It’s hard to understand the value of health until it’s lost so when it is, it can be hard to imagine what role gratitude has to play. But for me gratitude plays a really important role in choosing to be happy despite having a long term illness. Happiness isn’t about what life throws at us; it’s about how we choose to respond to it. Our immediate responses to the losses involved in debilitating illness are always going to be painful. I believe that in order to reach a point where we can start to live a more fulfilling life despite our illness we have to come to a positive acceptance of it through the process of grieving. Anger, denial and hopelessness are all normal parts of coming to terms with having a chronic illness but once we reach acceptance we can move on and choose happiness.
Wouldn’t we all choose to be happy if it was that easy? Well in a way it is, all it needs is some attention. Our society seems to send so many messages that happiness is about the things that happen to you, the things you achieve, the things that you can spend your money on. The key to happiness is attention. If you pay all your attention to the events in your life, your achievements and your ability to consume then it may appear to you that there is happiness to find there. But a much more rewarding happiness can be found by paying attention to a variety of other things. Finding happiness can be like following a recipe, if you pay attention to including the right ingredients you can’t go wrong. Focus too much on one ingredient and miss out several others and you’re courting disaster. Gratitude is one of those ingredients that is so easily forgotten.
I think that it’s helpful to include gratitude in your daily routine. I spend a few minutes at the end of my morning meditation session acknowledging the things that I am grateful for. But this has a knock on effect as I find I’m more likely to feel gratitude for the small pleasures that I encounter during the rest of my day. By noticing and paying attention to these pleasures and then being grateful for them I find I become more and more aware of the joy in the little things.
The other blogs about chronic illness I most enjoy reading are those which are also infused with gratitude: Fragile Annie includes a regular ‘love me Friday’ post where she lists what she’s currently feeling grateful for. Gratitude is often an important feature of the very wise words of Ruth in her Solstafir blog. I even find that I feel gratitude towards my illness. Coming to terms with it and learning how to manage it and get over it has taught me so many valuable lessons, gratitude being only one of them. I have no idea if I’d have learnt them if I’d have continued on the path I was on pre-illness. I’m thankful that I have.