Many of my patients are heroes. They have painful arthritis, which comes and goes in unpredictable ways. The unpredictability alone is a hassle. They have busy lives. They work — sometimes for money and sometimes as volunteers, and most often doing both. They take care of families and extended networks of friends. They manage homes, gardens, pets, travel, schedules and many things I can't remember.

The lives they live are full, important, and impressive. But sometimes, my admiration dims just a bit.

Because as they keep up — press forward — and make things happen, I often find that they take little time to breathe, relax, and tend to themselves. Much of their effort is directed towards others who need them.

And these very competent caring patients of mine don't direct a lot of effort towards themselves.

Sometimes it's okay to focus outwards, because when you're dealing with pain and a chronic illness it's nice to think about something besides the disease. But I am advocating creating or maintaining a practice of generosity towards yourself.

Think about it.

When was the last time you did something that only you wanted to do?

Or played hooky from an obligation?

It's strange to me how hard it can be to do this. To put something that is personally fun — and has real health benefits — into your schedule every day.

Maybe it stems from the "you-only-get-dessert-if-you-eat-your-vegetables" mentality that surrounds us. You can only do something that you like if you have finished doing everything you need to. Only we will never finish all the tasks! So we don't allow ourselves to take that needed down moment.

The challenge for you is to make a commitment to personal enjoyment every day.

First make a list of all the things you would like to do or enjoy doing. Theses things don't have to cost money — they are more likely the "guilty pleasure" of a 15-minute nap. Or reading the mystery you're in the middle of in the day instead of just before bed. Taking a walk and breathing in the crisp air instead of fitting in one more chore. Holding your pet on your lap for a bit of time instead of brushing him off because you have to "go do something." Meeting a friend for coffee, taking an afternoon to walk through a gallery, listening to a new CD or an old favorite while sitting down.

You make your own list of relaxing pleasurable activities.

Then you do one every day.

It's more demanding to begin this then it might seem. But stick with it because the payoff comes in a variety of ways.

I mentioned health benefits. When we're stressed, our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, and it can be hard to calm it down. Enjoyable activities, and a commitment to doing one relaxing or fun thing a day calls on the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system.

When we balance ourselves, our entire nervous system functions more smoothly and easily, and the benefits are felt for your heart, your brain, and your pain centers, to name a few.

Use your list. Make a schedule that you see on your calendar. Don't skip one because you're "too busy." Then let me know if you can feel a difference!