7 Secrets to Happiness When You Live with Illness

man-lakeAs I sit here working on this article my 4-year-old son hangs out with me with a little cold & fever. I keep telling him he needs some medicine but all he has said since he got out of bed is “I’m better now. I’m all better.” How much does our attitude effect how well we deal with our illness & our level of happiness?

Everyone copes with challenges in their lives in different ways. For those who are diagnosed with a chronic illness they may put on a happy face & literally decide they will use this as a dare to succeed, constantly trying to overcome any limitations it sets forth. Others will drive home from the doctor’s office wondering how much longer they will be able to drive because of the pain.

They’ll flop down on the couch & rarely roam from it for years. What is it that makes some people thrive despite their chronic illness & others simply survive & use it as an excuse for everything that goes wrong?

So what do happy chronically ill people have in common?

Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

[1] They maintain hope. We’ve found through research that people who have hope actually recover from surgery faster than those who have less hope. Hope is fundamental & a basic step in finding contentment despite our situation. The 2006 theme of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week was “My illness is invisible but my hope shines through.” This is an attitude we should all have.

[2] They persevere. It’s no secret that living with chronic pain is. . .painful! Physically, emotionally, & spiritually it can zap our strength & spirit. Typically, our health is one of the main foundations we count on in order to have a change to conquer those dreams. Chronically ill people who are happy have learned how to continue to aim high for their dreams, or to reevaluate their dreams & create new ones. Sometimes the new goals are even more taxing that the original ones, but passion pushes them forward.

[3] They are good advocates when it comes to their health. Paul J. Donoghue & Mary E. Siegel, authors of “Sick & Tired of Feeling Sick & Tired,” write “Getting this help in a consistently satisfying manner is as essential as it is challenging. You will need perseverance, courage & skill. You will need to underst& your needs & be committed to getting them” (p. 160). People who feel like they are part of the decision making process regarding their care & treatment, & who actively seek out doctors who partner with them, are more happy than those who feel out of control. For example, it’s important to have a medical team that will underst& your desire to have children, & will give you the best treatment if you decide to go forward with this, rather than punish you by giving you poor care.

[4] They don’t play the victim role. They say “Why not me?” rather than “Why me?” To form this attitude can take time if it doesn’t come naturally. But by being involved with organizations that serve people who are ill, have cancer, or who have left abusive homes–whatever your passions are–you will begin to underst& that this world is not perfect. When things are going right in their lives, they recognize it as a blessing, not a right.

[5] They aren’t overly sensitive & they don’t take the comments of others too personally. If one has a strong foundation of faith this can make everything easier because one appreciates her value & worth as a person. She doesn’t find her worth in her physical strength. She learns what she is answerable for (like an attitude) & not as responsible for (like an infection that keeps returning). This can help keep away unnecessary guilt for things out of her control.

[6] They communicate well. Being able to talk to others & explain your feelings, learning to listen effectively, & watching one’s words carefully, can prevent a lot of problems. Hurt feelings, misunderst&ings & arguments can impact your entire life & your body’s abilities to cope with an illness. One must learn to control bitterness & focus on healthy relationships. Happy people know when to talk & how much to share about their personal lives. They learn how to speak with grace.

[7] They genuinely care about other people. No one wants to get a chronic illness to receive that “education in life” but people who are happy allow their experiences to be a gift of knowledge. They can share struggles & successes with others. They are able to use their experiences as a way to help a friend or become a mentor. To truly find happiness, we must look outside of ourselves & reach out to other people.

Author J.K. Rowling once said, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” This is such an applicable quote for those who live with chronic pain every day.

Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from “Beyond Casseroles” by Lisa Copen when you subscribe to HopeNotes invisible illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Awareness

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