Managing a chronic illness well is a full time job. There are so many things that we can do that might result in a little more energy or a little less pain that sometimes we can find ourselves spending all of what we’ve got on the hope of a better tomorrow.
My original success in beating ME/CFS was based on learning how important it is to make the most of the present moment. Of course, if we take this to an extreme we can easily find ourselves throwing caution to the wind and doing things that we enjoy even though we know we’ll suffer for it later. What we need is balance: a balance between the energy and attention we focus on the things that promise a better tomorrow and the energy and attention we spend on finding ways to enjoy life as it is now.
Being happy despite chronic illness isn’t easy, there are complex skills involved that in a healthy life we are rarely pushed to learn: We need to learn to recognise and value small achievements; appreciate the little things in life; embrace gratitude; be present in the here and now; find new ways of looking at the things that regularly get us down; befriend unpleasant emotions. We need to be able to accept ourselves; develop compassion for ourselves; accept help and know that we are deserving; know that we are enough. We need to find new lower energy ways of expressing our love and kindness; lower energy ways of having a fulfilling social life; lower energy ways of having fun and finding laughter.
Many of these happiness skills could serve everybody equally well, illness or not, but with full health it’s easier to rely on the pleasure of highlights and not have to bother learning complex new skills. When chronic illness hits, we are faced with the unpleasant fact that we can no longer enjoy those highlights, so we can either wallow in the misery of the injustice of our situation or we can learn how to make the best of it.
For those of us who were achievement orientated in our previous life, our natural inclination is to apply our determination to do whatever it takes to get better. But this means that instead of making the most of a bad situation, we are just pushing to reach a new situation. And when we focus all our attention on being better, our day to day experience tends to be one of burden and disappointment.
I do believe that it’s important to invest in things that will give our body the best chance possible to heal itself, but I also know that progress will be slow and if we don’t learn how to enjoy the here and now, as it is. Instead, we are condemning ourselves to a life of misery. And when we are miserable, motivation takes a hit and it becomes hard to keep our health promotion practices going!
Let me tell you a secret…. By focusing on here and now happiness we are in fact investing in a better future at the same time! The happier and more relaxed we are, the less of our energy will be wasted on tension and stress and the more of our bodies resources will be sent towards repair and healing. Learning how to be happy in the here and now is probably the best investment you can make for a better future!
Edited and updated 05/09/2021