Healing Powers of a Gratitude Journal for Cancer Patients

Gratitude list

Many years ago, I found myself in a difficult spot. I was battling serious depression, and I was quite unhappy with seemingly everything in my life.

I turned to my mom for advice, and her answer surprised me: Make a list each day of what I was thankful for.

I bristled at the idea. After all, it wasn’t Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t think of anything I was thankful for anyway. But I pulled out a small notebook and did it anyway.

At first, my list was short: House, bed, dog and food.

But a funny thing happened as I stuck with it. My list slowly got longer and longer. (Little did I know that being grateful can help with depression, as well.)

Today, when I make my list, it can fill a full sheet of paper.

Perhaps, as you deal with a mesothelioma diagnosis or the next round of treatment, you struggle to come up with a gratitude list. I can tell you, it definitely will help.

Gratitude Changes Our Brain Function

A 2003 study on gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life found that young adults who kept a daily gratitude journal showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy when compared with other age groups.

Those researchers conducted another study, this time on adults, and discovered that even a weekly gratitude journal was beneficial.

“Subjects assigned to journal weekly on gratitude showed greater improvements in optimism,” UCLA neuroscientist and writer Alex Korb, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today. “But that’s not all; it also influenced their behaviors…it also caused a reduction in physical ailments, so these subjects had fewer aches and pains.”

Korb also cited a 2009 National Institutes of Health study in which researchers discovered that feelings of gratitude actually affect brain chemistry. He did not participate in the study.

“[Researchers] found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus,” Korb wrote. “This is important because the hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels.”

Gratitude also activated the brain region associated with dopamine, which is the “reward” mechanism in the brain.

“Once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for,” Korb wrote. “That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

Gratitude Training

My brother can’t keep quiet about the Gratitude Training conferences held across the nation. He even offered to pay my way to attend one of them. They aren’t cheap.

Organizers describe gratitude training as “a beneficial tool that immediately enables a more persistent state of gratitude and joy.”

“The circumstances we all face today absolutely require rethinking and reinventing ourselves again and again,” the group’s website shows. “The Gratitude Training will give you some of the tools to rethink and remake this process so it serves you and positively affects those around you.”

Here are some of the benefits from participating in the Gratitude Training:

  • Identify your life’s purpose and manifest it through taking action today. Why are you here?
  • Become more effective in your life by mastering the power of choice.
  • See how committed action will create your desired results.
  • Be grateful for everything in your life. No matter what!
  • Experience living without fear and anxiety. Dare to risk.
  • Create greater intimacy, connection and openness in every relationship.
  • Be the change you want to see in the world and experience social change as your own life transforms.

It’s Time to Start Your Gratitude List

If you’re not up for a conference, you can start small.

I keep a pocket-sized spiral notebook by my bed in which I jot down my gratitude lists. I always date my lists because I love to look back and see the positive things that happened in my life.

I prefer a bulleted list, but this is totally up to you. Maybe you prefer to keep a gratitude journal, where you write down the positive things that happened in your day.

You may want to pull out your notebook while you sit through chemotherapy. You could even add the name of a preferred nurse or doctor to your gratitude list. I know that my lists often contain more people than places or things.

If you have little ones around, consider a gratitude craft like a handprint gratitude tree or a clothespin wreath.

Please remember that all of us at The Mesothelioma Center are extremely grateful for you this Thanksgiving.

  1. Korb, A. (2012, November 20.) The Grateful Brain: The neuroscience of giving thanks. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain
  2. Emmons, R.A. and McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Retrieved from http://www.stybelpeabody.com/newsite/pdf/gratitude.pdf
  3. Zahn, R. et al. (2008, May 22). The Neural Basis of Human Social Values: Evidence from Functional MRI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2733324/

Jennifer Mia has been writing and editing for more than 15 years. She has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications. When she was in college, she lost a brother to cancer, and now she writes blogs for The Mesothelioma Center. Jennifer hopes that her writing brings some small amount of hope and healing to the many men and women who are forced to deal with this horrible cancer.

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