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Navigating Emotions

Dear Iris: Feeling Grateful Feels Impossible

Dear Iris,

My friends and family often talk about the importance of finding ways to remain positive and be appreciative of my life and the good things in it during this time. Recently, with all the challenges I’ve faced with my cancer diagnosis, I’ve found it difficult to identify things that I’m grateful for. Do you have any tips for connecting with more positive feelings when life feels tough?


Dear L,

What you’re saying makes so much sense.

Emotions start in the body, rather than the mind, which is why when you aren’t feeling well it can be more difficult to focus on things you appreciate.

Even though gratitude can be hard to access right now, I agree with your friends and family when they say that it can be helpful.

Gratitude can be experienced on a larger scale, such as gathering as a group for the holidays and expressing thanks. It can also be experienced in small, everyday moments like noticing the temperature or a clear, blue sky.

There’s no right or wrong way to get into this frame of mind. If suggestions help, here are some that have worked for others I’ve worked with: 

Gratitude Journaling

This is simply writing or documenting thoughts about the things you are thankful for. As you write, try to be specific by including details or examples of times you’re grateful for. If you’re stuck, try going for a walk and notice things that look or feel beautiful. 

Gratitude Meditation  

You don’t have to be well-versed in meditation or have special equipment to do this practice. To begin, close your eyes and make yourself comfortable. You may want to be lying down or sitting on a couch. Think of anything in your life, from the smallest to the grandest thing you feel grateful for. If you’re feeling pressure to identify something, consider your ancestors, someone who clothed or fed you, or even someone who’s made your life easier like a janitor or neighbor.  

Write a Gratitude Letter  

Expressing gratitude to others, sharing a gift, or giving thanks can all have a profound impact on us. Consider writing a letter to someone who has helped you or made an impact on your life. Be specific when reminding them what they did and how it made you feel. You can send this letter, or not. Simply expressing gratitude can change your frame of mind. 

Recite Gratitude Affirmations 

You may find it helpful to take time throughout the day to recite short, meaningful sayings that help you focus on gratitude. An example may be, “I’m grateful for the team that’s caring for me” or “I’m filled with appreciation for my home, where I feel safe and comfortable.” Having something to return to prevents you from having to search for ideas while also providing the emotional benefits of being in a grateful state of mind. 

You may find one of these works best for you or these ideas may have sparked one of your own. There’s no need to do all of them or even do them every day. Gratitude in any form can help you identify what you have and have experienced, despite the circumstances you’re going through.

Missed last week? Dear Iris: Can We Talk About Something Else?

Loreal Massiah, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, TTS

Senior Oncology Social Worker

Iris Oncology

Loreal Massiah is a licensed clinical social worker with 14 years of oncology experience focused on supporting patients and their families throughout the cancer journey. She has a certification in oncology social work as well as tobacco cessation counseling. Loreal has had the pleasure of working alongside cancer survivors in advocacy roles to promote change in access to affordable treatment throughout the country; she has extensive experience working in cancer survivorship and caregiver support; she also has a special interest in health equity, diversity, and inclusion in medical care.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.