The Difference Between Peace and Happiness: Life With Diabetes

I live in the city of Philadelphia. As I write this, this place is about to be swamped with an estimated 1.5 million extra people as the World Meeting of Families takes place in our fair city, and Pope Francis comes to town. This all starts Friday. Today and tomorrow, the Pope is in Washington D.C., where everyone is talking about the “political” orientation of his views, the political spin of what he’ll say, and so on. The truth on that front is that some of his views are very much in line with the American left, and some are in line with the American right. He’s not commenting as a politician, but as a religious and moral leader — and that doesn’t fit neatly on one side or the other side of the congressional aisle. But that’s not the focus of this blog entry.

This Pope (and I should disclaim here: I’m not Catholic, but I do have great admiration for Pope Francis and the compassion he seems to radiate at all times — he seems to be a genuinely humble, spiritual man) has often talked about the idea of scaling back — asking if one really NEEDS such a big car, such a big house, so many THINGS cluttering our lives all the time. He’s talked about the value of simplicity, and inherent in that simplicity is the value of being present; the value of finding contentment and peace with whatever is happening in each moment.

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In America, we “pursue” happiness — it’s a thing outside of ourselves that we chase. And way too often, we do that as Diabetians. We chase numbered goals and pin our sense of well-being, our sense of self, and sense of happiness to the outcomes of those goals. But inevitably, we’re left with what IS, not with whatever ideal we were chasing — even if the outcome is “good,” it’s often not QUITE reaching the goal we had set. Now, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t “pursue” good control — of course we should. But that doesn’t mean we have to hinge everything on that pursuit. And we don’t need to “pursue” happiness, either.

In fact, I say forget happiness. Really, let go of the whole concept. At least let go of the idea that it will ever have any permanence, because it won’t. Happiness is a transitory state, just like sadness, anger, or sleepiness. These states come and go, and trying to hold onto them usually feels like trying to hold onto a squirming cat that really doesn’t want you to hold him any longer. The struggle to make it STAY ends up causing more distress than it’s worth.

Instead of trying to pin down a state that’s “un-pinnable,” focus on being at peace. Peace, at least of the inner-peace variety (I hate that term, being as overused as it is by the New-Agey movement, but there’s no better word here), can exist alongside happiness, sadness, anger, sleepiness, or any other passing state. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not dependent on the outside world, and therefore it’s not something that can be taken away from you just because your blood sugar isn’t behaving.

I think this is the distinction Pope Francis is asking us to make when he talks about our rampant materialism. That materialism is how we “chase” happiness in this country. But it’s never enough. Whatever you’re chasing — a new car, a bigger house, a more impressive flat-screen TV — it seems like once you get it, you’re on to the next chase, sure that happiness IS waiting just around this NEXT corner! And it’s never enough for Diabetians, either. As much as I hate to type this (being a fellow Diabetian who wishes more than anything that what I’m about to type WEREN’T true), control today will never guarantee control tomorrow. We have to live with this disease one day at a time.

Living with diabetes one day at a time means we have to let go of the happiness we feel when things are working they way they should, and the sadness and anger we feel when they aren’t. But letting go doesn’t mean we don’t feel those feelings — no, like I said before, we FEEL them, we experience them directly, but we let go of any illusion that we can grab onto them and make them last forever. And instead of pursuing a happiness outside ourselves (in our meters, in our A1Cs, in our pie-charted graphs of daily blood sugars), we need to pursue a peace within ourselves; we need to live simply, in the moment, with gratitude that we’re being given each new moment.