The Difference Between Grateful and Thankful


If you’ve been following this blog for a while you already know I’m a fan of gratitude. Having some kind of habit associated with being regularly grateful is an excellent way for me to stay positive, to improve my state of mind and to break old and negative thinking patterns.

I have two more radiation treatments and then that’s it. The months and months of treatment will be over. I will still need time to recover from the impact of the treatment but my focus will shift to being as well as I can be, rather than dealing with chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.

I’ve been spending some time thinking about he difference between being grateful and being thankful.

Gratefulness folds inwards. When I take time each week to list seven things I’m grateful for, the people that rate a mention don’t necessarily know anything about it. The circumstances and events of the week become something I contemplate and reflect upon. Taking time to express my weekly gratitude has, over time, resulted in a permanent shift in my perspective. I am much more likely to see the good. I am happy with what I have. Gratitude is the precursor to contentment.

Thankfulness blossoms outwards. It’s the active expression of gratitude. It involves taking the time to sincerely express my appreciation to other people. Thankfulness reminds me that we cannot achieve anything on our own. It keeps me humble. It provides the mechanism for taking a portion of the love and care that others have extended to me during my illness and turning it around.

I’ve done some of this as I went along. Cards, appropriate gifts, and just taking the time to let people know how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me have all been part of dealing with cancer.

The transition from treatment into recovery is something most cancer patients find challenging. Time to discover ‘my new normal’. Time to move away from the safety net of constant medical attention and back into the big, unprotected world again. Time to let go of ‘cancer patient’ as a defining label and just be myself again. Time to put together a plan for recovering from side effects and rebuilding my health. Surrender. Acceptance.

I think that part of dealing with this transition will involve a lot of thankfulness. I enjoy taking the time to really let people know how much I appreciate all of their love and support.

I learnt the power of thankfulness a few years back when I wrote to my favourite author. It occurred to me that I had been reading her work since I was fourteen and she must therefore be getting very old. I wanted to let her know how important her books had been to me. I wanted to pass on the best quote I’d ever heard about her work (I wish I’d said it first), “Sheri S Tepper writes the kind of books that reshape your thinking so effectively that you can’t go back to the way you used to think, even if you try.”  I wanted to let her know that my daughter had also read her work and that it had helped to shape her views on everything from religion to social justice to the rights of women. Pretty good work for a fiction writer.

I didn’t expect an answer.

I was delighted when Sheri wrote back to me. She told me she’d been feeling a bit down because she’d been unwell and her publishers had often told her she was ‘too polemic’ and that she could have been a bestselling author if she’d been more like this author or that author. She’d been wondering if her life’s work had achieved anything at all and then my letter arrived.

That’s one of the best things about thankfulness. The impact it can have on people usually outweighs the effort you put in. A simple letter or a card or a well chosen gift can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.

A couple of weeks back we took the friend that filled our freezer out for a really great dinner with her husband. After all the meals she’s made us it seemed only fair to shout her one in return. Of course she’s the kind of person that’s always helping other people, often without any thanks, so she was surprised and just a bit delighted.

I found the softest dressing gown in the world and bought it for my Mum. I hope it makes her feel like she’s wrapped in a big, warm hug. That’s how I’ve felt being around her. She’s had an amazing knack of turning up when I’m at my lowest, often just for a cup of tea and a chat. She also took me away to Norfolk Island for a break after chemotherapy. Thanks Mum. You’re amazing.

I’m seeing another friend tomorrow for lunch. She’s kept us in home made biscuits for the duration, ensuring we had something nice to offer guests as well as a treat for ourselves. I’ve found a present she’ll really like and I’m looking forward to her reaction.

When Buddhists meditate on gratitude they include all of the people that invented, developed, manufactured and distributed everything around us. They are grateful for the people responsible for the roof over their heads, the cups in the kitchen, the water that comes out of the tap.

It would be impossible to thank all of those people but I really like the idea of taking time to look at everything around me and asking “Who do I have to thank for that?”

Some time this week I’ll make a list of all the people that I want to thank, just to make sure I haven’t missed anyone. I won’t be publishing that list. I think most people prefer to be thanked privately and the risk of a list is that you’ll leave someone off, or offend those that did a great deal by including them on a list with those that did just a little.

At the top of that list will be the Breastscreen service in Gosford. Without them I would almost certainly be dead. They picked up tumours that usually go undetected at a time when my full recovery from cancer was possible. I know they use volunteers to help out on the days when women get their call back for further tests. Nine out of ten of these women won’t have cancer and they make a point of telling you that when you get the call back. Of course, this statistic means that one out of ten will have cancer. It can be reassuring for people in this situation to meet someone that has beaten breast cancer. I’m hoping that’s me.

I want to say, “That’s me. I’ve beaten cancer” but I really need to wait a couple of years before I can say that with confidence. Triple negative has a high rate of recurrence and a high rate of metastasis (spreading through the body). Once I’m two years cancer free my risk drops considerably. At five years cancer free my risk is about the same as the general population. My radiation oncologist tells me that my cancer is unusual because as well as being triple negative it is also ‘node negative’. He’s hoping this means it hasn’t developed the ability to trick my body into thinking it’s healthy cells. Me too.

I also want to find a way to let my husband know how thankful I am for all of his love and support. Having a partner with cancer is only very slightly better than having cancer yourself. Some people find themselves abandoned after diagnosis, or left to get on with treatment without much support. Graham’s been wonderful. I’ve insisted on him continuing with all of the things he enjoys, including playing in two bands and volunteering with the local fire brigade. He’s insisted on making me the centre of attention.

Being thankful always results in me feeling very loved and well cared for. Gratitude bounces.

So this week will be my ‘thankful week’. I’ll be taking time to sincerely thank everyone that’s contributed to my recovery. You might like to join me. Think of five people that have made a positive contribution to your life. Say ‘thank you’. See what happens.




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