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The Diabetes Project

The Happiness Project applied to life with diabetes

For Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, her quest for happiness began on a crosstown bus. “I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t having a midlife crisis,” she writes. But at the same time, she says, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change.”  With that realization in mind, Rubin decided to spend a year trying to be happier.

The result was The Happiness Project, Rubin’s New York Times best-selling account of her experiences trying to boost her happiness, and the science behind her attempts. Each month, she made new resolutions. In January, for example, she committed herself to going to bed earlier and cleaning out her closets; in March, she started a blog and tried, as she put it, to “enjoy the fun of failure.” Viewed individually, these ideas might seem inconsequential, but together, the effect was profound: by the end of the year, not only had Rubin increased her own happiness, but – thanks in part to her blog – she’d inspired people around the country to embark upon their own happiness projects.

Reading Rubin’s book made me think about the connection between my overall happiness and what’s probably one of the less-happy parts of my life: type 1 diabetes. As people with diabetes may know, the disease is constant, nagging, and frustrating – pretty much the definition of un-fun. But what if I applied some of Rubin’s happiness exercises to diabetes? Could improving my attitude toward diabetes make me happier in other areas of my life? And could increasing my overall happiness help me as I try to manage my diabetes? I decided to find out.

I started with an exercise that at first seems like it has nothing to do with either happiness or diabetes: uncluttering my life. To hear Rubin talk about it, cleaning out her closet resulted in near transcendence, an experience so satisfying, so cleansing that as soon as she finished, she “craved another hit.”

Most people may never feel so intensely about spring cleaning, but I knew where she was coming from: I, too, have experienced the satisfaction that comes from having a really well organized underwear drawer. But somehow, I’d never thought to apply this de-clutter mentality to diabetes, even though I have tons of extra supplies that are no longer useful.

I decided it was time to clean house. As I began sorting through my cupboard, I realized that one of the biggest things holding me back was a desire not to have my supplies go to waste – the same impulse that prevents me from tossing out t-shirts or old pants, even if I know I’ll never wear them again.

My solution with old clothes is to donate the excess to charity. This obviously was not possible with my diabetes supplies, but with a little creativity, I realized that some things could be reused or recycled. My doctor’s office could use unopened syringes for uninsured patients. A quick Internet search turned up an uninsured mother whose son was desperate for the exact type of pump supply that I no longer needed; with my doctor’s blessing, I sent several boxes to her, and had an additional rush of happiness when she wrote me an effusive thank-you note. I threw out every brand of glucometer for which I didn’t have any test strips, and several boxes of glucagon that had expiration dates circa 2009.

Then, once I had pared down my supplies, I got to work on part two: organizing. I found an old shoebox and neatly stacked boxes of new test strips in it. I took each bottle of insulin out of its box and put it in a plastic baggie, labeled with the date – saving space in the fridge and making it easier to tell which ones expired first. I got a plastic caddy and put together an everyday diabetes kit, containing everything I needed on a day-to-day basis (a couple vials of test strips, my active insulin bottle, alcohol swabs, and a few pump set changes) and put it on an easy-to-reach shelf in my kitchen.

The whole process took less than an hour and I was amazed by the result: my diabetes cabinet had gone from chaos to satisfying order, with everything I needed organized and easy to find. Even better, my mind felt clear. With a disease that can feel overwhelming, a little bit of breathing space can be a very good thing.

Catherine Price is a freelance journalist and type 1 diabetic who has written for The New York Times, Slate, Popular Science, and O Magazine, among others. She blogs about diabetes at asweetlife.org. Catherine is currently working on a book about the history and science of vitamins, to be published by the Penguin Press. Price is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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