Two years ago I celebrated Valentine's Day with 26 women and sent my husband away for two hours. I was the guest speaker at Divabetics, a diabetes support group. It was their usual monthly meeting and I was there to read from my new book, "The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes."
This, my first diabetes book, is closest to my heart. It provides short, powerful, "how-tos" to help readers connect with their inner strength. Its wellness principles and little super-charged health- and life-lessons guide readers to turn on their positive emotions and turn off their negative ones, and to build emotional resilience to meet the daily challenges diabetes demands.
The premise is simple, really. By energizing more positive emotions -- joy, courage, appreciation, forgiveness, patience, love and confidence -- and less negative emotions -- fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, worry -- we tend to enjoy greater happiness. More happiness gives us more aptitude to take better care of ourselves, our diabetes, and any life challenge.
I didn't know, however, if my 26 Valentinas would agree. In Divabetic tradition the group kicked off with the passing of a pink boa. As each woman receives the boa she spends a few minutes introducing herself and talking a little about her diabetes. This time, however, I guided the women's introductions asking each to tell her name, how long she's had diabetes, something she loves about herself and one positive thing diabetes has given her. I gave each woman a slip of paper to write down her one positive thing.
By time we got to the fourth woman the room held a party-like atmosphere. The women were smiling and happily rediscovering something they love about themselves and a benefit from their illness. I had wondered whether one woman would find something positive to say. Instead 24 out of 26 did without hesitation.
Half the group said diabetes had given them, "appreciation or humility." A woman whose eyesight was failing said she had just come from the drugstore where she helped a blind woman take something off the shelf. Diabetes had given her more compassion, she said. Another woman said she had more humility knowing she could have something worse than diabetes.
Women who got diabetes young said they believed it had helped them become responsible and mature early. Many women said diabetes has helped them eat healthier, lose weight or get regular exercise. Some talked about the friendships they'd formed from the group. Many said they are helping family members with diabetes, which makes them feel worthy and valuable. Others said it just makes them more aware not to take things for granted.
Many healthcare providers unknowingly try to motivate diabetes patients to manage their condition through fear -- specifically, fear of diabetes complications, which indeed are scary. But fear motivates behavior temporarily -- you jump to protect yourself from harm. Fear does not motivate sustainable behavior change because you do not want to stay focused on your fears.
Focusing instead on what you want creates more sustainable behavior change. Looking at what you want moves you forward in the direction of your desire. Enlisting your positive emotions creates an energy within you that is vibrant, viable and more enduring as it is tinged with excitement, hope, purpose and pleasure.
This Valentine's Day, whether you live with a chronic illness or not, you can begin to create greater health and happiness by asking and answering these questions on a regular basis:
- What am I grateful for?
- What would it look like to manage my health a little better?
I am not advocating "positive thinking." I don't believe that if you just wish for things they will necessarily happen. I am advocating hanging out more with your positive emotions and focused on what's working. I am advocating spending your energy moving toward what you want rather than moving away from what you're avoiding.
This Valentine's Day, no matter what or whether you receive a gift, give yourself the gift of greater health and happiness. Decide to spend less time being self-critical, worried, ashamed, guilty and judgmental and more time in appreciation, awe, gratitude, curiosity, love and hope.
Note: My Valentine's gift that night was seeing the women re-connect with their strengths and find renewed hope. In full disclosure, this note was written specifically about me. Oprah, Ellen are you listening?