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Go to Your Happy Place

by Ginger Johnson

Inspiration image

Some people say that the cancer experience is like drinking from a fire hose – overwhelming. I tend to disagree.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 31 years young and five months preg­nant felt more like being run over by a gigantic steamroller that, when finished with the first pass, shifted into reverse to roll over me again for good measure – and quite literally flatten me.

I had my first mastectomy when I was six months pregnant. During recovery, I delivered a healthy baby boy. I then endured three additional surgeries, and when my son was only eight weeks old, I started chemotherapy.

My world turned completely upside down as I was torn from my comfort zone and transported to an unknown realm where the natives spoke a for­eign medical language and wore white lab coats and plastic gloves.

It was around this same time that the Great Recession was gaining speed and wrecking the economy, resulting in the loss of my husband’s business and our main source of income. Any sense of pride I had left was squeezed right out of me. Or rather, steamrolled.

What can you do when everything you’ve lived for and worked to achieve is snatched from your grasp? Where can you go for comfort when everything in your life has changed?

I suggest going to your Happy Place. No, I’m not talking about some delusional, euphoric, drug-induced state. I’m talking about a place where humility drives you to be teachable and willing to rely on the divine natural abilities that are inside each of us.

Adversity has the ability to make us better
if we choose not to let it make us bitter.

A wise man once said, “Adversity does not build character; it reveals character.” I completely agree. Adver­sity has the ability to make us better if we choose not to let it make us bitter.

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl put it this way, “Every­thing can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

But how do you find your way to happiness when the darkness sets in and the path seems blocked? You get lost.

Lose Yourself in Service
A study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that those who serve others have lower depression rates, increased well-being, and reduced mortality risk. Additional studies show that when you serve others, positive endorphins rush through your body, increasing your overall happiness.

Lose Yourself in Gratitude
A Uni­versity of California, Davis, study on gratitude and well-being revealed that those who practiced gratitude had “higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, deter­mination, attentiveness, and energy” compared to those who focused on what they thought was wrong with their lives. In addition, a 21-day grati­tude intervention resulted in “greater amounts of high energy, positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, and better sleep duration and sleep quality.” Who doesn’t want that?

Lose Yourself in Love
In the end, love really is all that matters. Accord­ing to George Vaillant, a Harvard psychologist and the director of a 75-year study on love, “Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life.” The study proved that successful careers, money, and even good physical health do not determine happiness. Support­ive, loving relationships define true happiness and meaning in life.

Losing yourself in service, gratitude, and love, even in the middle of cancer, directs your attention away from the negativity and toward a place where feelings of satisfaction flourish. You have the power to create your Happy Place. So what are you waiting for? Get lost today.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Breast cancer survivor Ginger Johnson is an entrepreneur, speaker, national cancer ambassador, published author, and founder of HappyChemo.com, which provides re­sources for people facing cancer.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2015.