Last week, I was flying back to California after the busy holiday season, flipping through a fashion and lifestyle magazine. Truthfully, after reading hundreds of obligatory pages for my graduate studies last quarter, I was only looking at the pictures…until a headline caught my eye.

“Living your best life,” it read. The article was about living one’s life to the fullest, striving toward goals, and enjoying what life has to offer. All of these statements sounded pretty appealing to me, I mean who wouldn’t want to live their best life? But while the article shared some great tips, I began to wonder about all the aspects of life that they left out. Sure, it’s great to strive for grandiose goals, but what about smaller, more realistic goals? How much do we really need in order to feel fulfilled?

This got me thinking of the ways that the idea of “best life” might be different for people living with chronic and serious illnesses. A diagnosis certainly does not mean the end of happiness. For me, it’s the challenges I’ve faced that have contributed the most meaning in my life. As a person with chronic illness, living my best life includes celebrating my strengths and maximizing my gratitude. In some ways, chronic illness helps me to live my best life.

I know that strength is something that is not given, it is earned. Our strength motivates us, not only to push through the hard times, but to make the absolute best of the good times. The things we do are even more special, even more amazing due to our illnesses, and are truly indicative of living a great life.

I am extremely thankful for for the life I live. My illness doesn’t own me, but it is definitely a part of me, in a good way. There are things that I have learned from being sick that some people don’t realize until their lives are almost over. Sickness actually helps us to gain a much more realistic perspective of what is important in life, and that is invaluable. In many ways, having an illness has made me much more in tune with what I’d like to get out of life.

Before my diagnosis, it felt like I was searching for something intangible, but now, I have been able to focus on what makes me feel happy and fulfilled. I used to take the safe route in life, and wonder if I was missing out. Now, I take the chances I wouldn’t have before, seeking enjoyment and new experiences; and nothing feels better than reaping the rewards from these risks.

If that’s not living your best life, I don’t know what is.

Even on a bad day, we can all use our strength, gratitude, and happiness to help us live our best lives. Let’s start a discussion about what makes us feel strong, grateful, happy, and anything else that makes our lives wonderful.  Leave a comment sh aring your ideas, because we are in this together, and we’d love to hear your voice!

Nicole Gustafson
Nicole Gustafson received her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She recently moved from Connecticut to Menlo Park, California and is attending graduate school at Santa Clara University. Nicole is studying Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Correctional Psychology.