You’d expect that as your body slowly loses strength that your general level of happiness would dissipate as well. I have found the opposite to be true and believe it has a lot to do with attitude.
For some people, attitude is a choice. For others it is something that gradually forms. For me I think it was a combination of both. I definitely went through a phase where I was not happy about having muscular dystrophy. This state of unhappiness stemmed from a combination of uncertainty, fear, and general frustration. There was no internet back then so I didn’t know what to expect. I was afraid that if my friends found out that they wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore. And I was frustrated that I was always the slowest runner and not able to do physically do things the same way the other kids were doing.
But one thing I seemed to always have going for me is my attitude. Even though I was the slowest runner, I still ran. Even though I was horrible at jumping, I still jumped. I played basketball until 8th grade and kept trying despite my difficulties. I also loved and still love tennis. I would hit a tennis ball against whatever garage door I could find. I play tennis against my dad the day after my first muscle biopsy, and beat him. No matter what, I still tried.
After doing this for a while my mind started to focus more on what I could do than what I couldn’t. This is the gradual change I am referring to. I spent my time doing things I could do instead of sitting around moping because there was something I couldn’t do. Focusing on the positive things led my mind to a state of happiness.
I lived in this state for many years. I wasn’t consciously deciding to be happy but it was happening anyway. Finally at age 32 I decided to travel to play wheelchair tennis tournaments. I packed up or sold many of my things in Hawaii and decided to spend at least six months traveling the U.S. and living in hotels or with family. The very first day of my trip I was driving from Atlanta to Pensacola, exhausted from my overnight flight but extremely excited. I couldn’t believe I was driving to a tennis tournament I was going to play in. I said it out loud. “I CAN’T BELIEVE I AM DRIVING TO A TENNIS TOURNAMENT!” I didn’t believe it. It was an extremely happy moment.
That’s when I decided that I had control over my happiness. I had made this tennis trip happen because I kept on trying. It made me happy. Therefore I can always find a way to be happy no matter what the circumstances.
And that was it. For the last several years my baseline level of happiness is higher than ever. I get more enjoyment out of the things I do than ever. It even makes me happy when someone looks at me and assumes I’m not happy. That means I’m beating muscular dystrophy, at least mentally. And let’s face it, your brain ultimately makes you happy or sad.
So you might as well choose to be happy.