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Creating Happiness from Within Even When Times Get Tough

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” ~Denis Waitley

Why is it that it can take something as dramatic as a cancer diagnosis to wake you up to the way you should be living your life? One wasn’t even enough for me. I needed to be hit with the C-bomb twice in order to get the message that I was looking at life all wrong.

Just a few years ago I was working at my hectic dream job as the online editor for a teen magazine, partying three nights a week (and that was just the week nights) and living on a diet that consisted mostly of champagne, canapés, and late night Lean Cuisines.

But then in 2008, when I was just 22 years old, I was diagnosed with a very rare, aggressive, and essentially “incurable” form of cancer called Epithelioid Sarcoma, in my left hand, arm, and armpit. Chemotherapy and radiation don’t have any success with this type of cancer, and I had too many tumors to perform surgery.

With no knowledge whatsoever about cancer, apart from the fact that Kylie Minogue has survived it, I was eager to do whatever my doctors told me to do—everything except have my arm amputated.

So I went for their second choice of treatment and had an extremely high dose of chemo pumped into just my arm. If that amount went into my body, I would have been dead in an instant.

Following scans showed I was clear of cancer, but in 2009—not even a year after going into remission—the cancer was back. The doctors told me that my only real chance of prolonging my survival would be to have my arm amputated at the shoulder, but that this would just be biding my time.

I decided then to take matters into my own hands. I refused their offers and began searching for natural, alternative cancer treatments.

The way I saw it I had two choices: I could let them chase the disease around my body until there was nothing left of me to cut, zap, or poison; or I could take responsibility for my illness and try to bring my body to optimum health so that it could heal itself. For me it was an easy decision.

This all led me to Gerson Therapy—a strict and rigorous regime of hourly juicing, round-the-clock coffee enemas, a basic vegan diet, and a program of cancer-fighting supplements. I went to Mexico to stay at the Gerson clinic for three weeks, and then came home to continue the therapy with the help of my family.

I am now 16 months into the therapy and I am ecstatic to report that it is working. I have had no cancer spread, no more lumps popping up (they were popping up rapidly beforehand), and I can actually see some of my tumors coming out through my skin and disappearing.

My cancer journey has been the most emotionally taxing, but completely liberating and fascinating experience, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. Before, I was just going through the motions. Now, I live my life with intention and authenticity.

When everything is peachy, it is easy to get caught up in superficial pursuits and pleasures. Hard times call for us to go deep and tap into a source of happiness that miracles are made from.

We tend to think that life comes at us, not from us; and that our thoughts are a result of our reality rather than the other way around. We are constantly looking outside of ourselves for happiness, when all we need to do is send the search party within.

I think there’s nothing worse than someone acting all holier than thou and telling you that happiness is as easy as sitting in a trance for an hour a day. So that’s not what I’m going to do.

Instead, I’m going to share some of the powerful practices that I employ daily to keep the drunken monkeys in my mind in line.

How to cultivate happiness from within, right now:

Control what you can, and let go of what you can’t.

Instead of struggling, fighting, and beating yourself up over things that don’t flow as smoothly as you’d like, accept what you can’t control. Worrying about it won’t change it, so why waste your time spinning your wheels?

This doesn’t mean that you should just surrender when things start to get a little tough. If there is one thing I have learned through my dance with cancer it’s that we generally have more options than we realize. This just means that with practice, we can learn to recognize the difference between what’s within our power and what’s not.

Sometimes, we need to accept that something is over. Sometimes, our options run out. I was completely shocked when someone suggested that eventually, I’ll need to accept that I’ve learned all my lessons and my time is up. I thought, “How dare they be so casual about something as horrible as death?”

But death is a part of life for all of us. Coming to terms with your own mortality adds an extra layer of empowerment to your life.

Learn to love yourself.

According to the Mighty Mother of Metaphysics, Louise Hay, most (if not all) of our issues stem from the belief that we are not good enough. We’ve been berating ourselves our whole lives—of course we aren’t happy! It’s time to turn that around.

