Once you embody these gratitude principles, they’ll transform your life forever.
Whilst reading this article, I’d like you to keep this phrase in mind:
Focus on what you do have, not what you don’t.
Three and a half years ago, cancer stole my father.
To say it was one of the lowest points of my life to-date would be an understatement. There I was, as a thirteen-year-old, sobbing uncontrollably on my bedroom floor after my mother broke the news to me. September the 20th 2015. The date plays itself over in my mind like a replay record.
Dad was my best friend, not just my father. Even now, after these long months of learning and growth, there’s still a dull ache in my heart whenever I think of him. Just remembering his big hands, bear hugs and sarcastic humour is enough to set me off.
It seemed easy at the time to just crawl back on hands and knees into my snail shell of withdrawal, blocking myself out from a world which seemed to be moving so incredibly fast. I didn’t want to see families together, giggling and making memories. I deeply despised those who spoke about Father’s Day, and what they’d bought and where they were going to celebrate. I wasn’t having any of it.
I never thought it was fair that it'd happened to us. What have I done wrong? I’d constantly think. What have I done that means I’m not allowed to keep my own father? I found myself looking towards the future with red-hot fury, the realisation that he wouldn’t be there to buy my first car or walk me down the aisle, sending me into a depressive state.
The months that followed were incredibly difficult. I lost pleasure in a lot of things, and neglected myself most of all. I did, however, allow myself to grieve, as I knew this would help me heal eventually. I was lucky enough to have an excellent support network, who helped me stick my head a little bit above the dark hole I’d buried myself in. And from that point forward, things (slowly) began to change.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” – Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
The quote above is one that I agree with wholeheartedly. There seems to be this assumption around grief that once time passes, so does the pain. This is usually preached by those who haven’t yet experienced loss first-hand, which makes perfect sense. Those who have been unfortunate enough to do so, however, know that the pain and deep-rooted sensitivity will always be there. It’s the seed embedded in your core. It’s what makes you grow.
Gradually, my situation did improve. It was a literal roller coaster, and still is – there are a lot of ups, a lot of downs and a lot of ‘I’m-not-sures’. But, over time, the months have gone by and I’ve gotten older (to an ancient and wise age of…seventeen). I’ve done everything I can to rewire my brain, in order to understand things a little clearer. And, by reading below, I hope you’ll start to uncover the transparency between your mind and the events that shape it.
Prepare yourself for the future and consider my 5 Golden Rules for Gratitude. Maybe you’ll find something will just click.
1. Look at yourself
Grab a mirror and look at yourself. Watch your chest slowly rise and fall, your heartbeat thumping inside of it. Watch your eyes blink and flutter, focusing on the beautiful human being staring right back at you. Yes, that’s you. And you’re very much alive.
Look at the skin covering your structure, the veins running underneath it. Study your reflection and imagine your thoughts whirring around your fully-functioning brain. Doing something as simple as this can reinstate the fact that you’re alive! Isn’t that the greatest gift of all? Be grateful you’ve been placed on this earth, able to experience the beauty it offers, even though you might question your purpose at the moment. You are here – you are surviving and will continue to do so.
2. Look immediately around you
In traumatic situations, we’re sometimes forced to shut ourselves off from life around us. It's a defence mechanism – we can't bear experiencing something quite so horrific again, we protect ourselves. Although this means we put our barriers up to everyone, even the people who love us most, we also tend to lose our ability to see them, too. We become self-concerned.
In my case, I only allowed myself to notice that I didn’t have a father. I didn’t, however, notice that I had a mother, a brother, grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles and some incredible friends. Yes, I may have lost someone, but I’m lucky enough to have many other people who’ll love, support and protect me.
Never feel guilty, though, if you neglect others through difficult times. You should always put yourself first, no matter what, even if that means taking some time away. Do recognise you’re not alone, though.
3) Look below
Perspective truly is a wonderful thing, and it's something that has helped me massively on my journey to sourcing gratitude. Sometimes, strapping yourself in, getting in your helicopter and flying above the situation is really useful. For the smaller issues I face, say too many essays to write and not enough time to do them, I always put the situation into context. In the grand scheme of things, this is something easily resolvable, and I should be grateful I have an education that requires me to complete this work in the first place.
I try and remember that there’s always someone worse off. And if they’re strong enough and brave enough to continue, so can I.
Perspective also allows you to see that things will get better. I know that I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, food to eat, clean water to drink, an education and many other privileges and opportunities right before my eyes. There's no reason why the pain will intensify.
4) Look behind
It’s not always positive to live in the past, dwelling on the what-could-have-beens and the should-have-beens. But sometimes, looking how far you’ve come can be a real motivational kick. It’s always said in a patronising manner, but it’s true – I promise. When Dad passed away, I was at my lowest possible point. So, the only way was up. I’m still here, living and breathing, so I did something right.
“If you're going through hell, keep going.”
Churchill quoted the above. When I read it, something clicked. Why would you want to stop in hell? Surely you'd want to get out of it as quick as possible.
5) Now, look forward
What’s happened has happened. We cannot change the things that hurt us and frame us. Every single thing that you endure, however small or large it may be, builds up your resilience and prepares you for the rest of your life.
Yes, I may have lost my best friend and a dear father, but I’ve learnt so much about myself and my strength throughout the process. I’ve become a courageous, independent young woman, who’s developed much more empathy and knowledge than I ever would’ve had. And for that I say I am truly grateful.
I’d suggest you watch this short video, created by the highly-intelligent Russell Brand. It’s so powerful.
Before I leave you, I’ll repeat the key motto to take away from this article.
Focus on what you do have, not what you don’t.
- Boost Your Gratitude – See the World with New Eyes
- 7 Things I Learned from My Son's Cancer Journey
- Meditation for Dealing with Grief & Finding Peace
Charlotte’s a seventeen-year-old from the United Kingdom, with a passion for languages and literature. Her love of writing began after cancer stole her father when she was thirteen. She’s a fiction and freelance writer with work published in multiple overseas publications, including the Cosumnes River Journal and Gordon Square Review. She was awarded a GSR Editorial Membership, and is currently a reader for the award-winning magazine 805 Lit. You can find her on Twitter (@charlioakebyxo).