Sunday, March 6, 2011

"My 5 Rules Of Happiness"

" have WHAT? I would have never guessed!
You're always so just don't seem sick."

[Cue thoughts of intense self-doubt]

...Does this person like being around me because I don't seem sick? 
                                             ...What does sick seem like anyway? 
...What if I can't be positive? Is that okay too? 
                                             ...Does optimism define me? 

At some point in their lives, many people living with an invisible illness such as Spondylitis have heard some variation of that first statement: you don't seem sick.  While the speaker is almost always well-intentioned, it creates some pressure. If that person sticks around, they'll eventually see that my disease is, in fact, extremely real. The pain I face is real, it's widespread, and - try as I may - sometimes it knocks me out. After the question is posed, I'm left to wonder: how DO I cope with this disease year after year?

Although the current nature of my pain is nothing like last year, it's still present. Whether I'm trying to open a bottle or bending down to pick up something I've dropped, Spondylitis is always with me. To some extent, I haven't known a life without pain and, while this might seem sad, it's a fact that has actually helped me to cope. I haven't known the alternative, so there isn't another life to compare it to. Whether it was sitting in my car seat at age 3 or writing my graduate school paper at age 25, pain has been along for the ride. It would have been easy to make an enemy of it, or to stop the car all together and just give up.

After spending the weekend honoring my grandfather's incredible life and reading his story in front of hundreds of his friends, family members and colleagues, I understand the importance of happiness. My grandpa grew up with tremendous adversity, but still maintained his sense of humor (even in his final days). He loved to laugh and to make others laugh; he wanted happiness for his whole family and, in fact, always planned ahead so that we could experience it now and always. No matter how bad it gets, it's always a matter of getting back in the car, nursing my wounds, and moving on. It's always a choice. Therefore, I face a decision every day: curl up and grieve my pain or live completely in the face of it all. I choose happiness (for myself and for those I love) and that choice takes some work.

Here are my 5 Rules of Happiness

1. Happiness can take work. Don't assume it should come easily, especially not in the face of chronic pain. When you finally achieve this peace within yourself, it will be far more satisfying than if there were no obstacles in your way.

2. It is a choice. No matter what, you must choose happiness; you must do everything in your power to create it, to recognize it, and to accept it in. It can't be given to you from the outside - you must choose it from within.
3. It can come from anywhere.  Happiness can come from anywhere at any time, so open yourself to the possibilities. When I actively chose this openness, I can find happiness in the smallest things - like seeing the same pigeon come to my New York City windowsill, as if to say good morning.

4. It's not always constant. Just because it's not there today, doesn't mean you've lost it forever. The nature of pain isn't constant, so why should happiness be any different? If you work toward its return, it will come.
5. You deserve it. Perhaps this final one is the most important. You'll never be completely open to happiness if your heart believes it shouldn't belong to you. You are just as deserving as anyone and you have a right to go out and find it. (Honestly, it took me many months in therapy to learn this and I still need to consistently remind myself).



  1. currently, number 4:

    "Just because it's not there today, doesn't mean you've lost it forever. The nature of pain isn't constant, so why should happiness be any different? If you work toward its return, it will come."

    something i need to remember and believe.

    thanks for the reminder!

    love you!

  2. right on with number 4! and number 2! I've found when I'm sad and I just let myself be sad, ride the wave it goes away a lot faster then when I feel bad, guilty or annoyed with feeling sad. Sometimes you need to feel sad or mad or annoyed or just not quite right. Life is a rainbow and you've got to experience every color!

  3. You are such an inspiration Maya. It definitely takes a lot of work as well as the choice to be happy. I really have to put more effort into this. I think I'm going to print out your 5 rules and frame them in my bedroom and post them on my fridge... because I do deserve to be happy. Thank you for your beauty with words <3


  4. Betsy: It's so hard to remember this in the midst of pain. I couldn't have written that just a couple of months ago, but I'm living proof that things can really turn around. Is Cimzea still working well for you? I love you right back and thanks for sharing this post on facebook xoxo

    Jenny: Thanks for the comment, love. I like what you said about the rainbow of's so true. I think this wide array of emotional experiences is really what living is all about and makes the good that much better.

    Andrea: Thanks for your beautiful comment; it means so much to know that my words resonate with you. I should put the rules on my refrigerator too because, although I wrote them, I can easily forget them when the going gets tough. I'm so happy to have you reading along.

  5. Maya - there must be something in the air - I posted tonight about how sorrow can eat away at the soul. "Sorrow is to the Soul what the worm is to the apple" - don't let it eat away at you!

    These are beautiful reminders - I'm going to put them on my refrigerator too!

    Hugs - Jenna

  6. You're writing is so uplifting and is such a treasure to have someone like you to provide us with these reminders. Number 4 could not be put better-and it's such an important one, particularly during the less-than-good days..

    Thank you as always for your words my dear:)
    Love xxx

  7. Jenna: I just read your post and loved it. I'm happy to know my 5 Rules will be part of your daily life :)

    Kate: Coming from you, my dear, that is the best compliment. Your letter and writing got me through some of the hardest months of my life and I couldn't have written that last post without your influence. You've taught me to choose happiness, so thank YOU! xoxox

  8. Well said! If we could all remember these 5 rules, we would all be healing so much better.