I have the affirmation, “I love and approve of myself” on constant repeat in my mind. I also have it stuck to my bathroom mirror so that it catches my eye whenever I go to criticize myself.

Spend time with people who make you happy.

When you hang out with Negative Nancy and Alexander Downer, there’s no wonder you’re in the doldrums. Surround yourself with positive, inspiring people who you love to be around.

This seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how often we keep people around just because they are familiar or because we don’t want to rock the boat.

I’m now very careful about the kind of energy I allow myself to absorb from other people. If they aren’t supportive or considerate, I don’t let them zap my enthusiasm.

Of course, this is a little more difficult if the negative energy belongs to someone you love. If this is the case, perhaps it could be helpful to gently let them know the way you feel. If they are receptive and take it on board, great! If not, it might be time to reevaluate whether the relationship is still serving a balanced purpose.

Get some perspective.

When it seems as though life has handed you a bad hand, take a moment to think about all the people who are in a far worse position than you. I watch Oprah every day and it always helps me realize that as bad as it seems, there is always someone dealing with a bigger pickle than me.

Pay it forward.

Remember those people who have it far worse? Look out for them. Being charitable, doing your bit for humanity, going out of your way to do something for someone else—it all helps to make you feel good, as well. Not only will it help others and attract good karma in the long run, in the short term it will give you a great feeling of self-worth.

Get your OM on.

I know I said I wasn’t going to tell you to sit in a trance for hours each day, but how about starting with just five minutes? In my opinion, the absolute best way to re-connect your mind with your body is to meditate.

I aim to do about 30 minutes to an hour each day, and just lately I have really been noticing the subtle changes being carried out into my everyday life. Start with five minutes a day of sitting silent and still, focusing on your breath, and work your way up to half an hour. It might be a struggle at first, but the benefits will make it worth it.

What helps you cultivate happiness?

Photo by Dave-F

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About Jessica Ainscough

Jessica Ainscough is a writer, blogger, and holistic health counselor. She is the creator of The Wellness Warrior, a sanctuary of all things natural health and wellness. She enjoys practicing yoga, meditating, making juice, and soaking up the innate wisdom of her awesome pug, Edie. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Let go of the past and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • cary

    Jessica, your words cut deep, in a good way. My father always taught me to walk in the shoes of another, and as you say, “When it seems as though life has handed you a bad hand, take a moment to
    think about all the people who are in a far worse position than you.” Your wisdom and courage are far beyond your years, and will no doubt create many wonderful experiences in your life. Thank you for touching mine.

  • jacyn rebekah

    I needed this today.  Thank you.

  • Lisa @ Just here. Just now.

    Amazing. Thanks for sharing. Good for you for taking control of your situation. I also truly believe in meditation and it’s power to change things. I wish you all the best in life and health!

  • Cindy

    Thank you very much for the valuable reminders. I’ll be printing this out to keep handy.

  • Bluebuddha1961

    Awesome. I need this right now soooooo much. You are so brave and powerful. Thank you.

  • Laura Craddock

    Thank you!

  • Jacque Small

    Great article.  I did and do many of the things that you suggest.  In addition I found out how to drop off my emotional baggage easily and now I don’t have to practice so much, I have found myself to be just happy. 

  • Tana Franko

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Haniwow

    Very helpful! Thanks. Glad you are better.

  • Wendie Borger Rawlins

    Absolutely awesome, awesome, did I say awesome article! This hits on so many points for me that my relation to your article almost brought me to tears. Sometimes there are so many things I want to say, advice to give to others, a way to show there is a better way yet I can’t seem to find the right words to say or way to say it. This is, by far, the best article I have read in a long time regarding finding your inner happiness. Thank you so much for sharing! I encourage you to continue sharing your story; there are so many that need to know.

