The Secrets to Happiness After Vision Loss

This may seem like an especially pretentious title. After all, philosophers and theologians, to say nothing of average people, have been wrestling for centuries with the question of what makes people happy. While I doubt this post will answer the question to their satisfaction, I think I’m on pretty safe ground in claiming to have a good handle on what it takes to be happy after vision loss.

A new area of psychology, called positive psychology, focuses on what things contribute to people’s happiness. (The technical explanation of the field is more complicated than this, but this is the general idea.) Not surprisingly, the findings of this new field are virtually identical with what I think you would see in the lives of almost all of the truly happy blind people I’ve ever known.

Health. First, and perhaps most important, the large majority of the research in this new field doesn’t show that “health” is one of the most important factors in determining whether people are happy or not. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but, if you’re looking for what separates happy from unhappy people, health is not at the top of the list. And, once someone has adjusted to vision loss, I’d argue that sight, or lack of it, isn’t correlated either.

Friends and family. Some of the things that you would guess contribute to happiness are just what you would imagine. The happiest people all seem to have “strong social relationships.” There’s just no substitute for good friends and family. Incidentally, as long as there’s enough money for the basics, more of it doesn’t seem to do much to make someone happier.

Accomplishment. Some of the other factors may be a bit less obvious. Feeling that you are competent by taking on and mastering challenges makes a difference in how you feel about yourself. Mastering big challenges is nice but mastering small, routine daily challenges is also important. As long as you’re using your skills to accomplish a task, you’re contributing to your happiness. Exercising or doing the dishes, simple and routine as they are, contribute to being happy. Each activity, by itself, may not be very important, but, taken as a whole, they give us a feeling of competence. The activity itself may not make you happy, but the sense of accomplishment, even if small, does.

Meaningfulness. However, if the activity is something you consider meaningful, there is an even greater connection to happiness. Think here of raising small children: changing diapers; doctoring a sick infant; or getting up in the middle of the night. Even the most devoted parent doesn’t think of any of this as fun, and, yet, doing it gives them a feeling of meaningful accomplishment, allowing them to feel better about themselves. This is why studying to get that degree or working to pay the bills, as much as we may complain, can be powerful factors in contributing to our happiness.

By now, you can probably see where I’m going with all of this. Whether someone has low or no vision, has been blind from birth or lost vision later in life, the things that will make them happy are not very much different than anyone else. It may be more of a challenge to develop the necessary skills to establish a good network of friends and feel competent in doing what they consider to be meaningful, but it is possible. Blindness is not what makes people unhappy; it is believing that blindness limits your potential.

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