Choosing Happiness With Diabetes

This morning I read about a 91-year-old lady who had lost her husband of 70 years. Because she could not live alone, she was going into a nursing home for the first time.

The woman helping her into the room heard her say, “I love this room.”

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“But you haven’t seen it yet.”

“I decided to love it this morning when I woke up.”

She explained that she made up her mind long ago to be happy every day and to appreciate whatever she received. I stared at the picture of her smiling face framed in a halo of white hair and thought to myself, “That’s who I want to be.”

Having diabetes can make being happy a challenge, especially on days when you wake up in pain. After you drag out of bed, it is hard not to focus on your condition while you are pricking a finger to check your blood sugar or sticking yourself with a needle again for the millionth time.

But her story got me thinking. How do you become a happy person no matter what situation you are in?

The answer for me lies in what I eat. I do not mean food, which remains a battleground for me, as it does for many of us who fight Type 2 diabetes.

We know that what we eat makes a huge difference in our struggle against insulin resistance and high blood sugar. The recommended diabetes diets all emphasize eating “real food” instead of the processed and fast-food diet we may have previously lived on.

We have learned to shop along the outside edges of the grocery store. We know to buy the fresh foods found there and to stay away from packaged and ready-to-eat foods that fill the center aisles.

Preparing food at home is the best plan if we want to eat healthy. It is a simple and profound change that leads to better control of Type 2 diabetes.

However, that is not what I am talking about right now. I’m remembering a song that Fred Rogers, the children’s TV personality, used to sing on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when my own girls were toddlers.

“There’s the eating way to say I love you,” he would sing. The tune has stuck with me because food and love go together for me.

Many people with diabetes fear food, as if it has become their enemy. And fear can make them unthoughtful, self-centered, and unkind.

It is hard not to be selfish when you feel that your life and health depend on what you put in your mouth. But in my experience it does not make you happy. It certainly does not make the people around you happy.

Last night I participated in a grandchild’s birthday party. She had little pizzas, cupcakes, and ice cream. I ate some of everything, even though it was not diabetes friendly. I enjoyed myself immensely.

Happiness does not lie in what you do or do not put in your mouth. As I grow older with diabetes I begin to realize this more.

The eating way to happiness lies in what I put in my mind, in the choice to enjoy the people around me, to make their lives and needs the focus of my own.

Getting self-absorbed is a surer way to be unhappy than any other I know. Even pain is easier to bear when your thoughts go outward instead of inward.

Yes, it matters what you eat because you have diabetes and live in a society that relies far too much on over-processed and fast foods. But it matters more what your mind “eats,” what you dwell on.

It matters what I give back in my actions and words to those around me because I want to be remembered like the woman in the story I read. I will choose to be happy. I will choose the “eating way to say I love you.” It may sound childish, but it works for me.