  • Gaspablue

    great read & bump to remember whats really important. thank you! glad to hear you did and are pulling through. – Best “L”

  • Whitney

    I really needed this today too. Thanks so much.

  • Roderick A. Hunt

    Thank you so much for this! Congratulations on overcoming what they said you could not.

  • Eric Brown

    I with the best for you on your road to recovery.

  • PP

    Very inspiring!

  • Susie @ WiseAtWork


    Like you, I have experienced cancer and live each day in healing. I smiled when I read your happiness cultivators because once I faced my own life ending, the re-prioritization for my head, heart, and body went on auto-mode and I share many of your values. Sometimes when I read blog posts with the word “happiness” in them I shiver getting one more prescribed mantra or “go jump-roping.” However, your post was all about leaning in and being best friends with oneself. Thank you so much.

    I’ll be quoting your wise and funny words: “We are constantly looking outside of ourselves for
    happiness, when all we need to do is send the search party within.”

    Blessings to you on your healing journey of life.

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  • Vanessa Moreland

    Thank you for these words of wisdom. They are something that I really needed. Often times one can feel so alone in the world that reading someone’s story and taking in their wisdom can help soothe an aching soul.

  • Jenny

    Kinda funny that you would rather gamble with your life on an unproven new age cancer cure than have your arm amputated. I would advice anyone reading this to listen to the doctors. You were lucky, no offence.

  • Susana Frioni

    YAY!!!  awesome wicked post for tiny buddha, Jess!! :-)  And absolutely love the 6 tips here!  And love this quote: ” Hard times call for us to go deep and tap into a source of happiness that miracles are made from”  xxx

  • Nicole

    I loved this article! I have been suffering from severe chronic pain for more than 3 years now, and have had 2 big spinal surgeries to try and help improve my pain levels. I used to work full-time in a stressful corporate job, and spent my weekends shopping and partying. It has taken a lot of hard work and therapy to come to terms with my condition, but I can truly say now that I am far happier living a small quiet life at home with my husband and two cats. I find more happiness in the small things now, like enjoying the sunshine and flowers on my daily walks, or laughing at my cats playing with baubles, than I ever got from my job, shopping, or partying. I think going through something like this makes you truly appreciate your strength and courage, and shows you what is really important in your life. It sounds strange, but I am actually glad that I have been able to learn this, even though I have to suffer in pain every day. Happiness is something we have inside us and can find even in the most difficult times in out lives.

  • Jessica

    Hi Jenny. Why would I have my arm amputated when the cancer had already spread to my armpit? That doesn’t make much sense. Gerson Therapy is not an unproven new age cancer cure. It has been curing cancer since the 1940s – nothing new about that. And no offence, but I wasn’t just “lucky”. This road has been incredibly tough and I have worked incredibly hard. There are many wonderful doctors out there, but when it comes to cancer they certainly do not have all of the answers.

  • Clgerbault

    Talk about synchronicity, this was just what I needed to read.

  • Indigo

    ~little giggle~ about Alexander Downer. Other than that, I liked the joyfulness of your approach.

  • Peter

    Have you looked into Reisi mushrooms at all? The Chinese and Japanese used them for general health but modern studies are showing that they’re very powerful in treating cancers. I think they would really aid in your recovery :-)

  • Jessica

    Thanks Peter! We aren’t allowed mushrooms while on Gerson, but this is definitely something I would like to include when I finish the Gerson program.

  • Martha Killeen

    beautiful x

  • Jenny

    sorry, i guess i misunderstood.

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  • Br1an_208

    Thanks so much for this article. I love the feeling of serenity i get when i read ” How to cultivate happiness from within, right now”.

  • Noel

    Thank you so much for this.  My sister in law has a very rare, very aggressive Sarcoma as well and is feeling pretty hopeless lately.  I will definitely pass this on to her.  I know she isn’t feeling very well, but she is kicking it’s butt so far…..Thanks again

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  • Ananda <3

    Awesome article Jess. I’m happy that you can share you’re wisdom with others through Tiny Buddah. We are all blessed to have you in our lives xx

  • Marieljj

    absolutely awesome!!!!! I would read this article over and over again until I can actually memorize it….it’s just so great!!!

