitude and the gratitude that comes after a cancer experience together as well as Cathy has done here and I have no doubt you will enjoy this piece as much as I have.
If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is “thank you”, that would suffice – Meister Eckhart
It is very easy to feel grateful when our lives are going well. In fact, when our lives are going along fine we are very often not even aware that we should be grateful. We don’t stop to reflect on what we have and what we should be thankful for. But when you get a serious illness and your life is under threat, you have time to stop and think of all the things that you have taken for granted, the most important one being your health. The serious illness I am talking about here is cancer.
So why should you be grateful if your life is suddenly under threat? Perhaps because you may appreciate for the first time what you have been neglecting. When you are ill gratitude is found in the most ordinary details of life. I believe that you are not going to be grateful for your big house or flash car, but instead will realise how blessed you are to have wonderful friends, family and people with whom to share important moments. You come to realise that the most valuable gift is not what you have in your life but who you have in your life. One friend I spoke to going through cancer told me she knew her friends were there but it was only when she became ill that she realised for the first time how strong their friendships were and how they stood by her.
I remember lying in bed on the days after my chemotherapy, not feeling very well, and getting text messages from friends. I may not have been able to reply, but in that moment, I knew that they were thinking of me and I felt grateful for their thoughtfulness. I know, too, how wonderful it was to feel good. When the bad days passed I had a heightened sense of wonder about life and living.
So how do you create an attitude of gratitude? Maybe each day think of just one thing you could be grateful for. It can be something really small. If you were to write all of these down, you would be amazed at how long the list would be.
Acknowledge moments of gratitude when you recall the people who have walked with you through your life – people who are now walking with you through your illness.
Awareness and gratitude stand side by side. To feel gratitude you have to have your eyes open to see what you possess. Even in the midst of pain we can experience gratitude. Our pain is still there but is does not have to exclude a feeling of gratefulness.
If you need help, accept it and be grateful to have people who wish to help you. It is not a weakness to ask for help. We all need people whether we like it or not. To believe that you can always be self sufficient is an illusion and sooner or later something will happen in your life that will shatter that illusion.
Life is full of surprises if only we are open to them. We often close our minds and do not see the wonders around us. E.E. Cummings says, ‘The eyes of my eyes are opened’. What a beautiful thought. You are suddenly awake and alive.
Some thoughts on how to be a grateful person
- Treasure all that you have.
- Think about the positive things that have happened to you in the last week.
- Open your eyes to see the good things in your life, especially the small things. They are often the most important.
- I remember one day taking out all of the cards I had received from people when I was ill. They were so sincere and I felt a huge sense of gratitude, really blessed. In fact I did not realise I knew so many people.
- Be around positive people. It is difficult to be grateful if you are around people who are negative. These people bring you down and it is impossible to feel grateful.
- When I was ill, there were people thinking about me whom I didn’t know. I had never met them and probably never will – they are friends of friends who genuinely wished me well. There was one girl in particular, who works with my sister and apparently she always asked about me. Through a strange coincidence, I met this girl, and she was so genuinely happy that I looked so well and wished me all the best for the future. How could you not be grateful for all those wonderful human beings?
- I get up every day and I genuinely say thank you.
- I love to spend time in nature, because it grounds me and makes me realise what is important.
- I love to walk, particularly on a warm rainy day when I can feel the soft rain on my face.
- Each time I go for a check up, I come out and just say thank you.
Maybe for the first time in my life, I truly value my health. I know this is difficult to understand, but because my life was under threat I believe I have been given a second chance. I have been given the opportunity to seriously re-evaluate my life and for that I am grateful. I no longer sweat the small things. Today I love my life, every day, every moment. I live those moments, because all we have are moments, the present moment. The following puts it into words so much better than I can.
You’ve never lived until you have almost died
For those who have had to fight for it
Life truly has a flavour
That the protected will never know
– Theodore Roosevelt
This is an extract from Not The Year You Had Planned, by Cathy McCarthy and published by Ashfield Press. This book, along with Cathy’s second book, are available to purchase on books.ie and Amazon and are €13 each. Proceeds go to various charities.
Happy Magazine would like to thank Cathy and her publisher for their gracious permission to re-publish this extract.