Joy. A feeling that can be simple or grand, experienced in a multitude of ways, and occur when least expected.

It may be the sound of your child saying your name for the first time, getting the job you have always wanted, or the thrill of attempting a new adventure. It is a word that conjures up different visions for each of us. And sadly, it is a feeling that often gets lost in the shuffle of living with a chronic illness. Instead, the focus becomes managing pain, a new lifestyle that was never asked for, and trying to figure out the unknown. With all this happening, how can one ever get the feeling of joy back.

1. Slow down

Chronic illness has a special way of reminding us that we need to slow down. Just to be clear, slowing down does not mean you have given up or you are letting your disease win. It simply means you are respecting where your body is right now and reaping the benefits. By slowing down, we can enjoy the moment we are in in its purest form.

2. Practice self-care

We are a busy society with very full schedules that generally don’t allow for self-care. Instead, we keep going until our bodies finally say, “no more.” At this point, a full flare takes over – our bodies amazing way of demanding we slow down and take care of ourselves.

Self-care is 100% necessary for everyone, but even more so when living with a chronic illness. At first it might selfish to set time aside for yourself. But keep at it. Soon, you will see that it not only helps your body, but also allows you to feel joy in ways you may never have experienced it.

A few simple self-care starter ideas:

  • Add five minutes to your daily routine to stop and just breathe
  • Step away from the computer/phone and thank one part of your body for the amazing work it is doing
  • Hug someone you love. When hugging them, really feel it. If you do, that amazing feeling will stay with you all day

3. Gratitude

Finding gratitude while in pain takes time and patience with yourself. I remember when my knee had been swollen for months and I could barely move it. The pain was awful. However, each night as I rubbed it, I said thanks to it for getting me where I needed to go or holding me up in class as I taught, despite the pain it was in. Almost immediately, I began thinking of all that my knee does for me while in pain rather than hating it for the pain.

To me, gratitude is magical. When I reflect on one good thing that is happening, my mind instantly thinks of another one and then another. Feeling joy rather than anger is a much better place to be.

  • Start each day with two things you feel gratitude towards
  • During the day, connect a random sound to gratitude. I use the windchimes in my back yard. I can hear them in my office and the kitchen where I spend most of my time. The sound of the chimes is a simple reminder to stop and find something good that moment. Often times I just close my eyes and say, “Thank you for this moment.”
  • Before nodding off to sleep, remind yourself of two things from the day

4. Remember that chronic illness is only one part of your life

While your health condition may intertwine itself in all parts of your life, it is not your entire existence. Other things are still happening around you. Look for those things – a delicious meal, snuggling with your child to read a book, or enjoying a glass of wine with a good friend. Feeling terrible all day every day takes a lot of work. Separate your illness, even for a short time, and feel the energy that comes from the joy remaining in other areas of your life.

5. Find your purpose

I often tell my students and own kids that when you know your purpose in life and you are making it happen, joy naturally follows. I am surprised at how many people don’t know their purpose in life. What I suggest is thinking about things that you are naturally drawn to repeatedly or the things that others complement you on. For some people, their purpose may be as simple as having a smile that turns other people’s days into beautiful ones.

Do you know your purpose? It changes as life brings us new challenges. When you find it, absorb all the joy that it brings with it.

6. Connect with people who find joy in your joy

One of the best feelings is when you share something wonderful, no matter how small, and the person you are sharing it with beams. They don’t try to compete with you or even feel the need to share something of their own. They just bask in your joy. Find those people, surround yourself with them, and then give that gift right back.

Joy is ever-changing. What brings you joy today may be different tomorrow. Keep searching for it. Keep spreading it. It is a gift that we in the chronic illness community need a lot more of.

To read more from Cathy please visit her personal blog 

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