How to Find Positive Moments When Living with Cancer

How to Find Positive Moments When Living with Cancer

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21

From the time you’re first diagnosed with cancer, the focus is on your body. However, cancer clearly affects your emotions and feelings, too. At any stage after a diagnosis, you might experience a variety of strong emotions, including disbelief, fear, sadness, anxiety, and anger. These are normal and it’s perfectly fine—and, frankly, healthy—to let yourself fully experience them. Studies show that people who express their emotions—the good and the bad—during cancer treatment have significantly better physical and mental health outcomes.  
That being said, research shows that when cancer patients cultivate happiness in their lives, they experience a better quality of life. That doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it, nor does it mean you should force yourself to create a silver lining where one doesn’t exist. Instead, it means noticing when something makes you happy and choosing to acknowledge that emotion (even if only for a moment). These tips and tricks will help you find those pockets of joy tucked throughout your days, which can sustain you through even the toughest stretch of treatment.

Start a gratitude journal

Writing down what you’re grateful for can help remind you of the good things in your life. Research suggests that focusing on gratitude promotes various aspects of well-being during cancer treatment, including coping strategies and perceived social support. Get a notebook, download a gratitude journal app on your smartphone, or use sticky notes to create a collage of things you’re grateful for each day, from your delicious coffee in the morning to a book you’re enjoying or a conversation with a friend or family member.


It’s normal to feel stressed or anxious during treatment, but there are techniques you can use to help relax your body and calm your mind. Studies show that when used alongside standard medical treatment, practicing meditation can help relieve anxiety, stress, and fatigue while improving mood. You can use a guided meditation app (we love Calm, Headspace, and free-of-charge Insight Timer), practice yoga, or just take five minutes out of every day to sit in quiet and just focus on deep, calming breaths.

Write a thank-you note

When was the last time you wrote somebody a thank-you note? Telling people you appreciate them doesn’t just bring joy to the person who gets the note—research has found it improves well-being for the letter-writer, too. Whether you express your thanks through an email, a text, or even a card, you’ll find that when you make others smile, it feels good to you, too.

Reframe your negative thoughts 

This isn’t just for mental health—perspective can affect your physical health, too! People who take a positive outlook report experiencing less intense pain than those who dwell on the negative, and the same research suggests that they may also respond better to treatment. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, try to think of a positive about the same situation. This technique, known as cognitive reframing,has been found to improve mental health during cancer treatment. Instead of saying, “I’m such a burden on my family,” try to reframe it into, “I’m so grateful for this incredible family.”

Take care of your body

There’s a reason they call it the “runner’s high”—physical activity stimulates the release of euphoria-inducing endorphins in the brain. But running isn’t the only way to get that feeling. Any physical activity, whether it’s a walk, bike ride, or yoga session,can boost your mood.

Do the things you love

Happiness doesn’t have to stop just because you’re undergoing treatment! It’s important to make time for the activities you love, whether that’s trying new restaurants or hiking your favorite trail. There is evidence to suggest hobbies provide a valuable physical and mental break from the treatment regimen, which can increase quality of life.


Though it may feel like life is on hold until treatment is over, don’t let that stop you from thinking about the great things ahead.Research shows that setting life goals is beneficial to cancer survivors, leading to reports of fewer symptoms and better health.

Surround yourself with people who make you feel good

We absorb the energy of the people around us—so choose those who bring love, light, and laughter into your life. Laughter, in particular, is important. Studies show that even one good belly laugh can reduce anxiety, depression, and stress for people undergoing cancer treatment. You know that one friend who always cracks you up? Give them a call, meet them for a cup of coffee, or start a text thread for jokes and memes. It’s good for you (in so many ways)!

Talk to others who are living with cancer

Sometimes, it feels good to talk to someone who just “gets it.” Being with people who know how you feel is a powerful, uplifting reminder that you’re not alone. Contrary to popular belief, cancer support groups aren’t a maudlin affair! There is a lot of joy and laughter just from being in the presence of other people who understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. If support groups aren’t your thing, try an online forum or peer support network instead.

Feel the good moments fully

When you have a happy moment, whether it’s big or small, relish it for all it’s worth. Smile, relax, and take it all in. Say it out loud: “This is wonderful!” or “I am so happy right now.” It may feel a little awkward at first, but think of happiness as a kind of mental muscle—the more you flex it, the stronger it will get.

The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at