Can I be happy if I have lupus? Open a dictionary (or do what most of the population does…pull up Google) and look up the definition of “happy/happiness.” Most translations read something to the effect of, “A state of well-being, a pleasurable and satisfying experience.” Yep, sounds about right. So, if someone asked me if I could be “happy” if I had (or in my case have) lupus, I would say with a bit of hesitation “probably not.”
Now, many of you may find that answer a little on the “glass is half empty” side, but let me explain. I am not in a state of wellness. I don’t find pain pleasurable and my myriad of daily lupus side effects I find the least bit satisfying. See what I mean? Can I find joy if I have lupus? You may be pondering, “Joy? Isn’t that the same thing as being happy?” And although it may appear that way – joy and happiness have two distinctly different meanings. By definition, the word “joy” and the word “rejoice” translate “to feel great delight, to welcome or to be glad.” The word “joy” is also derived from the Greek root chara, which means, “to be exceedingly glad.” And “glad” is related to the Old Norse word meaning “joyous.” Joy in its simplest form is true contentment that is not based on temporal factors like circumstances, relationships, occupation or even if I have or do not have lupus. Happiness sometimes is short-lived because it is based on things that are external. Meanwhile, joy is internal and we have the power to choose it or loose it. So back to my point before, if someone asked me if I could find “joy” if I have lupus, I would say, absolutely…”Yes!”
This may be hard for many of you to come to grips with, especially if you were just diagnosed with lupus. Please believe me when I say, I completely understand and have been there. When one is first given the news, “Congratulations! Your own immune system is at war with itself and is attacking your cells, causing you pain and fatigue, and oh, by the way, there is no cure…” The last thing you probably want to do is jump for joy and bust out the “Hallelujah” chorus. Finding joy despite your circumstances – is a life lesson that for some can take time to develop (that’s why it is called a “life” lesson not a “day” lesson:-).
So how do you attempt to find joy amidst disappointing circumstances? How do you find joy if you are in constant pain? How do you find joy if you are drowning in conflict? How do you find joy if you are grieving your past life and the activities that used to bring you happiness? The answer is…you choose it. And you choose joy by moving forward with your “new normal.” Back to top
Steps to Creating Your New Normal
Start your day the right way… with an attitude of gratitude
When you wake up in the morning, no matter how you may be feeling, say these words to yourself “I CHOOSE JOY.” Then, try making a mental list of 5 things you are thankful for. Author M. J. Ryan, who wrote the book 365 Health and Happiness Boosters explains, “If you only focus on what’s wrong, you will not experience joy. You will experience discouragement, depression, and low self-esteem. But when you focus on what’s right about a situation—the exact same situation—you’re increasing the possibility that you will experience joy and high happiness.” So tomorrow, try counting your blessings – not your calamities.
Praise yourself for who you are not what you do
For many who are diagnosed with lupus, a future change or loss of job may be inevitable. This can be an incredible loss and a giant steal-joy. Making the realization that your value is not in what you do, can take time but is essential to moving forward with your new normal and finding joy. Author Max Lucado once stated, “You are valuable because you exist. Not because of what you do or what you have done, but simply because you ARE.”
Let go of the past
When I was first diagnosed, I was 11 years old. I was a very active child and loved to dance. I was the kid who lived at the dance studio, taking class several nights a week. Then, I got sick and suddenly that was gone. I went from the dance floor to a hospital floor…just like that. It was incredibly challenging making the paradigm shift to finding new things that could take the place of my love of dance. But in order for me to stay sane, I had too. I discovered dance in its purest form is art, and art in all its forms (whether that be poetry, fine art, design, music, theater) brings me joy. I moved forward embracing what I could do, and tried to not focus on my limitations. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine…” If you spend your time mourning what could have been and focusing solely on your limitations you miss out on the beauty of today.
Welcome new experiences
Say yes if you can, even if your first instinct is to say no. After living with lupus for over 23 years, I have learned that getting over the mental hurdle of stepping out the door is a hard one but is usually very rewarding. My motto is that I can feel miserable at home or I can feel miserable out of the house, but at least I made an attempt to be part of the land of the living. I guarantee if you make just the smallest effort (maybe that means going to coffee with a friend, or walking your dog around the block) you will not regret it. Don’t get me wrong rest is important and needed. Welcoming a new experience and being there for someone else is important and needed too.
Love thy neighbor
One of the best ways to break yourself of focusing on your pain or depression is to focus on serving someone else. A study done at the University of Virginia found that merely witnessing acts of kindness, loyalty, and heroism created a significant elevation in mood and increased the desire to perform good deeds. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, those that participate in helping others have a generally more joyful attitude. She states, “There are lots of consequences that come from showing kindness that make you happier and help you stay happy.” She adds, “…and being happy is the key antecedent to joy.”
Personally, I cannot choose joy in my own life without the hope that there is a purpose for my suffering. As Max Lucado once said, “A season of suffering is a small assignment when compared to the reward. Rather than begrudge your problem, explore it. Ponder it. And most of all, use it…” It is essential for me to hold fast to the truth that my pain can be used for someone else’s good and that my pain does not have power over me. Every lupus journey is different, but it has been incredibly helpful to me to take time and pray or meditate in order to ground myself in these truths. Because lets face it, this world can be overwhelming. Meditation is an excellent way to help silence the internal “noise” that may be affecting you physically as well. Anne Frank, who I admire deeply once said, “A quiet conscience makes one strong!” Taking time to be still, be quiet, and take a few deep breaths every day can help not only de-stress but re-charge! Back to top
These are just a few ways to help you create your “new normal.” If you walk away trying just one of the tips above, I am proud of you. You are on your way to choosing joy. Ned Hallowell, MD, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, says, “Joy is the intense moments—the moments of success, the moments of connection, the moments of really appreciating beauty and saying, ‘Oh wow, I’m so lucky to be alive!’” I couldn’t agree with Dr. Hallowell more! Back to top
Sources: 365 Health & Happiness Boosters by M.J. Ryan, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Ned Hallowell, MD, Laugh Again, Experience Outrageous Joy by Charles Swindoll, prevention.com, oxforddictionaries.com, goodreads.com
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