Training Our Brains for Positivity and Gratitude

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the infusion center. All is well. It was an opportunity to increase my health, and as it turns out, a way to work on my practice of seeing the positive and choosing gratitude.

The health center where the infusion center is located, sends reminders about appointments. I typically appreciate the reminders, but this particular one pushed many of my buttons. The reminder read “You have an appointment with Chemo Chair.” I wasn’t going for chemo, just to get some valuable medications and the help of the nurses around said Chemo Chair. None-the-less, the appointment reminder was causing the fear and protective part of my brain to fire a bit more than I liked.

To help soothe my protective brain, and turn on more of my thoughtful brain, I prepped for my appointment with Chemo Chair as I always do — with a walk, sit, breathe, and paint, in nature. As we walked I remarked to my brother that I was feeling stressed about having to go to the infusion center. As the words come out of my mouth I felt my anxiety rising. I also, thankfully, heard the word had. Actually I didn’t have to do anything. I was choosing to do it. And, it was a blessing and privilege that not everyone gets. So I reminded myself I got to do it — it was a gift I was receiving. I noted the positive, accepted it with gratitude, and walked on.

As we sat, and I painted, I noticed my focus and breath — it was calm, peaceful, and quietly joyful. I thought “I need something creative to bring me joy during my appointment with Chemo Chair.” I seriously contemplated my hiking watercolor kit, but decided something simpler with less possibility of mess might be better. I settled on creating mandala-like art on blank cards with markers — creativity, focus, joy, no mess, and I’d have my holiday thank you cards ready to go.

It was so good to have the creative outlet. I drew while I waited for a chair, and while I spent my time in the chair. It definitely brought me joy, kept me focused on good things, and was a conversation starter for people passing by.

As I navigated the many emotional, mental, and physical experiences of the afternoon I remembered this fact about our brains, from Shawn Achor:

Our brains constantly choose to focus on the negative threats or on the positive. We can practice moving our brain towards the positive, and train our brains to begin to scan for things we are grateful for.

Shawn Achor

So as I practiced noticing and controlling my breathing — in through my nose, out through my mouth — and monitored how I was feeling — I began to scan for things I was grateful for in my life and day. Here’s my list:

  • I had an appointment with Chemo Chair. Not everyone gets to have one. And, the chair was quite lovely — comfy, with options to recline or heat the seat.
  • I have access to the medications I need, insurance to help with the cost, and a great medical center close by.
  • I had food for breakfast, a warm house, a place to cook the food, a warm shower, and clothes I like to wear.
  • I have a car, money for gas, and a brother who was free and willing to drive me. He even purposefully chose a hiking video with great views and sounds to watch before we left — and then reminded me to think of them as I got my meds.
  • The nurse I encountered as I climbed the stairs to the infusion center. She seemed surprised that I said hello, but as she passed me she said “Have a great day and a Happy New Year!”
  • The people who check me in each time I go, and greet me with an enthusiastic “Good golly Miss Molly!”
  • The nurses — who work like dogs, by the way — who are professional, talented, and caring. At one point I pressed the emergency button – allergic reaction — and in a flash, or less than a flash, half a dozen nurses were in front of me. The anxious tears forming in my eyes, stopped as I laughed and said “Wow. That was so fast — and there’s so many of you!” We chuckled together as they each did their bit to check in, get a doctor, give me more meds, or smile and chat.
  • The cards and fabulous new markers that I was able to get on the cheap — I had a $5 voucher and found a 20% off coupon! I accidentally bought gatefold cards. Who even knew there were such things? This snafu miffed me at first, but then became fodder for new creative ideas and a cool design revision.
  • I finished creating more than half of my holiday thank you cards.
  • My sweet cousin, and the fab bracelet she got me, and the fact that I was able to find it as I hurried about in the morning gathering the things I wanted to bring with me.
  • I felt pretty rotten when I got done in the chair — but I didn’t have to drive myself home. And when I got home, I brewed myself a cup of tea, had a bite to eat, took some ibuprofen, and headed to bed. Again, things to be grateful for were many — my home, heat, a comfortable bed, lovely pillows, a weighted blanket, tea, hot water, a mug I love, a ridiculously large water thermos gifted by a Kindergartner who’s mom said to me “It’s life changing, Miss James!” I laughed when she said it, but I gotta say, it was wonderful to have it by my bed so I didn’t have to get up for refills!
  • My family and friends who always support and love me, and who pray for me and send good vibes always — but especially when I’m feeling less than fantabulous.
  • And then of course the gigantic things like beautiful weather, peace, breath, and life.

I keep saying I’m going to do a daily gratitude practice, and then don’t. I think I may see if I can add it to my nighttime routine. I may not write anything down for now. I think making it simple and able to be down with nothing other than my heart and mind will make me more likely to stick with it. If you give it a try, let me now how it goes.

Peace. Love. Positivity. Gratitude.


3 thoughts on “Training Our Brains for Positivity and Gratitude

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey…it’s quite inspiring. The cards are beautiful. The gated cards were NOT a mistake. As for gratitude, I practice that at least twice a day–while getting in my car to go out–thankful for garage, car, gas, places to go, roads to take me, safety for my journey. And while getting ready for bed–thankful for a bathroom in my own home, hot water in the shower that has a wonderful showerhead, clean fresh towels to use to dry myself, soft comfortable pajamas, and a bed to sink my tired body into. All so glorious and never taken for granted.


  2. I’m inspired by the way you reframed this visit, and by the way you chose to prepare yourself and practice art while you were there. Sending prayers your way.


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