My friend Kim challenged me to write a cheerful blog about diabetes. I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll try. Maybe you can tell me if I’ve succeeded.
I don’t do cheerful much. I write about diabetes for Diabetes Self-Management, and about chronic pain for Pain-Free Living, not usually cheerful topics. I live with a chronic progressive illness, multiple sclerosis (MS), that is slowly taking away my physical abilities.
You might feel the same way about diabetes. Fear of complications, the burden of self-management, worrying about food, the expense of having diabetes in America, and more can make it hard to get to happy.
Aside from health and work, I choose sad places to focus my attention. I’m politically involved with issues of police violence, environmental protection, and Palestinian human rights. Most of the news there is not happy. I also like to visit lonely people and volunteer to help needy or homeless people.
So why should I be cheerful? I thought about it overnight, and there are a lot of reasons. I have a warm, comfortable place to sleep. I have good people to live with, in a building that includes several friends, some of whom have cool dogs.
I have water. It feels good on my skin, tastes great when I’m thirsty, keeps my body going, and helps with cleaning, cooking, and a lot of other things. And it’s beautiful, and all the animals and plants use it. How can you not be happy with water?
I have enough food. As I wrote here, food is a miracle, the life force of the universe presenting itself to us. And it usually tastes good. These days, it’s usually fun to eat, compared to the old days of raw leaves, raw meat, and roots.
What, you don’t remember those days? Youngster! Before people learned to cook, we spent half the day chewing things to get the nutrition out of them. Now we have a variety of delicious, easily digested foods.
Diabetes can make it harder to appreciate food, but there are still good, tasty choices, with lots of good recipes like the ones on our site.
I realize many people don’t have enough water or enough food. While trying to change that, I could still be grateful that I’m not one of them.
So many things make life beautiful and enjoyable, if we let them. What about music? What about art and drama, comedy and books, sports and dance? Sex and love and beautiful bodies and faces? What about our animal friends, and the beauty of plants, mountains, oceans, sunshine, nature?
I forgot money. I get some money from Social Security, and I have a job I love, writing about health. Writing involves research, and I love learning new things and sharing them. It doesn’t pay much, but it’s wonderful to be paid at all for something you love and that does some good. It’s so easy to find out amazing things now on the Internet.
The Internet has hundreds of happy sites. Some sites give you hugs; some make you laugh; some give wisdom or beauty or ideas about how to be happier or calmer. What reason do I have to look at bad news and scary things and sad stories when for the same number of clicks, I can be cheered up?
It’s actually pretty easy to be happy. No matter how miserable we are, happiness is usually just a couple of laughs away. An Indian practice called laughter yoga is now spreading across the world.
A group of people get together and laugh for no reason. At first, it seems forced, but after a minute or two everyone is laughing for real and feeling good. You can even do laughter yoga on the phone.
On the other hand, I sometimes ask, do I have the right be cheerful? What about the sadness in the world and in our own lives? What about the unfairness of poverty, of sickness, of ultimate death? How can we be happy when so many people are suffering?
When I ask spiritual teachers and Buddhists and people like that this question, they usually reply, “You’re not helping anyone by being miserable. You just bring other people down.”
Science has found that happiness is good for our health. Happy people’s hearts beat more smoothly; their immune systems are stronger; they have less stress and pain. They’re less likely to get diabetes and heart disease.
I’m pretty sure the key to happiness is gratitude. Be aware of all the lovely things in your life and give thanks for them, and you’ll be happy.
But cheerful may be different than happy; it’s walking around with a smile and consistently looking at the bright side of things. It might involve some denial of the world’s pain, but still be good for us and the people around us.
I can’t imagine that it’s easy, though. I can’t believe that forced cheeriness or pretending to be happy is a good thing. Or is it?