The Secret To Lasting Happiness

My Mom, Sister and I Enjoying Time At The Beach

When The Good Times Never Come

What is the secret to lasting happiness, especially when everything around you is falling apart? This is something that I have probably asked myself more times in the last decade than any other question. Ever since I was a child, I lived with what felt like an endless supply of misfortune. It started when my Mom became ill and lost her job and eventually our home. Years later, she was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease and began grueling treatments that she continues to this day. Then, I developed debilitating symptoms from my own chronic illnesses that left me unable to work or even attend school.

Dysautonomia, severe allergies, joint pain, and injuries plagued my childhood and young adulthood. They robbed me of my Senior year of high school, and turned the entire trajectory of my life upside down. My dreams of scholarships and recognition were shattered, and I was left with nothing but an excellent GPA that I couldn’t do anything with. Over time, each of my siblings were diagnosed with a chronic illness of their own as well. It broke my heart to watch them suffer, knowing there was so little that I could do to help them.

Every time I figured out how to handle one problem, another soon followed. I became convinced that I was cursed to spend my life on a roller coaster that was spinning endlessly downward, with only a few upward swings along the way. How long would this downward spiral last? What comes down must come back up, right? Or, at least I hoped that it did.

Living life with chronic illness can be unpredictable, frustrating, and disappointing. Living with several can be maddening. The heartache and disappointment that comes from losing the ability to do things over and over again was often too much for me to bear. I felt guilty because of all the things I couldn’t do- getting my drivers license, attending school, or even working and earning my own income.  It came to the point that whenever anything positive did happen, I couldn’t even enjoy it. I felt too guilty about the things that I couldn’t do, and afraid of the things that were to come.

My First (and failed) Attempt At Happiness: Suppression

I kept trying to get better but, after many years, I realized that the good health I dreamed of may never come. So I decided to make a new goal. I was going to figure out how to be happy even in the middle of life’s storm. Mourning is important, and a completely natural part of suffering from chronic illness- but I was DONE mourning. I wanted to live and love my life exactly as it was TODAY, not spend all my time regretting the loss of a life that I never had.

Still, I was a long way from discovering the secret to lasting happiness. I wanted to be happy so badly that I started shutting out feelings of mourning, heartache, and even anger. I wrapped them up in tiny boxes and tried to pretend that they didn’t exist, focusing instead on the positive things in life. Gradually, I became more and more irritated. I snapped at family members and friends for reasons I didn’t even understand. I became angry at my situation and felt trapped, but my emotions were so bottled up that I didn’t even know why I felt that way. I couldn’t be happy at all anymore, and I found myself sinking into a state of lethargic depression, anxiety, and never-ending cycles of guilt.

So What Is The Secret To Lasting Happiness Then?

That’s when I decided that something needed to change. Clearly, suppressing my emotions wasn’t working, so I decided to deal with them instead. For me, this involved counseling, a whole lot of crying, acknowledging my anger and frustration, healing relationships with family members, and a whole lot of other stuff that I really, really didn’t want to do.

But here’s the thing- being open and honest with myself was THE BEST decision I ever made. Did I cry more than ever before? Absolutely! Was I more aware of my physical and emotional pain, as well as my many weaknesses? You bet! But as I learned to be open with my emotions, things began to change.

I laughed more.

I was grateful.

I lived joyfully in the moment.

I stopped running away from my problems, and started being myself!

I finally saw how my chronic illness had strengthened me and was proud of the person I had become. I realized that I don’t need to wait for some magical day when I feel better for my life to begin. My life can begin today, right now, in the middle of endless surgeries, unbearable asthma, dizziness, and whatever else life throws my way. There is so much I have to contribute to the world, and I’m not waiting another second to start doing it!

What It Means To Truly Be Happy

Happiness isn’t something that you hold in your hands or something that comes after you’ve accomplished your goal; it’s something that you are! Finding happiness is a journey that everyone has to take on their own. It’s not something that you can rush, and you most certainly can’t skip the mourning process altogether to get there. It takes work, perseverance, and faith. For me, that meant relying on God and trusting that He had a plan for me. It meant going to counseling and working on the unresolved issues that were controlling my life.  

Your journey may be different than mine. That’s something that only you can determine with time and the help of friends, family, and medical professionals that you trust. Don’t rush it, but know that some of the happiest people I know are also living through the most impossible  storms. It may be hard to imagine right now, but you CAN do this. You are capable, and every human on this earth is more strong and resilient than they give themselves credit for. So keep fighting! I know that you will come out stronger and happier than ever on the other end.

What has helped you come to terms with your trials and live joyfully even in the middle of difficult things? Comment below and share your story with me! I would love to hear it.

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