Living with a chronic illness is hard in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.
The never ending circus of tragedy, crisis, and fear is hard to avoid. Somehow, we’ve decided that the darkest aspects of humanity are what want to see, and all the time.
It finds us on Facebook and Twitter, where the celebrities we follow, and our family and friends, parrot the fear.
We’ve never been more connected, but so many people just use that connection to spread negativity. You see it on social media, in the comments on YouTube, and on blog posts and articles. Everyone’s a critic now.
It’s way too easy to see the world as a depressing place because, from a lot of angles, it is. But it’s also beautiful, and finding a sense of happiness is so important, especially when you have a chronic illness.
I believe in the power of positive thinking, but I also know it’s not practical advice. Happiness and positivity require positive action.
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” – Benjamin Disraeli
So today, I offer you a set of actions that can help boost your happiness. It is possible to live well with chronic illness; it just takes a bit more work.
1) Avoid the news:
While I don’t believe you have to practice positive thinking, you should make an effort to avoid negativity.
The news today is like a fire hose of sadness. It’s a constant barrage of negativity, hopelessness, and despair, without ever offering any solution. Every now and then we’ll see a positive piece thrown in for good measure but the overall trend is unmistakable, and it’s impacting you whether you realize it or not.
“News is to the mind what sugar is to the body.” – Rolf Dobelli
Just imagine what your life might look like if it was the opposite were true. If 99% of the news covered the triumph of the human spirit, our capacity to help others, and our greatest achievements, while only 1% was negative. I know I would be a happier person.
And while it may not be possible to avoid negativity altogether, you can get half way there by choosing to avoid the news. If anything truly important ever happens, you can be sure you’ll hear about it, one way or another.
2) Listen to something inspiring:
It’s important to cut out the negative content you consume, but you will also probably need something to replace it. It’s good then that we have more choices than we’ve ever had before.
The internet has given us access to an unfathomably large new source of information, content, and entertainment. Streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon, have changed the way we watch TV, giving us access to the shows we want when we want. But in my opinion nothing is more powerful than audio entertainment, and we happen to be in a golden age of audio.
The internet has not only breathed new life into audiobooks but has also created the opportunity for anyone to have a radio show, called a podcast, that can reach millions of people. Over the last few years, podcasts have exploded in popularity, quality, and quantity, and there is now something for everyone.
Audio is so powerful because it forces you into the present moment, holding your focus and attention, as it activates your imagination. I find that listening to an inspiring story, audiobook, or interview, works wonders on my mental state when I’m struggling with Meniere’s disease.
Some of my current favorite podcasts:
This American Life – The most popular podcast in the US. Highly produced radio documentaries featuring inspiring storytelling on a new theme each week.
Radio Lab – “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”
Serial – “Serial tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season.” I highly recommend season one. It’s fantastic!
The Tim Ferriss Show – An interview show where Tim deconstructs top-performers in a wide variety of fields to extract the tools, techniques, and routines they use to be so successful.
Reply All – An amazing storytelling show about the weird world of the internet.
Audiobooks: You can use this special link to get 2 free books on Audible (it’s part of Amazon.) You have to sign up for the 30-day free trial of their paid subscription service, but you get to keep the books, even if you cancel before the 30 days are up!
3) Surround yourself with positive people:
We may not get to choose our family, but we can choose to spend time with the right people.
The motivational speaker Jim Rohn used to say, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who are the five people closest to you? Do they support you and your ideas? Do they make you laugh? When you are with them, do you feel like you matter? Or do some of them drain energy, and fill your life with constant and unnecessary drama?
“Let go of the people who dull your shine, poison your spirit, and bring you drama. Cancel your subscription to their issues.” – Dr. Steve Maraboli
Living with a chronic illness is hard enough. You don’t need the added headache of emotionally toxic people. You deserve to be supported, loved, and inspired, and you have a say in whether that happens or not.
Keep the people who truly care, who motivate and uplift you, close to you, and try to spend less time with anyone who brings you down.
4) Hand write a thank you card to someone you love:
If you are already lucky enough to have positive and supportive people in your life, let them know how much they mean to you.
There is something deeply personal about hand writing a sincere and heartfelt thank you note to someone special. It’s such a simple act and one that can have such profound impact on your personal happiness.
“It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” – Unknown
First are foremost, you will strengthen your relationship with that person. Let them know that you care about them, and that having them in your life makes a difference.
It’s also a great way to practice gratitude. When you live with a chronic illness, it’s very easy to get caught up in self-pity and resentment. You may be limited in what you are physically able to do, and that can be hard to accept. But hand writing a heartfelt letter forces you to find and focus on something positive, someone you are grateful for, and gives you the opportunity to express it to them directly.
I challenge every single one of you to hand write and send a thank you card to someone important in your life today. It’s such a simple thing to do, and it will immediately put you in a better mood.
5) Do what you can to help others:
When you live with a chronic illness, you are predisposed to hardship, adversity, and pain. Suffering is usually a part of the deal. But you can alleviate your own pain and suffering, by alleviating the suffering of others. There is nothing in this world that does more to raise the human spirit, than helping others in need.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Helping others can be as simple as being there to listen to someone in need. You may not be able to solve their problems, but you can be the one to understand their pain.
You can share your story with others, to inspire, or teach, or to help people avoid the same mistakes that you’ve made. You can start a blog for free at wordpress.com, or even just leave a comment on this page. Starting Mind Over Meniere’s has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens
You can also volunteer your time for a charity that means something to you, helping them make a difference by spreading the word, raising money, or doing whatever it is that you can to help the cause. Volunteering for the Vestibular Disorders Association has been a wonderfully rewarding experience for me, and one that I recommend highly.
6) Achieve a small win:
When you live with a chronic illness, odds are, you are going to have difficult days. And it’s hard to feel positive when you’re too sick to accomplish anything important, or anything at all for that matter.
But even on our worst days, it’s rare to be completely incapacitated the entire time. One of the best things you can do is focus on achieving a small win.
What this involves, exactly, is going to be different for everyone. But you can always make the choice to take some small action, to achieve some small obtainable victory, and it can make all the difference.
“If opening your eyes, or getting out of bed, or holding a spoon, or combing your hair is the daunting Mount Everest you climb today, that is okay.” – Carmen Ambrosio
For me, that might mean going for a walk when I don’t feel like leaving the house, or meditating if I’m too fatigued. It could mean eating a something healthy when all I want is comfort food. Sometimes, if I’m working on a book or a blog post, it means just writing a couple of sentences. More of the time, however, it means allowing myself to rest without feeling lazy or guilty.
Whatever small win is within your reach today, take it. It will make you feel better.
You don’t have to practice positive thinking to be a positive person. It can help, sure. But nothing beats positive action. The things you choose to do make just as much, if not more of an impact, than how you choose to think. And when you act first, the mindset follows.
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” – Vince Lombardi
I hope you will give some of these suggestions a try. You didn’t choose to live with a chronic illness, but you can choose what you’ll do next. I hope you choose something positive.