I have this friend called Joanna. She has cancer (stage 3B non-hodgkins lymphoma) which she continues to fight with her head held high. She is, thankfully, surrounded by love from her three amazing children and wonderful husband, family and friends. This unforgiving disease has robbed her of her hearing. But it has not and never shall rob her of her spirit nor her gratitude.
Every day, while she of course has moments of sadness, anxiety and despair, she makes sure she also focuses her attention on being thankful for all that she has. She chooses to focus on that. Naturally, being human, her thoughts drift towards the unfairness of it all, to whether this Christmas could be her last, especially when she battles with tiredness and sickness from another bout of chemo, but then then she seizes back control by considering all that she has got rather than all that she hasn't. She tells me it is that gratitude and the constant love of her family which gets her through tough times and enables her to bounce back and make the most of each moment of her precious life.
She doesn't stop there of course. Inspirational people continue to amaze, as she does. Through her business, George Isaac Satchels (named after her youngest son) Joanna gives thanks to Wessex Cancer Trust for all they've done for her family by donating a percentage of all profits to them.
"There are bad days, sad days, awful days," admits Jo. "Days when you wish you weren't creating so much worry and concern for all the people around you, who love and care about you, but, believe it or not, there are great days too. I have had loads of laughs with my family and friends. My children and husband make me laugh until I can't breathe," she smiles.
She blogs beautifully about her experiences to help shine a light on the disease in order to help others. She writes: "It's strange how quickly the horrific can become regular: the chemo, the side effects, the new routines. Oncology appointments, IV infusions, medication refills all start to fill my calendar. I start making lists of things I need to do. I prioritize them. It's not always about what's actually the most important, it's also about finding things that bring me small moments of joy. The small moments are the ones that bring tears to my eyes. George mouthing to me, "I love you, Mama. You're the best Mama in the whole wide world" is enough to make me misty."
Jo is the epitome of human strength, courage and love. Her daily commitment to focusing her attention on being thankful can teach us all a thing or two about gratitude. Giving thanks is giving Jo her life back by reminding her what she still has right now. As such, gratitude is incredibly powerful and comforting.
"I am living my nightmare, one many people share. And yet, the morning comes. I see the light of day and I get out of bed. I see the faces of my children. I kiss my husband goodbye when he leaves for work. Each day I have is a day that matters. Each day is one to make a memory with my family and friends. Each day is one more than I had the day before."
"I want my children to always have an attitude of a glass half full not half empty and that is what I have to nurture. We will make it under these circumstances and not through locking myself away. I have such joy being a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend. What matters," says Jo, "is finding your own happiness, being with friends and family and not chasing money. It's so simple. And if one person can realise that thanks to what's happening with me, I'll be a happy girl for ever."
A stack of scientific studies have been carried out on the topic of gratitude, revealing how gratitude is good for health and well-being. These studies have revealed that counting your blessings and focusing on what you are grateful for makes you a better friend, student, partner and even parent. Appreciation is good for the heart, according to the American Journal of Cardiology and the immune system too.
While gratitude is not a cure for cancer, depression or any disease, it has been scientifically proven to help make people better equipped to deal with what life chucks at us on a daily basis. By practising being thankful with committed regularity, we can boost our positive emotions and, in doing so, bolster our resilience so that we may make the most of each day. That is what Joanna does and, in doing so, she is teaching her children and her friends to do the same. What an incredible gift she has given us all. Thank you Joanna.
Cheryl Rickman is author of The Flourish Handbook.