Most people want to be happy, but diabetes can make it hard. There are the things you don’t want to do, like monitoring blood glucose levels, taking medicines, seeing doctors. Then there are the things you shouldn’t do, like eat whatever you want. Do these challenges interfere with happiness?
Maybe. In studies, most people seem to have a baseline level of happiness. Doesn’t matter if you win the lottery or break your legs. You’ll be happy for a while if you win, sad for a while if you lose. Then you go back to where you started.
So what can you do to be happier? In terms of behaviors and life situations, it seems exercise and love cheer us up the most. Exercise reliably boosts mood and keeps it up over time. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s one of the best treatments for depression.
Feelings of love seem to increase levels of oxytocin (the “love hormone”), which makes you feel good all over.
Now for the spiritual side: Beyond love and exercise, there are three magic attitudes for happiness. These are forgiveness, gratitude, and acceptance. Actually, they are pretty much the same attitude seen from different angles.
Acceptance is a very happy approach when you build your life around it. I am trying to practice “every-minute acceptance,” meaning to accept things as soon as they happen.
Say someone says something nasty or gives me a dirty look, or my scooter dies or I read terrible news. OK. That’s what is happening now. It’s all part of an infinitely bigger show whose plot I can’t understand at all. So just accept it as it is, or maybe try to do something to make it better if that’s possible.
The Indian mystic J. Krishnamurti said “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” Try doing this for just one hour. When I try, I am always amazed at how much evaluating and nonaccepting I am doing. “This is good; this isn’t. I like this, not that. That’s sad, but that’s what people like him do.”
The problem is that all that evaluating gets in the way of observing. I miss so much of reality while I’m judging the little bit I do see.
Forgiveness is kind of the same thing. Every-minute forgiveness is an awesome but difficult goal. Forgive hurtful things as soon as they happen, and they will probably lose their hold on you. Hold on to them, resent them, and they damage you, “like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” as the saying goes.
I realize the injuries I’ve mentioned are small ones. It’s harder with more serious insults. Three years ago, my friend and neighbor Mark was training to be a paramedic when he was shot in the back by a 15-year-old wannabe gangster. Mark is now quadriplegic. Can he forgive the stupid kid who shot him? He says he has forgiven. He had to, or he could never have been happy again.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have that much to forgive, but we have enough. Practicing on the small stuff seems to help us cope with bigger injuries when they happen.
Gratitude might be a little different. It’s about awareness as much as accepting. It helps to spend a few minutes each day remembering what you have to be thankful for. The Zen writer Leo Babauta wrote a great article on gratitude here.
One of Babauta’s points is that even things that seem annoyances or problems have their positive purposes in our lives. They can be adventures. They can teach. They are challenges to help us grow.
The big three and diabetes
How do forgiveness, acceptance, and gratitude help with diabetes? I can think of several ways, but you probably have more. You can resent having to take medicines, or be glad they are available. You can be angry about food limitations, or enjoy other wonderful foods you can eat. You can be afraid because you’re starting to get foot pain, or you can see it as a challenge to reverse your symptoms.
The idea of forgiveness, acceptance, and gratitude is not to change anything in the outer world, just to be happier and more at peace within it.
According to spiritual teachers like Eileen Lighthawk and Eckhart Tolle, it’s impossible to be happy all the time. Life is too hard for that. But we can develop a deeper sense of joy at being alive, at being part of a wonderful world. Then we’ll be happier most of the time.
Joy is something that life changes can’t take away. It makes you a source of happiness for others. To attain joy, we have to learn to accept, forgive, and be thankful. At least, that’s the way that looks most promising to me. But exercise is good too.
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