I’ll say it: I have multiple sclerosis and I am happy.
Of course, I am not happy that I have MS – far from it. I wish I had never even heard of this disease. However, I am proud of the fact that I have managed to hang on to some joy in my life despite the challenges that multiple sclerosis has presented and continues to bring every day.
I recently read The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it, as the author emphasizes maximizing what you have and trying to get the most enjoyment out of each day, rather than setting your sights on a big achievement or acquisition or a special occasion. That is what I try to do, albeit in a less organized way than in the book.
Here are some of my tips for being happy, even while living with MS:
Have Your “Happy Place”:Ask yourself some questions - What really makes you happy? Your children? Your dog? Writing poetry? Cooking Indian dinners? Where do you find joy? Keep two or three of these thoughts in your back pocket to pull out and reflect upon when you are feeling less than wonderful.
Acknowledge When Things Are Bad:If you have MS, there will probably be times that you feel pretty terrible and it’s hard to locate happiness in your life. At these times, I encourage you to let yourself feel sad or angry. Don’t try to force happiness if there is no realistic chance of feeling anything but bad – it will only make you feel frustrated or even despair of feeling happy again in the future.
Remind yourself that these bad feelings are temporary, rather than giving into the thoughts this is the way that life is forever.
Recognize When You Are Happy:This is even more important than acknowledging when things are bad. Many of us are so busy with life’s little hassles that we don’t stop to think about the good things. With MS, constantly battling symptoms can eat up all of our time, so that when we do get a break, we may forget to think about the positive things that we have in our lives. Even worse (and this is a bad habit of mine), we may spend much of the times when our symptoms are less bad worrying about when they might return.
Check in with yourself a couple of times a day and see if you can find some times that you actually can say that you are happy. Spend some time thinking about the wonderful things that you have when you get a chance.
Don’t Compare Yourself with Others:I have to say that I really never like it when people tell me things like, “You are lucky, other people have it so much worse. Think about them when you are feeling bad and you will realize that things are pretty good in your life.” As I told one person, “If I was that lucky, I wouldn’t have MS at all.”
Yes, I do acknowledge that other people with MS have it far worse than I do in terms of disability. I don’t really understand how that is supposed to make me feel better – honestly, it just makes me feel pretty terrible for those people. Nor should we allow ourselves to go down the path of comparing our lives to those of people that do not have MS in those weak moments of wallowing in self-pity or despair. Suffering is all around us, whether we see it or not, and the level of someone’s disability is but a sliver of their whole picture.
We are all part of the human picture and ranking our condition or emotions based on what is happening to other people in the world is not useful. We need to be able to look within ourselves and find the happiness there, even if sometimes it seems to be buried pretty deeply.
Read more about MS and emotions: