Pardon my absence for the last week- For all that I write about how stress affects illness, I am not doing a good job at controlling either right now and have been quite sick the past couple weeks…
Anyway, last week I was having dinner with my best friend of almost 30 years and her two children, ages 4 and 2. When her son was refused a toy by his sister he began crying and said “I’ll never be happy again.” This cracked me up because his mother’s response was what I was always told when, as a child, I would say that I was unhappy with something: “Just wait…you have no idea how good you’ve got it, kid!”
For a four-year-old, the statement is quite true- kids have it made, they just don’t know it yet. But what happens when, as adults, we don’t “have it so good?” Is it possible to be truly happy when you have many things in life that are making you so unhappy? And is happiness actually a choice or is it outside our control?
I know that there are many things in life that stop me from being happy- chronic pain, the dissolution of a marriage and the betrayal by the one person who promised to be there forever, depression, financial issues, etc. I find moments of happiness, but I don’t remember the last time I said “I am so happy.” I used to joke that the day I say “I am happy” is the day I will end up getting hit by a bus. I have never really been happy. I grew up fighting depression and feel like every day is a fight. That is not to say I don’t enjoy life at times, or smile or laugh, but I think of happiness as an elusive state of mind that I can’t achieve, despite wanting to.
But is it really a choice? The saying is “you choose to be happy.” It means that you can get all the crap in the world thrown at you and still see it as fertilizer for the flowers that will grow, but what if some people can’t be happy? Depression is common, especially in the United States and when you are in the midst of a depressive episode, happiness is a joke. It is a far off concept that, at that time, you feel you will never, ever be again. I am quite sure, however, that those suffering from depression and other mental health issues would choose to be happy if they felt they could.
Happiness is also ever-changing. What used to make me happy doesn’t anymore. Going on vacations and day trips used to make me very happy, but when you can’t walk without pain, travel loses its appeal. In the same way that laying on the couch and having movie night used to make me happy, but now that I do that too often (and alone), it has lost its appeal.
Perhaps when you live with chronic pain, happiness takes on a different meaning? Perhaps happiness now means a day when my pain level is below a 4? Or a day when my medications don’t make me sleepy? Or a day when I can get by without feeling sad?
What do my fellow chronic pain sufferers think about the concept of happiness?