With the start of every new year comes the topic of New Year’s resolutions. Many people choose to eat healthier, use less technology, or get more sleep. They all seem like rather attainable resolutions, given that the individual has control over those areas of his/her life. For people who have illnesses, the New Year’s resolution can be yet another thing that makes us feel different. Oftentimes, we don’t have the luxury to make the changes that we’d like to; and that can leave us feeling like we aren’t in control. I spent a lot of time thinking about what a good New Year’s resolution would look like to me, through the lens of someone who lives with chronic illness. I asked myself, “In spite of my current circumstances, how can I make my life better?”
In answering this question, I drew my own conclusion that resolutions don’t have to be so specific; after all, they are a work in progress. While forming my resolution, I came up with three categories that I value greatly: happiness, kindness, and simplicity. I figured that my life could be better if I did something everyday to feel happier, kinder, and live more simply.
When going through a difficult time, no one expects you to be happy 24/7. Committing to a daily act of happiness helps me to combat negative feelings when they inevitably arise. But feeling happy doesn’t mean that you’re not still angry with your illness, or sad about what you may be missing out on. Maybe a better word is “appreciative.” Just thinking about the things I’m appreciative of can help shift my perspective to the positives. Personally, I feel most appreciative and thus happiest when I’m spending time with my family, friends, and pets. I love to take the dogs for a walk, cook dinner for my family, and go for a leisurely bike ride. When I’m doing these activities, I feel content.
Another thing about sickness is that it doesn’t have to deprive us of our kindness. Illness has a strange way of putting the spotlight on us, but doing something kind for someone else can help to take the attention off of us, and bring it upon someone else who may appreciate it. Something that I like to do to spread kindness is calling or writing a card to someone who I care about, and telling them how much they mean to me. It only takes a few minutes, but creates an experience that leaves both of us feeling warm and gracious.
Today, anything you could possibly want is pretty much a click away… but that means that life is anything but simple! For people who thrive under those conditions, it’s terrific. However, through the course of my illness, I’ve come to the realization that I become overwhelmed when there is too much going on around me. To me, simplicity includes saying no. I’ve learned that it feels great to turn my phone off for a little while, and let all those texts, emails, and social media notifications go unanswered. They’re still there when I’m ready to come back to them. If you feel like being alone, it is perfectly acceptable to express that to friends and family members. Quiet time can be hard to come by, but it is not impossible to make happen. To me, keeping it simple means doing what feels best to me in that moment. Prioritizing your needs is a valuable form of self-care.
With any of these actions aimed at happiness, gratitude and simplicity, I find that the most significant part is doing everything with intention. Mindfulness matters. If you are simply going through the motions, while your mind is wandering, you will not fully reap the benefits of these resolutions or any others. When I perform tasks without consciously thinking about what I’m doing, I might as well not have done them at all because I can’t recall any of the important details. Just like any other resolution or goal, it takes commitment. With mindfulness and intention, no matter our current situations, I believe that we can all work toward goals that improve our lives.
Nicole Gustafson received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She recently moved from Connecticut to Menlo Park, California and is attending graduate school at Santa Clara University. Nicole is studying Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Correctional Psychology.