Finding Happiness Despite HIV Challenges
Tips to Cultivate Happiness in Your Life
By Dr. Gary April 3 727 2 1
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist and educator who works primarily with individuals living with chronic medical conditions, as well as their families and caregivers. He has written extensively on health and body-mind-spirit topics, including a regular column on mental health in HIV Plus magazine. He maintains a website, JustGotDiangosed.com, with information and inspiration for newly-diagnosed patients.
Individuals who are newly diagnosed with HIV often wonder what it is going to be like to walk around with the knowledge that they are HIV positive. They think about how their lives were relatively carefree before their diagnosis, or how even with all of the challenges they were dealing with, at least they didn’t have HIV to think about. They ask themselves if they can ever just have a happy day, with nothing to worry about, now that HIV has entered into their lives.
What about you? Are you wondering about what happiness is going to mean to you in the future?
What Does it Mean to be Happy?
The best way to answer that question is to define what it means to be happy.
Real happiness starts with your own attitude and your expectations. That’s all inside. And that means that we all have an equal opportunity to find and grab onto happiness, regardless of the challenges we might be facing.
And here are some ideas to cultivate happiness in your life:
Accept yourself. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone else. And if you constantly compare yourself to others, you are sooner or later going to come up short. Instead, accept that each of us is on our own individual path in life, we have strengths, weaknesses, joys, challenges. Let go of the “woulda-coulda-shouldas” and accept where you are at this moment in time. Ease up on the self-criticism. You’re doing the best you can.
Take care of yourself. The key to managing your HIV is staying on top of your self-care. Make it a priority to do everything possible to promote your own wellness. You and your doctor can work together on putting your self-care strategy in place. And remember that if you aren’t taking the best possible care of yourself, you can’t be there for others.
Get out of yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in worrying about ourselves, and lamenting what we don’t have. Balance your self-care with reaching out to others. Giving has a way of giving back, starting with checking in on the people in your life and throwing a little love in their direction. Be a friend to others, that’s the best way to have friends. We are all in this together.
Learn to handle some frustration. We all have a few — or a lot of — ideas about what the world should look like, what our lives should look like, how other people should behave and what should be coming out way. But getting so attached to those ideas can only lead to frustration. It’s human to want to be in control, but the world around us is uncontrollable. Relax those expectations, accept that things aren’t going to go your way and try relaxing yourself while you’re at it.
Enjoy the simple joys of life. Try sweating the small stuff, or at least acknowledging the little things that make you happy. Getting up in the morning and going through your routine, talking to a friend, getting outside in the sun. The potential for moments of happiness is all around you.
Accept others. We’re all dealing with challenges. Sometimes that brings out the best in us, and sometimes not. Sometimes people are going to think like us, sometimes they aren’t. When you accept yourself for who you are, it is a whole lot easier to also accept others for who they are. (You might have to forgive a few of them along the way.) Remember: Compassion is a boomerang.
Give in to change. The only thing we can really count on is that things change. You’ve already seen it in your own life – HIV brings change into your life. The more flexible you can be — ready, willing, and able to shift your priorities, and change your routine — makes it easier to live with uncertainty. Resistance just leads to more resistance and stress.
Embrace your spirituality. Having spiritual or religious beliefs, and being involved in regular practice of those beliefs, can make go a long way toward strengthening your foundation and giving you additional tools for coping with the bumps in the road.
Get passionate about something. What do you love in your life? A hobby? Your work? Your family? Community service? Politics? One of the keys to happiness is having something that you are excited about, that inspires you to be creative, that you “lose yourself” in and that you want to tell other people about.
So work from the inside out. Cultivate the happiness in your life!
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