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7 Habits Of Happy People Who Live With Illness

Jan 16, 2008
As I write this article my 4-year-old son sits beside me with a cold and a little fever. All he has said since he woke up today is "I'm better now. I'm all better." Does our attitude change how we cope with illness and our level of happiness?

Everyone deals with the difficulties in their lives in variety of ways. People diagnosed with a chronic illness may put on a happy face and intentionally decide they will use this as an opportunity, doing their best to overcome any limitations it brings. Other people will drive home from the physician's office worried about how much longer they will be able to drive because of the depth of the pain. They'll lie down on the couch and rarely leave it for years. Why is it that some people thrive even though they have a chronic illness and other people simply survive, even using it as an excuse for anything that goes wrong in their life?

So what do happy chronically ill people have in common?

People who live with an illness and who still are happy tend to have he following things in common:

[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 and 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, and spiritually it can zap our strength and 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 and 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 and Mary E. Siegel, authors of "Sick and Tired of Feeling Sick and Tired," write "Getting this help in a consistently satisfying manner is as essential as it is challenging. You will need perseverance, courage and skill. You will need to understand your needs and be committed to getting them" (p. 160). People who feel like they are part of the decision making process regarding their care and treatment, and 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 understand your desire to have children, and will give you the best treatment if you decide to go forward with this, rather than punish you by giving you poor care.

[4] People with an illness who are happy tend to ask, "Why not me?" rather than "Why me?" They rarely play the victim card. To have this attitude takes effort if it doesn't come naturally. Many times people volunteer their time with organizations that may serve people who are also disadvantaged in some way. For example, they may volunteer for a group that serves others who live with illness, cancer, or who have left abusive homes, maybe even a pet shelter. They recognize that this world is not perfect and when things are going pretty well in their lives, it's as a blessing, not a right.

[5] They understand who they are and so aren't overly sensitive, taking other's comments too personally. If one has a strong faith this can make everything much simpler because one understands her value and worth as a person doesn't count on what she can accomplish with her physical strength. She learns what she is accountable for (like an attitude) and not (like an infection that keeps returning). This can help keep away unnecessary guilt for things out of her power.

[6] They communicate adeptly. Being able to talk with others, explain your feelings, learning to listen effectively, and watching your words carefully, can help you avoid a lot of troubles. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and arguments can affect your whole life and your body's capacity to cope with an illness. One must learn to manage bitterness and focus on healthy relationships. Happy people with illness are good at understanding when to talk about their illness and how much to share about their personal lives.

[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 and 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 and 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.
About the Author
Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from "Beyond Casseroles" by Lisa Copen when you signup for HopeNotes invisible illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Awareness
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