Cancer takes almost everything from us — our hair, our health, our strength and many times our confidence, and for a lot of us…our happiness.
Losing control was one of the hardest parts of cancer for me. My body was changing before my eyes and yet I had no choice in the matter if I wanted to survive. Many times we think the only option is to accept the change and admit defeat, but there is another choice…happiness.
I had so much to be unhappy about and I definitely felt physically awful a lot of the time, but I refused to let cancer take over my mind as well. I will be the first to say, it was not easy and I have to consciously work at happiness and gratitude each day.
The mind is a powerful tool and mental changes can drastically impact our well-being. Despite the depression, anger or resentment that I have experienced, I am happier now than I have been in many years. I love my body more and I am rebuilding my confidence bit by bit.
So, how did I get here? It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of tears, a lot of hard work and a lot of reflection.
Many women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer attest to their positive attitude being the reason for their recovery and remission. It’s not going to cure cancer, and it’s not going to take the fear or terror away from such a serious diagnosis, but positive thinking and happiness is helpful.
For the longest time I thought happiness was a destination, you know, like Disneyland. I thought happiness was something that would magically happen when I had attained all of my goals and turned my dreams into reality. I believed I would find happiness only if I had earned it through hard work, perseverance, along with blood, sweat and tears. When I’d become successful, I’d be happy. But I was wrong.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be happy when everything seems to be going your way, but I think that defining happiness that way reduces it to a by-product of luck, or an accident, which it is not. In fact, I might even argue that luck is a byproduct of happiness, if I was in a particularly feisty mood.
I had my first aha moment about true happiness was while I was in the midst of getting a divorce (years before breast cancer tried to sneak up and take my happiness). I was trying to attend college, find a job and be a good Mother to my daughters. Amongst the stress, I discovered it was happiness that fuelled success, not success that fuelled happiness. I figured out when I’m happy, I activate more of the learning centres in my brain and as a result can use more of my brain’s capacity.
That’s the key to happiness: choosing it. It’s not always an easy choice, and it very well may be the last thing you want to do sometimes. Learning you have cancer puts a damper on your happiness, but forcing a smile on your face makes others happy, which in turn rubs back onto you.
When grief strikes, or when you just can’t seem to catch a break, sometimes you just want to sulk and stay upset, perpetuate the sadness, eating your sorrows. It’s a natural response, but it isn’t a required behavior, it’s a choice. And choosing to be happy will make you a better, stronger, wiser, more longsuffering person.
I had discovered that happiness from within makes you become more creative, more productive and – wait for it – more successful! The key was to focus on becoming happier, not obsessing about becoming successful, having perfect health or a perfect marriage. Incredible – except how on earth was I supposed to do that?
Happiness isn’t a destination at the end of your journey. Happiness isn’t something you chase to get to it. In fact, I’m sure I often chased happiness out of my life by obsessing on goals, trying to be perfect or the things that were wrong in my life. I turned myself into a victim and blamed the external world for my woes. And I thought that was normal. Everybody blames the outside world and nobody is happy when they’re in their mundane nine to five. I was wrong again.
There are happy people around (and yes they were the successful ones too), because they made the conscious choice to be happy – and they repeated that choice every single day. I knew this was a group I wanted to be part of. I had to turn happiness into a daily choice for me.
Some days are good, but there are probably more days that are just mediocre or plain bad, and it’s on those days that the true nature of happiness is revealed. People who are able to smile even through the worst of times have learned a very important lesson, the same lesson I stated above: Happiness doesn’t just happen.
Step one in making the happiness choice was understanding what happiness actually is. And it’s a lot less complex than we make it out to be. Two words: pleasure and purpose. Pleasure is all about experiencing positive emotions, like joy, delight and surprise, in the present moment. Purpose is all about living a life that feels worthwhile to you.
So, basically it was time to learn to savour the food I ate, be more mindful in my day to day experiences and appreciate all the beautiful things in my life that meant a lot to me. And, every day I’d wake up, stretch my arms out, feet hitting the floor, and taking those first painful steps, all with a smile on my face. Be mindful in, appreciative of and enthusiastic about my life and the day ahead of me.
It’s actually really difficult to stay positive during such an intense time, but I think you really need to focus on just the little things.
We always have the choice to be happy. Learning to change our attitude is frustrating, but worth it in the end. When we choose to be happy, things tend to work in our favor, and luck seems to be on our side; and even if things don’t happen the way you want them to, if you choose to be happy, you can accept situations for what they are and make the most of life, no matter the hand it deals you.