Putting the Happy in “Happy New Year”

Happiness is all relative. Throughout my life I’ve received amazed comments from many people asking how I stay upbeat and positive while living with a chronic, painful disability. And I’ve got to admit, sometimes, it is hard work! But over the years I’ve realized that it’s just something I decided to do and stuck with it through ups and downs—that is, be happy.

We all know that money doesn’t equal happiness. Neither does health. When I was a child I spent a fair amount of time on a cot in the nurse’s office at school. Every day I had to visit the nurse to take medication, have physical therapy sessions, or because I was unwell. Being sick was my natural state, though I didn’t think of it as sick. Rheumatoid arthritis was my condition and so, as I grew, I learned what I needed to do to manage it.

Students would report to the nurses offices with illnesses or just because they wanted some individualized attention or an escape from class. Here I observed the lesson that complaining doesn’t always equate to those who are the most sick or in great pain. Because while I never complained about my daily joint pain, others could muster complaints with great creativity.

In a similar vein, I managed to stay happy despite my increasing pain and disability. By my teen years I needed a wheelchair because my arthritis limited my walking abilities. Yet I observed others who to me seemed healthy and otherwise well, but never seemed to be happy.

Many people struggle with depression and mood disorders, but sometimes I fear that the average person focuses on the negative aspects of their life versus the ones that make them happy. I think because a lot of every day is a struggle for me, I’ve chosen to focus on being happy and appreciating the little things that make life worthwhile. For me, happiness is a state of being and a practice.

I think it’s possible to work on being happy, to choose happiness. In fact, sometimes at our lowest or in our worst states of health we can finally realize how lucky we are.

So how to get happy in the New Year? Perhaps start by listing all the wonderful parts of your life. Thank yourself and the people that bring you happiness every day.

When you have a bad day, take a moment to recount the good parts and appreciate the positives. It can even be helpful to think about what you gained from that bad day. Is there a lesson you can take away?

Meditation can be helpful for calming and clearing the mind of stresses, which can also help cultivate a practice of happiness.

Here are a few books that can help with thinking about happiness and determining what that means for you:

I would also recommend, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh.

For me, the decision to be happy came a long time ago. I did not have a choice about having Rheumatoid Arthritis or the aggressive progression of my disease. But I realized that I had a choice about how I approached life and responded to my personal situation. In that moment, I chose to be happy and to live as well as possible.

What does happiness mean to you and how can you embrace it in the new year?

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.