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7 Habits of Happy People Who Live with Illness

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As I type this my 4-year-old son is sitting beside me. He has a cold and a slight fever, but all he has said today since he woke up six hour ago is "I'm better now. I'm all better." How much can our attitude change how we cope with a chronic illness and even make us happy?

Everyone copes with challenges in their lives in different ways. For those who are diagnosed with a chronic illness they may put on a happy face and literally decide they will use this as a dare to succeed, constantly trying to overcome any limitations it sets forth. Others will drive home from the doctor's office wondering how much longer they will be able to drive because of the pain. They'll flop down on the couch and rarely roam from it for years. What is it that makes some people thrive despite their chronic illness and others simply survive and use it as an excuse for everything that goes wrong?

People who live with chronic illness and still exude happiness and joy for life have some things in common. None of us are perfect, so even if we tend to cope well with our disease, there is likely a step listed below that we could take to improve our outlook on life.

Happy people who live with illness have the following in common:

[1] They have hope. Research has proven that hope can increase the speed at which people recover from surgery. Hope is vital and necessary to find contentment despite our circumstances. For example, the 2006 theme of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week was "My illness is invisible but my hope shines through." I couldn't say it better.

[2] They persevere. It's no secret that living with chronic pain is. . .painful! Physically, emotionally, and spiritually it can zap our strength and spirit. Typically, our health is one of the main foundations we count on in order to have a change to conquer those dreams. Chronically ill people who are happy have learned how to continue to aim high for their dreams, or to reevaluate their dreams and create new ones. Sometimes the new goals are even more taxing that the original ones, but passion pushes them forward.

[3] They are good advocates for their health. Paul J. Donoghue and Mary E. Siegel, authors of "Sick and Tired of Feeling Sick and Tired," write "Getting this help in a consistently satisfying manner is as essential as it is challenging. You will need perseverance, courage and skill. You will need to understand your needs and be committed to getting them" (p. 160). Happy people feel like they have a say in their care and treatment and they seek out doctors that they have a partnership with who understands the lifestyle they desire and tries to help them reach it to the best of their abilities. For example, if you want to have children, you will find a doctor who supports this dream and gives you the medical support when needed.

[4] They don't play the victim role. They say "Why not me?" rather than "Why me?" To form this attitude can take time if it doesn't come naturally. But by being involved with organizations that serve people who are ill, have cancer, or who have left abusive homes--whatever your passions are--you will begin to understand that this world is not perfect. When things are going right in their lives, they recognize it as a blessing, not a right.

[5] They have a strong foundation of who they are, shielding them from taking things too personally. Having a strong faith can make this much easier because one understands that her value and worth as a person doesn't depend on what she can accomplish with her physical strength. She learns what she is responsible for (like an attitude) and not (like an infection that keeps returning). This can help avoid having unnecessary guilt for things out of her control.

[6] They communicate well. Being able to talk to others and explain your feelings, learning to listen effectively, and watching one's words carefully, can prevent a lot of problems. Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and arguments can impact your entire life and your body's abilities to cope with an illness. One must learn to control bitterness and focus on healthy relationships. Happy people know when to talk and how much to share about their personal lives. They learn how to speak with grace.

[7] They sincerely care about other people. Your illness may not have been the education you had hoped to get, but people who are happy see their experiences as a gift of knowledge. They can share their ups and downs, and struggles and successes with others who are going through challenging experiences and need a friend or mentor. To truly find happiness, we must search outside of ourselves and reach out to other people.

Author J.K. Rowling once said, "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." This quote is never more applicable than to those who live with chronic pain each day.

Find a chronic illness support community with dozens of articles, online groups and community groups at http://www.restministries.org. Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and editor of HopeKeepers Magazine. http://www.hopekeepersmagazine.com . She is the author of various books and founder of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week at http://www.invisibleillness.com

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Lisa Copen
Chronic Illness-Thriving Not Surviving
rest@restministries.org
Lisa Copen's web site

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