meaning

Finding meaning through chronic illness

 I stumbled onto an article that other day that discussed an interesting concept, that it is more important to live a meaningful life then to be happy.  Modern ideas of happiness are based on self fulfillment, and ironically the more we pursue happiness the less happy we are. That is why rather than aiming for a happy life, we should aim to live a meaningful life. Our life has meaning when we find a purpose.

I was immediately struck by how this idea corresponds with being chronically ill. When we are sick it can sometimes be difficult to be happy, but we can still find meaning.

Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.*

When your life has been derailed by chronic illness you get used to things not going well. Sickness involves a lot of entanglements and presents a lot of difficult situations.  We are sick, what can we do about it? What is a our purpose?  How has our purpose changed? How can we live a meaningful life with our changed circumstances?

I think that too often doctors who deal with chronically ill patients focus too much on them not being happy (by society’s definition). When doctors should be truly concerned is when their patient can find no meaning to their life, and that’s a very real circumstance for a chronically ill patient. Sick people’s lives have been turned upside down and many things that society tells us are important and that bring us happiness are no longer available to us. So we need to find a new purpose, an alternative meaning. Maybe it’s a loved one, maybe it is advocacy for a  disease, maybe it’s raising awareness, creating art, counseling others etc. We need to make sure we don’t get dragged down into thinking “what’s the point of even existing because I am so completely useless.”

I won’t lie, at times I’ve been dragged down into thinking that I’m totally useless to everyone and I think most people could stay the same. However, we need to not wallow in that thought. While we may not be useful in the ways society tells us we should be, we can find places to be of use and we can still find meaning in our lives. I have found meaning through my family, through volunteer work, and through writing about illness. Though I have ups and downs in my happiness, I know that I have a purpose and that I have a meaningful life, and that is more important to my self worth than anything else.

* Some Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. Journal of Psychology.

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4 thoughts on “Finding meaning through chronic illness

  1. This is definitely something that I focus on… Trying to find meaning in me life. When I feel I have a purpose it's easier to being happy even with chronic pain and fatigue.

  2. This is definitely something that I focus on… Trying to find meaning in me life. When I feel I have a purpose it's easier to being happy even with chronic pain and fatigue.

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