Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”Dalai Lama xiv
I had not planned on this topic for this week’s Sick With Optimism post, particularly after last week’s post March Is Autoimmune Awareness Month, this subject may seem a little bit redundant, but seeing that the United Nations declares that March 20th is International Day of Happiness, I just could not resist! I would not describe my mood this week as being particularly happy, but just thinking about the topic inspired me. Reading the information on the U.N.’s website has made me smile, and like the snow in my backyard that is melting away on this sunny, ‘last day’ of winter I feel the darkness of my mood melting away.
The U.N. proclaimed Happiness Day “recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world” (United Nations, International Day of Happiness: Background, www.un.org/en/events/happinessday/background.shtml). It is so interesting that the ideas of happiness and well-being are tied together here. There are multiple-millions of people around the globe who do not have this sense of well-being, whether for economic, social or health reasons, making it difficult for them to be happy. I mean, there are lots of folks around the globe with adequate income, equal rights and freedoms and perfect health who are not happy – how much more difficult when you are missing one of these fundamental ingredients? At first blush International Day of Happiness, for the unhappy, might seem a trite attempt to impose an imperative of worldwide happiness that could add unnecessary pressure to those already happiness-challenged. However, when you do a little research and thinking on the topic, it may be the all-important push it takes for those who wish it to make a change for happiness.
Sick and Happy
In my blog post, Optimism vs Happiness, I discussed the idea that when you are sick it is hard to be happy all of the time, but that this should not mean that one can not maintain a sense of Optimism. I have long maintained that optimism is a choice that you make. Today’s quote from Dalai Lama XIV points out that happiness (like optimism) isn’t given to you, it comes from your own actions. Just wanting to be happy is not enough, taking action is the key. In my case writing this post is an action I have taken and it has begun to switch the polarity of my mood.
Yesterday, I spent the whole of the day and evening either napping or laying on the couch. I wanted to read my book or start working on this post but I felt so bad, physically and mentally, that I couldn’t muster the strength to do either. I had only managed a few hours of sleep the previous two nights, so by bed time I was was in a funk, complaining to anyone who would listen. I am lucky that I have set myself a deadline to write my weekly blog post for today (I’m at the hospital for treatment tomorrow) as it forced me to take action today. I also made sure to get more rest last night so that I would be ‘up’ to the task of writing today. These actions have helped me to become happy today. But if you are ill and you don’t already have an outlet like mine, you might need to develop a personal strategy.
Action Strategies on the Road to Happiness
I Was Watching Ellen Yesterday…
For the past two seasons, since I have been ill, I began recording the Ellen DeGeneres show. I am not all that big on pop culture, I definitely never kept up with the Kardashians, nor did I know who won the Grammy for Best Americana Album before watching Ellen. What I truly enjoy about the Ellen show are the laughs, positive energy and tidbits of inspiration she provides each day. Choosing to watch, listen or read something positive is one strategy that I like to use to avoid becoming too negative.
Yesterday one of Ellen’s guests was Jay Shetty. Jay is a young motivational speaker who spent three years as a monk in India. He has, according to Ellen, become an influencer via his Youtube Channel where, as he describes it, he provides “Wisdom Bites”. I checked-out his channel and indeed, Shetty has more than 2-million subscribers! What struck me about the Ellen interview was Jay’s discussion of the importance of gratitude. This is something I have felt important to maintaining an optimistic attitude throughout my illness and had determined I would like to discuss in this week’s blog post. Turns out, it ties in nicely to International Day of Happiness.
According to Jay Shetty, studies show that when you are in a state of gratitude you cannot be in another state, “You can’t be angry, or sad, or disappointed,” states Shetty, which is why he recommends “planting seeds of gratitude every day” (J. Shetty, Interview by Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen Meets Motivational Speaker Jay Shetty, Ellentube.com, March 19, 2019). I find this to be true, if I express and feel gratitude I feel positive, bringing me closer to happiness. Expressing gratitude, saying “thank-you” to my nurse for treatment, or the person who gives me a ride, or one of my kids for carrying the groceries for me is a simple action I can take, like planting seeds, towards happiness.
I was perusing the hashtag #InternationalDayofHappiness on Twitter for some inspirations today and came across an account, Action for Happiness! This is just what I was looking for and so took a peak also at their website http://www.actionforhappiness.org. This is a U.K. -based, charitable organization and, what a coincidence, their patron is the Dalai Lama. They offer resources including what they call Actions for Happiness. There are quite a few things on this list that I believe someone who is feeling weak or ill could easily do today to take action. I do not wish to infringe on their copyright so I won’t list them here, but there is some overlap with these suggestions so feel I am on the right track!
Speaking Positively Leads to Thinking Positively
I have mentioned before my belief in positive affirmations. Do I always take my own advice? Nope! I do my share of complaining (this week!) — complaining about another person can also often lead to arguing. In general its all negative! When I complain, I am thinking about the negative which just brings me further down. What if we spun this around? When we hear ourselves complaining, take a pause and say something positive! Instead of complaining, “Oh, brother! My husband picked-up the wrong type of tuna,” we could think, “I am so glad that my husband did the grocery shopping” and in turn, tell that person you are grateful to them… I know, sometimes easier said than done! But it works when I remind myself to do it…
You could do the same thing with respect to your discomfort or illness. Rather than focusing on the frustration of a chronic illness, try to think of something positive, for instance, I am grateful that there are treatments (in my case plasma exchange and dialysis) that keep me going every day! Thinking it is one step, but telling someone (hearing yourself say it out loud) is even more powerful.
Having Trouble Speaking Affirmations? Try Writing!
Recently a neighbour from the street I grew up on sent me a gift, a beautifully hand-customized journal. She has been recovering from a serious accident and shared with me how helpful she has found it to journal. Her suggestions about journal topics included, counting your blessings… another terrific action. Whether writing in your journal/blog or for the social media savvy, Tweeting or Instagram-ing, it can be therapeutic to write about what pains you, but counting your blessings, sharing inspirations or giving a shout-out/thank-you are all actions that will affirm your positivity!
Still Too Difficult? No Shame in Asking For a Little Help
Since I started writing this post it has turned from day to evening, and we have crossed from winter to spring! One can only feel grateful that this long, cold winter is over and I am filled with hope at the prospect of warmer days, green grass, and spring flowers. I am happy to be alive and experience the change in seasons once again. I hope that you can find it within you today to take action, as Dalai Lama XIV recommends, to be happy.
In my lifetime I have witnessed another amazing change in seasons, that is the transformation of attitudes, removing the stigma once associated with mental health challenges and opening doors for those in need to seek help. Chronic illness often leads to depression and anxiety. If you feel that you cannot take any other actions, check with your doctor or clinic to see if counselling is available. I have found the help of a qualified counselor (social worker, therapist, pastor, etc.) so helpful in the past when I couldn’t find perspective and get me back on track. This is an action you can be proud of yourself for having the courage to take.
Happy International Day of Happiness, good luck on your journey!