By Julie Holliday
The problem with chronic illness is that it is chronic; it’s unlikely to go away any time soon. A diagnosis brings the necessity for adaptation. All of a sudden the things that seemed to make life worthwhile are no longer available to us. Without adaptation, life can seem meaningless. But we are an extremely adaptive species, and most of us learn how to live life with a different focus and discover some way of finding new meaning.
The biggest obstacle to this adaptation, though, is clinging to the idea that the things that used to make life worthwhile are more valuable than anything else. Adaptation is just a consolation prize, because nothing could be as good as the pleasures we used to be able to access when we were physically active and able to earn. Unfortunately, although entirely understandable, this belief only results in poor motivation and misery.
So how so we stop wanting the big things?
1. Big doses of pleasure don’t equate to happiness
Most of the big things in life that used to make it worthwhile, like the exciting holidays or the interesting hobbies were actually all about pleasure, not happiness. Regular and plentiful doses of pleasure can resemble happiness, until you realise how easy it is to lose them. For me, happiness is something more stable and independent of exciting big events. Job satisfaction can also add to our sense of happiness, but what percentage of our working day did we actually experience a sense of satisfaction? How much of our day was spent in true enjoyment? Or was it just the value we placed on the outcome, or even the value others placed on us for producing that outcome?
I’ve learned that true happiness results from spending time doing things I enjoy that are a natural expression of who I am. It’s also about appreciation: being able to appreciate yourself and the people and things around you. It’s about experiencing the little pleasures of that appreciation for a good portion of your day. It’s not about the highlights that inject a high dose of pleasure; it’s about the ability to live in the moment and appreciate the ongoing pleasures of the here and now.
2. Choose to let them go (for now)
We have a choice. Cling to the idea that we can only be happy with the big things, or experiment with finding new ways of being happy with the little things. I found it easier to let go of the big things when I faced up to the impact that clinging to them was having on my life. I realised that it was my belief in their importance that was responsible for me having nothing to look forward to; it wasn’t really their absence. When I chose to change the value I placed on things, I found that happiness was a lot more accessible.
If you’re struggling to choose to let go of the big things for now, try this little exercise:
Imagine what your life will be like six months from now if you continue to believe that life isn’t worthwhile without them? How does your misery and lack of motivation impact your nearest and dearest?
Now imagine what life could be like if you chose to believe that there are other ways to be happy. If you made an effort to look for new ways of being happy, how would that impact on your loved ones?
Make that choice! Choose to let go of the big things, at least for the time being. One day, when your health improves you may choose to let them become important to you again but not while they have the power to make you miserable.
Letting go of things that we love is sad! We need to grieve our losses. Allow your feelings to be just as they are; allow them to flow. Be angry if you need to, feel hopeless if you need to, accept that these feelings are a natural part of the process of grieving a loss and it’s OK to feel them. When feelings of grief are not blocked by resistance, they soon flow to a point of acceptance; an acceptance that life just has to be lived differently for a while; an acceptance that includes the possibility that there will be other ways to make it worthwhile.
4. Learn some new low energy happiness skills
When we let go of living for the highlights, we need something to replace them! Learn how to appreciate as many small moments in the day as you can. Practice gratitude regularly and you’ll start to notice what you appreciate more often. Let go of the need to compare your life with previous times or other people’s lives. Find new ways of expressing your creative spirit that are possible now.
There are many ways we can express our inner nature. We may have gotten used to doing so only through more active energetic ways, but other ways can be just as rewarding if we pay attention to them. Focus on how you can give, love and nurture. You may only be able to do it in tiny ways, but appreciate yourself for doing what you can, and notice how good it feels to give. Pay attention to the moments when others show their care for you. Pay attention to every little moment of fun and companionship and remind yourself how happy you feel in this moment.
Real happiness is a skill that can be practiced on a moment to moment basis; it isn’t about waiting for the big bursts of pleasure. Letting go of wanting those big things frees you of the disappointment and misery involved in not being able to have them, and makes managing chronic illness infinitely easier.
Which low energy happiness skills are your working on now?
Julie Holliday, ProHealth's Inspirational Editor, is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people overcome their challenges and live a great life despite chronic illness. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. To find out if Julie’s coaching could help you live a great life despite chronic illness, book your FREE introductory consultation here. (10 available each month).