My whole life I have been called a happy person. People ask me how I stay positive, even joyful. While I think I’m a natural optimist, I believe all joy is an extension of gratitude. If we can find something to be thankful for, no matter what’s going on, no matter how small, we can grasp the coattails of joy.

Last year, a week before Thanksgiving, my best friend lost her father to Prostate cancer. Jonathan Waite was like a second father to me. I saw him three days before he died. He was frail, dazed, and so joyful. His eyes were fixed dreamily on the ceiling and his heart on his many paintings. It amazed me that through his deep physical pain, he cracked jokes and, in a childlike way, seemed genuinely happy.

While I will always miss him, I think of the impactful life he had as teacher, father, loyal husband and brilliant artist, and cry tears from the beauty of a life well-lived. One of his greatest works of art was his daughter, for whom I will always be grateful. Jon’s piece pictured above is called “Triumph of Painting.” If I were ever to write his story, I would call it simply, “Triumph of Life.”

Not long after Jonathan, my grandmother passed. Through my heartbreak, I focused my mind on her amazing story and 90 years. By age 30, T.S. Yang had survived three wars. Doctors told her she would never have children. She had five. After the funeral, my cousin revealed she was pregnant.

Sometimes we have have to fight for our joy. Being Positively Positive does not mean never having problems or never facing death, it means seeking out the blessings or opportunities we can find within disappointment, anger, sadness—and transforming it. Not to deny the pain, but to add joy to it. I have seen the ways in which gratitude gives us power over darkness and difficulty. I’ve seen the way gratitude enables the angels.

Being able to say “thank you” through tears, through Thanksgiving every single day—not only when the turkey and stuffing is out. Seeking out Thanksgiving every day through loss, a bad day at work, a parking ticket. Like Jon’s little ladder to the sky (above), climbing over any disappointment into gratitude for the pillow under your head. Climbing and living, remembering to focus on every breath as a gift, not a given.

Right now, I am thankful for everything, all that I take for granted, and for all of you. I’m Xian Horn and I’m Positively Positive too!

Xian Horn is a joyful half-Asian woman with Cerebral Palsy, serving as writer, mentor, and positivity activist. A member of an international network of extraordinary women, 85 Broads, she was heralded by founder Janet Hanson as an “amazing role model for all women.” With her personal stories and ongoing mentoring work, Xian Horn is invested in contributing positively to self-esteem and the collective self-image, especially for women. To support her True Beauty efforts for people with disabilities, please join Xian’s Facebook community.