How to Find Tiny Miracles, Even During Hard Times

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~Albert Einstein

In my cancer journey, miracles showed themselves every step of the way.  Large and small, some of more significance than others. But all amazing, leading me to heartfelt gratitude for each and every one.

In my most trying times, I held on to the focus of what was going right. I was putting into practice my learnings from positive psychology. That’s not to say I wasn’t terrified of my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, but I tried to be my own good student and apply some of my learnings.

What went well today? What did I consider to be a miracle?

After spending a pretty lousy all-night stay in the emergency room waiting for admission into the hospital, I was surprisingly rewarded with my own private room with a purple wall and window, with a view looking out to the Hudson River.

How did they know I was a purple lover my whole life, and a lover of scenic water views?

I got really spoiled with that good-feeling room, in a newly designed wing, created with healing and beauty in mind. I got it by chance, it being the one that was available at the time of my admission.

Subsequently, the couple of times I had to be in a hospital room, I was put in the regular cancer unit, in a double room, hearing all the unpleasant noises and family visits of a roommate. But at least I had that room for my longest stay in the hospital! A purple win!


One of my first concerns, embarrassingly expressed to my oncologist, was: “I’m terrified of nausea and vomiting throughout treatment. I’ve seen too many movies where the cancer patient has his head in the toilet all too often.”

To which she replied, “If you stay ahead of the game and take the anti-nausea pill prophylactically, you should be okay.”

And I was! Only barely vomited once. Miraculous!

I am not a medicine person. I have to be really sick to take even a Tylenol. I don’t do well on most antibiotics. They upset my stomach, and to some I get outright allergic reactions of hives and joint pain, and once even got C. diff.

I had to go on a regimen of numerous types of antibiotics for the duration of my treatment—anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial—along with other medications. I suddenly had a pill cocktail of about five pills at a time.

And lo and behold, my stomach handled them well—no bad tummy effects.


Oh, and I didn’t say the real biggie, the most important one: My initially suspected horrific diagnosis, as seen by an ER radiologist, to which I said, “Just put me in hospice,” was upgraded to a new and better one: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—known to have a good outcome rate, and considered “one of the better cancers” (as long as I could get through the treatment).

As a family member and initial consulting doctor said, “If you have to have a cancer, this is the one to get.”

Hospice sentence averted!

Not sure if this warrants a statement of miraculous, as a cancer diagnosis is an oxymoron with the word miraculous, but it was definitely a relief from the initial finding.

There were many more miracles along the way of my treatment journey, but I don’t want to belabor the cancer part here. This is about opening ourselves up to seeing the miracles in our lives in general. In my case, looking for them and focusing on them helped me cope.

Seeing what’s going well and finding the good points us in the direction of gratitude. And gratitude is a huge factor in living well and in our own well-being. It is also an important coping tool. It doesn’t take away the bad, but it makes it bearable.

How do we build our ‘miracle’ muscle, our gratitude muscle, our muscle that can flex toward the things that are going well?

Be present; focus on the here and now.

We can’t see a miracle now if we’re worrying about the future, or the what-ifs. The flower is opening now to its full beauty; take that in and hold it.

We miss out on the full now if we’re in the tomorrows. When we’re in the shower and focusing on the hot water feeling so good as it’s streaming down on us, we appreciate having it.

Do a gratitude exercise of writing down a few things you’re grateful for to train your mind to bend toward a more positive bias. 

It can be the seemingly smallest and most ordinary things: a mug of deliciously aromatic coffee or a conversation with a good friend. When seeing a rose, do you home in on the beautiful flower or the prickly thorns around it? They’re both real, but where do you find yourself focusing?

Tune into your senses. 

Focus on each one. Take a different route and notice what you see. Listen to a song and see if you can identify the instruments. Take in the smells of the market—the spices, the incense, the flowers. Try new foods for taste. Feel that velvety couch. Have a sensory party and create different things to try. Creative juices can flow here.

Open up to the ordinary.

It sounds counterintuitive, but this helps us realize more of the extraordinary.

Seeing the expanse of the ocean and its horizon can bring out an awe of nature, as can listening to the sounds of the early morning birds upon arising. Feeling and hearing our own breath when sitting quietly or meditating can evoke an appreciation for our life. Dancing or exercising can connect us to the workings, flow, and beauty of our body.

We work to build our muscles during the easier times so that we have them built up for those more trying times in our lives. Then you will be very grateful for your miracles—the ordinary and extraordinary ones—that you might have otherwise missed.

About Harriet Cabelly

Harriet Cabelly, LCSW is a therapist specializing in grief, loss. and critical life situations. She's also a speaker, author, and group leader. Harriet works from the lens of positive psychology and existentialism. She has a private practice seeing clients both in-person and virtually. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through critical life-changing circumstances. Harriet is the author of Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life. Visit her at rebuildlifenow.com.

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