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  • Sirena Bernal

    Hi Jessica, thank you so much for sharing this post and for opening up about your journey with cancer. It’s very brave and I commend you for it.

    I loved your piece – simple yet very effective ways to create your own happiness. I have used similar techniques through the forms of mantras to help center myself when I start to go all over the place. 

    You listed “Spend Time With People Who Make You Happy”, and this is one of the biggest changes that you can start to make to help you with finding inner peace. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly being shaped by the environment and people around us. Although it can be difficult to step away from negative sources initially (esp. if they are close friends/family), it has been one of the most influential changes in my life personally.

    Keep writing and spreading your light. You have a great talent! :)



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  • Alannah Rose

    Wonderful article, Jessica.  So glad you’re having success with your alternative treatment and that you were brave enough to try something a little unconventional.  Thanks for sharing your wisdom!  I also love that you mentioned Kylie Minogue.  She’s such got a beautiful spirit too! :)  Best wishes!!

  • We’re So Inspired

    So courageous and inspirational. I love this quote “We are constantly looking outside of ourselves for happiness, when all we need to do is send the search party within.” Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  • StephenJ

    Good post. But it’s marred by “… or I could take responsibility for my illness and try to bring my body to optimum health so that it could heal itself.”  This is not letting go. This is not recognizing one’s own power.  This is magical thinking and ego grasping that leads to absurd behavior like participating in Gerson therapy, and it’s tragic that so many spiritually-minded people fall into this anti-rational thinking.

  • Sachabremner

    Beautiful article. My husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 Brain Cancer this past January, at only age 27. The following day we found out we were expecting baby #2. Sometimes life throws these things at us and we never really understand why. I struggle to maintain balance everyday. I really enjoyed your article :)

  • Sarai

    This article completely blew me away – I’m still a bit shell-shocked. I think your chosen course of action is incredibly brave and must take a great deal of bravery and committment. It almost makes me wish I had read your story sooner! True, coming to terms with mortality might seem frightening, but I think it is something that should be kept closer in our hearts and minds to allow us to appreciate the valuable moments that allow us to keep moving from one moment to the next. Good luck on your journey, and thank you for showing me that it takes a shift in perspective to make the difference between being a victim and a survivor.

  • Love

    Thank you for this love and light — sending it right back to you!
    Beautiful and inspiring story.

  • Deena

    Thank you! Wish you all things beautiful!

  • Amanda

    I loved when you said “Hard times call for us to go deep and tap into a source of happiness that miracles are made from.” It is easy to see all the good in everything, when everything is going good. But if you could stay positive through the bad then thats a true blessing. I also agree with how you said you need to think of the people who have it far worse… because one of my favorite sayings is if we all threw our problems into a pill wed snatch our rights back

  • Kristine

    So on target for me!

  • Janet

    I have a dear friend that has been stripped of everything, has no one, and nothing. She is living with a man that won’t marry her, and belittles her all the time. I told her to take some time and “love herself” and now, she isn’t talking to me. I think I should apologize to her, what do you think?

  • Neville

    To all who suffer with aches and pains
    Try half teaspoon of baking powder disollved in water before bed.

    After a week tell of your results.

  • Neville

    Thank you Jessica for the (for want of the right word) insightful article.

    Short, sweet and well written.

  • linda

    Update: Jessica has disclosed recently on her blog (see the post ‘I need to clear up a few things’) that she still has cancer. Also, people may not know that her mother had (probably treatable) breast cancer. She also did the Gerson protocol. She died late last year.

    Gerson Therapy DOESN’T WORK people.

  • Brenda Clark

    I guess Gerson / healthy eating doesn’t have the answers either as you are finding out. :(

  • accidie

    And now she’s dead.