I was always prone to living my appreciation for life out-loud, even before being diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma in my early 30’s. But in the years since my diagnosis, I can honestly say that grateful living has become amplified for me; inextricable from the essence of who I am.

Very few perspective-enhancing experiences rival coping with a “terminal” illness, especially during the first few decades of a life. For me, facing metastatic cancer at a young age – and all that it took me to survive it – left me with sharpened senses. I became more awake to the tremendous gifts of being alive and to the myriad blessings of my life in particular. None of the intricacies of living were lost on me – difficult and sweet; all poignant. And partly because I did not expect to have a long time to live out the quantity of my experiences, I learned to cultivate an intensification of the quality of my experiences…bringing heightened attention, expanded awareness, and deepened appreciation to all of what and whom life presented to me. I called this stage of my life “living acutely.” And living acutely, I expected, would last only a few years…

Now, over two decades of “acute” living later, the experience of gratitude has softened to become a welcome, “chronic” condition in my moment-to-moment life. The truth of impermanence has become more background than dominating foreground, and both the practice and practices of grateful living are integrated into my days in a more sustainable and ordinary fashion. I distinguish here the practice of grateful living from gratitude practices, as while they both have great merit, they hold very different forms of meaning in my life.

For me, the practice of grateful living is an all-encompassing way of being which extends gratefulness to all manner of experience, ever cognizant of the privilege of being awake yet another day. I see living gratefully as a pre-condition for states of being such as receptivity, humility, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, joy, generosity, and transformation. In this spirit, I am able to apply all the gifts of experience and connection that come my way as opportunities to be grateful for, and thereby learn from, everything and anything. Ultimately, then, for me, the most profound manifestation of the practice of grateful living is that it supports the capacity to cherish our lives and one another with our whole hearts, and without condition.

As a distinction, gratitude practices are pivotal ways of living that support the experience of embodying a grateful life and accessing desired states of well-being. For me, taking stock of my blessings through various forms of daily meditation and reflective exercises, writing in a gratitude journal, saying THANK YOU in prayers and aloud to Life and to those who support me…these kinds of practices help to remind me of my commitment to living a life steeped in awe, contentment, and generosity. Gratitude practices have become touchstones which I can access in order to remember the privileges and responsibilities of being alive.

In 2015, Kristi was asked by her local PBS station to contribute a digital story about her journey with cancer as part of a community series of stories.  Here it is:

Kristi Nelson is the Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living. Read Kristi’s grateful acceptance of A Network for Grateful Living’s Executive Director position. 

Feature photo by Faye Cornish

Kristi Nelson

Kristi Nelson

About the author

Kristi Nelson is Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living and the author of Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. Her life’s work in the non-profit sector has focused on leading, inspiring, and strengthening organizations committed to progressive social and spiritual change. Being a long-time stage IV cancer survivor moves her every day to support others in living and loving with great fullness of heart. Learn more about Kristi here.