Here is something I have learned from being a life coach for people with chronic illnesses that may surprise you: How happy or miserable you are does not depend on how serious your illness is or how painful or debilitating your symptoms are.
Now, I’m not saying that there is no correlation between your illness and your happiness. Most people who have chronic illnesses have good days and bad days, and we usually feel better on our good days than we do on our bad ones. But I have known many people with relatively minor symptoms who are very miserable, and have also known many people with very serious symptoms and illnesses—sometimes even terminal ones—who are not at all miserable, and many times are actually very happy.
If whether a person is happy or miserable does not depend on how bad their illness is, then what does it depend on?
I could write a book about that to add to the many that have already been written. But what I will say here is this: how we feel often depends on how we feel about how we feel. Okay, I bet you’re either thinking that doesn’t make sense, or at the least wondering what I mean.
Here’s what I mean: when we are happy, we are also happy that we are happy. That’s because when we were growing up, we felt happy when we were loved, we felt happy when we were rewarded for doing something well (like getting an A on a test), we were happy when we got presents, etc. So in our minds, happiness has a lot of positive associations.
On the other hand, we felt unhappy or miserable growing up when we were criticized or punished for doing something our parents thought was wrong, for falling short of their expectations (getting an F instead of an A), feeling like we were different and weren’t accepted by others, etc. Because of that, feeling unhappy or miserable has lots of negative associations.
When we feel unhappy or miserable, we don’t remember those negative associations. But they are there. And there is a part of our mind that thinks that being unhappy means the same things it did when we were growing up: we’re not okay, we’re not good enough, we’re different and not acceptable, etc. And so we become even more unhappy and even more miserable than we already were.
But the truth is that being unhappy and miserable does not mean those things it meant when we were growing up. We can be unhappy because a friend canceled a lunch, because we overcooked our dinner, because we got stuck in traffic, etc. None of those reasons mean that we are bad or not okay.
We can be unhappy and miserable for all those reasons and many more. But if we realize that those feelings don’t mean what they meant when we were growing up, we can allow ourselves to just have them without feeling bad for having them. And when we do that, we will feel a whole lot better.