As the founder of Parkinson’s Warrior (the book, the Facebook group, the website), I’m often asked how to find happiness in life while living with Parkinson’s. I believe happiness is possible, and that your life could be much more than just struggling with a disease. Here are 5 steps to happiness that I’ve found while living with Parkinson’s.
Step 1: Find your why
The first step in finding happiness that is long-lasting is to find out why you want to be happy. Finding your “why” has been a concept for a very long time – why do you want to live? why do you want to feel well? why do you hope for a cure? – these are very old philosophical questions. Recently, asking “why” came back into vogue thanks to a book by speaker, Simon Sinek.
Ask yourself why you want to be happy. Is it to be at peace with your life? Is it because you hope for a cure with optimism that can’t be beaten? Or maybe it’s a selfless act to ease the burden on a loved one. Why do you want to be happy? Keep that in mind…
Step 2: Check your attitude
Attitude is everything. Approaching Parkinson’s with a positive attitude is the most important thing you can do when seeking happiness. Yes, it’s true that you are afflicted with an incurable illness. Yes, it’s true that you have your good days and bad days. But guess what? Despite all of this, you can still choose to have a positive attitude. That’s right, you can CHOOSE to be positive instead of expressing yourself negatively.
An infamous example is when I had DBS surgery in 2018. I call this infamous because I’ve told this story many times to many different groups of people, and many have recounted this story to others. When I went in for my deep brain stimulation surgery, I was prepped and rolled into the operating room. It was a scary and sterile place, with a dozen people standing around ready to do their thing. I certainly had to draw up some courage for that situation. After all, this was brain surgery. The surgeon looked at me as I laid on the gurney, and asked, for verification purposes I suppose, what I was here for. My response: “You’re going to put a couple of holes into my head!” In the scariest moment of my life, I chose to say something funny. I CHOSE it. The surgery went well, and I was glad I had chosen positivity in that moment as it helped set the stage for my recovery.
Step 3: Start self-healing
Since Parkinson’s currently has no cure, self-healing means being at your best, physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Eating well (no fad diets for us, we have particular needs that require certain levels of proteins and carbs), exercising (again, no fad fitness machines – walking, weights, yoga, and specialty boxing are best), playing games (crosswords, sudoku), reading and writing (help ease anxiety and depression), and reducing as much stress as possible, will all help with being at your best.
These activities will not only make you feel better in body and spirit, but they’ll also give you a rush of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, which will make you feel happier.
Step 4: Find your community
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, being out among people is essential to your health. At the most basic level, going to your local Parkinson’s support group could improve your mood and make you happier. From there, the sky’s the limit. Depending on how you feel, you can join meet-ups with people practicing your favorite hobby, you can go to family events (an important link to your past), and perhaps other Parkinson’s events. Even sitting alone in a crowded cafe can make you feel happier and more connected to the world.
Be sure you don’t let the disease stop you from doing what you love. Perhaps you need to do things a little differently, but you can still find some aspect to be engaged in. Find people who will support you and lift you up. Finding and maintaining a strong community is important for your long-term health, as well as for your long-term happiness.
Step 5: Prepare for setbacks
Always remember that happiness is not a moment in time, it’s a long-term feeling that keeps you optimistic in hard times, hopeful when things look hopeless, and open when all you really want to do is curl up in bed and shut out the world. You have Parkinson’s – life won’t be a series of upbeat moments, puppy dogs, and ice cream. You will have setbacks. There will be days you don’t want to get out of bed. That’s ok – you should expect these things. But staying upbeat will help you get through trying times.
There are so many variables to finding happiness, and it’s tough enough for people without Parkinson’s. For us Parkies it is a little bit tougher, but it can be done! Go out there and be a Parkinson’s Warrior. Figure out why you want happiness, be positive, exercise and eat well, go out and find people to share your life with, and don’t be discouraged by setbacks. You can do it, I believe in you! Keep fighting and never give up!