Friday, 6 April 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Happiness

'There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.' Leonard Cohen.


Hard to define, so elusive, what is happiness and how can we find it?

How do we know when we are happy?

Our weekly discussion looked at being happy in the context of our breast cancer diagnosis.
Happiness may be fleeting, but it can appear at unexpected moments as an appreciation of the small simple things in life. Often, unhappiness is easier to conceptualise than happiness: we know what makes us miserable and sad but working out what makes us happy isn't so easy.

Perhaps happiness comes with embracing whatever is happening, not wishing things were different, and not trying to isolate or compartmentalise our emotions. Our experience often falls short of our expectations, and our ability as human beings to ruminate on the past, and to wish our lives away hoping and dreaming for a particular future, may contribute to feelings of discontentment and disappointment.

As we talked about happiness, we struggled with definitions and how happiness relates to contentment and joy. Some of us were able to list things that we enjoy, that make us happy. Many of us find we no longer fret about issues that used to bug us, and we appreciate things more. We have happy times, happy moments, happy events, but we aren’t sure whether this makes us generally happy. Some women mourned the loss of happiness, which they felt had disappeared following their breast cancer diagnosis. Others felt ashamed that they don’t feel happy, when surviving cancer ‘should’ lead them to make the most of every moment of every day. Many agreed that happiness isn’t something that can exist in every moment, but that finding something to be happy about every day is usually possible. Gratitude and appreciation help. For many, their moments of happiness are clouded with negative feelings – fear, sadness, disappointment, anger. Happiness is spoiled forever because of their diagnosis.

We may have a heightened sense of gratitude, and perhaps we feel everything more intensely because of our experience. We’d still prefer never to have had cancer though.

A cancer diagnosis is devastating in so many ways, and for lots of us, we now believe that when things are going well we are lining ourselves up for something to go wrong sooner or later. This may be because our cancer diagnosis came as such a shock. It is always traumatic, whatever our age or circumstances. It always interrupts our lives, as treatment necessarily makes us stop. When we return, we are different. This is difficult to embrace and so happiness eludes us. Many women expressed a sense of having lost that carefree happiness they once had, but if we are lucky it can be replaced with a sense of inner peace, with deeper relationships (for some of us, facing our mortality makes us braver in telling those we love how much we love and appreciate them) and an acceptance that if our time on earth is to be cut short, then we may as well get on with living our lives our way.

Living in harmony with our values, and having a strong sense of who we are, being true to ourselves, appears to be key to happiness for many women. Perhaps happiness is linked with who we are and what we strive for, our goals, and having a life with purpose and meaning. Our society has certain expectations these days and for many women, cancer means they want or have to step off the treadmill of modern life and find a new way of living. This is particularly true of women with a secondary diagnosis, for whom treatment is lifelong. Our group is for members with both secondary and primary diagnoses. For our secondary women, the promise of tomorrow is even more fragile and they may become more adept at living in the moment. Gone are the thoughts of ‘I’ll be happy when’ (I'm thinner, I have a new car, we go on holiday, I get a new job,…’) and these are replaced with finding happy moments to treasure each and every day. Long term planning is no longer an option and many happy times are tinged with sadness. Finding happiness for these women is hard work, but they do find it, every day.

If each of us can find our own way to be happy, and not worry about what others expect of us or what society dictates, then we may have a chance at living happily. This could mean slowing down, or packing in as much as possible. It may mean family, travel, meaningful work, helping others. Perhaps resilience means coping with adversity with a smile, and that smile leads to happy times. We all acknowledge that in order to feel happy we also have to feel sad, and all of us know how it feels to be sad. This gives us a great capacity for joy, and ultimately for happiness. As one of our women succinctly put it, we are happy to be alive!

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please message via our facebook page


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