Is it really possible to become happier just by deciding you can?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.  When books such as The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren became so popular, I began to study them and to consider that it just might be possible.

As people, we often chase happiness by thinking “if I just had more money….”, “if I just met the right man (or woman)…”, “if I just found the right job…” then I’d be happy.  But once these things are attained, the same people are still unhappy.

As caregivers, it’s a bit more difficult to believe that we can choose to be happy.  Feelings such as “if I could just get more sleep….”, “if I could just have some time for myself…”, “if I just didn’t have to answer that question ONE MORE TIME…”, then I’d be happy, seem almost impossible to overcome.

But I now believe they can be overcome.  It’s a matter of focus.  This is one of the reasons that I changed the name of this web site to The Intentional Caregiver.  “Intention” is another word for focus.  Whatever you focus on will become more apparent and grow.  That’s such an easy concept really, but SO hard to grasp.  If I focus on the good things that happen during the day, the bad things (although there may be many) become pushed into the background. The harder I focus on the good things, the further back in my mind the bad things become.  And very soon, I am having a good day!  According to The Secret, “you attract what you think about most”, but I think you DO that because your subconscious mind then thinks of ways to obtain what you are thinking about.

I actually became inadvertantly acquainted with the Laws of Attraction many years ago.  I won’t drop names but my former husband was a personal friend of one of the authors of The Secret and as such, he practiced what I referred to at the time “all that gobblety gook”.  He would get up in the morning, throw his hands in the air and say “it’s going to be a GREAT day!”  I was not a morning person so I’d just glare at him and shake my head.  He also carried around little slips of paper in his pocket (affirmations, he called them).  He became very successful.  He also got cancer.

I’ll make this short: he was given a 30% chance to live. He said I WILL live. And every day, he got up and said “it’s going to be a GREAT day!”  During a 6 month period of time he  had multiple courses of chemotherapy, 12 radiation treatments, and 2 surgeries. Also during that time, he continued his affirmations, went GOLFING after chemotherapy and ate In N Out cheeseburgers DURING chemotherapy.  I remember telling him – “you can’t do that!”  He replied “of course, I can.”  That was 17 years ago.  He’s never had another bout of cancer.  So yes, I have come to believe in the powers of positive thinking  but really didn’t grasp that I could choose to be happy until I became a caregiver.

As I’ve said before, I never intended to become a caregiver; I think it’s a very rare person who chooses that role – it usually chooses US.  But once I became intentional ABOUT caregiving, then it became easier.  I became intentional about learning my father’s conditions, intentional about caring for myself and intentional about finding some happiness in the role that I was given.

Robert Holden, PhD, states that one of biggest blocks to happiness is a sense of isolation.  Isolation can be a big problem for caregivers.  We have less and less time for socializing; people begin to avoid calling or visiting because they either “don’t want to bother us” or it makes them uncomfortable.  We must focus on re-establishing relationships and/or building new ones.  We can do this by finding someone to give us a break (yes, you must be intentional about doing that!)  You can also establish some relationships by attending a support group or even  find some support on-line.

Louise Hay, author of the book “You Can Heal Your Life” (one that my former husband read over and over)  says ” you can transform your life by staying positive. “You have to start saying things that you feel really good about yourself. ‘I love who I am. I love life. Life loves me. It’s going to be smooth and easy. Life works for me.’ And you just start doing that—it’s planting seeds. You’re not going to get it the first day, but you plant a seed and you water it and you continue the affirmations, and things start to shift and change in your life.”

Embracing happiness is not about flitting around like a bouncy little butterfly; it’s about staying with your feelings when they arise, but then refocusing on whatever you can think of to make you happy.

So what makes you happy?  What does the word “happy” mean to you.  That’s the first question you must answer.  I want you to get out a pen and paper and make a list of what it feels like to be happy.  This could be a really hard task because you may have forgotten what it feels like to be happy.  But please try to do this exercise. You may need to put on some great music for inspiration.

Next, I want you to write  ” a happy list”.  This list might be something like “the bucket list” – things you’re going to do before the end of your life.  But for now, write down the activities that you enjoy doing; write down places that you’d like to visit, hobbies that you’d like to try, something you’d like to buy.  Then check off those that you do regularly (probably not many, not many) and circle the ones that you could do more often if you made them a priority.

NOW…..make them a priority.  You’re going to get sick of this word, but…………..be INTENTIONAL in finding a way to do those items that are on your list.  Focus on them.  The more you focus on them, the more your mind will start thinking about ways that you can achieve these things.  Once you have done 1 or 2 of these things, notice what it feels like to be happy.  Keep that feeling in your mind so that you can refer back to it.  You could even make a vision board – vision boards are not just for those who are trying to become multi-millionaires.  Here’s a software tool  from Oprah that will allow you to create your own vision board on your computer- I made one myself.  Mine is currently covered with pictures of water because I have a well that produces VERY little water and would cost at least $25,000.00 to replace.  I’m interested to see how THAT vision is going to become reality. 🙂

Another way to focus on the positive aspects of your life as a caregiver is to make a gratefulness list.  At first, you’ll be hard-pressed to put anything on it.  But as you think about it more and more, you’ll start to realize little things to add to your list: Mom took all her medicine in 15 minutes, rather than 30 minutes; The sun is shining and we can sit on the patio and watch the birds; my favorite song is on the radio; the respite care worker is coming today and I can get away for awhile.  One of the first things on my own list was “Dad did not suggest that he drive to the store today”.

Physical activities are also important when choosing happiness. Walking, gardening, using the Wii system are good ways to get those positive endophins flowing.  I used to dance ballet.  In fact, before my father lived with me, I danced 3 hours a day/3 times a week.  I was never a GOOD dancer, but it was the passion in the movements that uplifted my spirits.  I haven’t gone back to ballet full time yet, but I do still dance with my dog in the kitchen.

Another suggestion by Robert Holden was to find a “joy buddy”.  This would be a trusted person that you could make a contract with to lift each other up when needed.  When doing this, you must be careful to use positive words so that you don’t end up bringing each other down instead.

I know that choosing to be happy probably sounds absolutely pointless at this time in your life, but promise me that you’ll give it a try and report back to us how it is working.


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