Can I find happiness after an infertility diagnosis?
Let’s start by acknowledging that infertility is sad and unfair. People who are in the midst of struggling with fertility issues almost always feel some combination of grief, anger, and fear— a trio of feelings that can have drastic psychological impacts on one’s life. It is not uncommon for people with fertility issues to wonder if they will ever feel normal, or if they will ever be truly happy again.
But what is happiness? And can you still be happy after an infertility diagnosis?
Happiness is a subjective feeling, making it hard to define. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists and even economists have sought to describe what happiness is without reaching a consensus. Since the 1990s, an entire branch of psychology—positive psychology— has been dedicated not only to explaining happiness, but also to propagate it. More than simple positivism, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a meaningful and satisfying life.
Happiness can contribute to the prevention of diseases and the promotion of health. Feelings of positivity and contentment can benefit cardiovascular health, the immune system, inflammation levels, blood pressure and more. It may also bring elements to the understanding of subjective well-being, which is defined by the absence of depression and presence of cognitive states and positive emotions. Happiness has also been associated with higher expectations and quality of life.
The search for happiness is a universal quest. Researchers have found that people around the world rate happiness as one of their priorities, putting it on the same level as living a meaningful life and going to heaven.
But what can we do to find our happiness, especially after being diagnosed with infertility, experiencing miscarriages and not able to live the life that we have envisioned for ourselves?
First we have to end what I call “happiness myths,” or beliefs that certain achievements (marriage, employment, wealth) will make us happy forever, and that certain failures or adversities health problems (infertility, divorce, financial difficulties) will make us unhappy forever. Happiness is not the result of the oscillation of joyful moments. In fact, positive psychology believes that to achieve happiness, times of considerable discomfort are usually involved. Moments of happiness or unhappiness are the ones that gives us opportunities for renewal, growth or significant change. It is how you face these moments that really matter. Remember when you were younger and you thought that if you only had the perfect job, you would be happy? Or if you found the perfect spouse, you would be complete? All of these are great things that bring us joy; however, they cannot make you happy forever.
Suffering changes us. After a while, we will return to “normal”, but it is a new normal because we are different people. The good news is that this “new normal” can be filled with happiness.
Positive psychology proposes that there is no “recipe for happiness,” nor a direct path for doom. It suggests that what many people accept as originators of happiness (wealth, age, gender, external events) may not be enough for most people. Money is important for happiness, but only to a certain extent. When you surpass what is necessary to survive with dignity, such as water, food, and basic sanitation, the increase in purchasing power has no correlation with a significant increase in levels of happiness. But other things can interfere with your ability to be happy, such as genetics, life experience, personal accomplishments, marital status and social relationships.
Among the main goals of Positive Psychology is the knowledge of what we experience and understand as happiness, and ultimately it favors the necessary conditions for people to live a full life based on their own choices. This means choosing a life that accepts past choices, forgiving oneself for not trying to start a family 10 years ago, or choosing to have a career over a building a family. You might even believe that you are being punished for something you did. Just Stop! Start first by knowing that whatever happened in the past, you can’t change it and that you made the best choice with the information that you had at that time. Second, be optimistic about the future. You may not be sure what the future holds, but you can be sure that you are strong. You survived 100% of all of your worst days!
Third, in order to find happiness, we all must find a sense of contentment and well-being in the present. Acknowledge the things you have that are good. Maybe a good job, a supportive spouse, a fun group of friends. You can also find contentment by knowing that you are doing the best that you can. You Matter!
It’s your choice— especially after an infertility diagnosis — be happy not because life is perfect, but because you are doing all that you can!
This post was written by Thais Varzoni, Brown Fertility’s on-site therapist. She is dedicated to the study of the psychological impacts of infertility and is currently a 4th year PhD student in Clinical Psychology. Follow Thais on Instagram here.