Happiness in Hard Times
Young Kwak
Susan Cerutti-Jensen today, with her husband Rick Jensen and her bichon frise Buster.

If you’re out of work, facing a tough illness or dealing with bad news in your personal life, you’re probably feeling out of control, sad, angry or all of the above. That’s normal. But try not to wallow in self-pity for too long.

That’s the advice M.J. Ryan offers. In her book AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For, she lists her top 20 tips for getting through hard times. No. 3 is, if you don’t believe you have the confidence or talent to find the solution to a problem, pretend that you do.

“Turns out that ‘fake it till you make it’ has validity in brain science — the thoughts you hold and actions you take really do create new pathways in the brain,” writes Ryan.

In order to accept change, expand our options and move on in life, Ryan says we need to cultivate resilience, which is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the human ability to adapt in the face of tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors.”

When Ryan works with someone going through a difficult change, she always asks two questions: What could possibly be right about this? The other is, what in your life or yourself can you be grateful for right now?

“As the author of books on gratitude, I’ve been awed by its power to uplift and focus us on what is still good and whole in our lives,” she writes.

Spokane’s Susan Cerutti-Jensen learned about coping with change, being resilient and focusing on gratitude when she was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer five years ago.

“When I got the news, I was in absolute shock. No family history of cancer of any kind, and I was 35 years old — too young to have a mammogram,” Cerutti-Jensen says. That year was a blur of multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, countless tests and drug treatments. During what she calls her “cancer journey,” Cerutti-Jensen says she found a number of things that helped her to cope and have more good days than bad ones.

“I didn’t spend a lot of time on ‘Why me?’ because, I mean, ‘Why anybody?’ I had health insurance, I had a great husband, and I had my parents who live here, and I was surrounded by incredible friends,” Cerruti-Jensen says.

She also had a new puppy, Buster, to care for. And she started a blog.

“We got the dog a month before I was diagnosed, so my belief is that God knew I was going to need a little buddy. Buster was my saving grace, because he needed to be walked. It was a huge help.

“As for the blog, people weren’t using Facebook five years ago like they are today, so the blog was it for me. It served not only as my own personal diary, but people could make comments to me on the blog, so I still felt connected to my friends. It was an amazing coping mechanism,” she says.

Cerutti-Jensen had her five-year checkup in December, and got a clean bill of health. She celebrated her 40th birthday, cancer-free.

“My personal mantra that I said [during cancer treatment] and now: I am happy, I am healthy, I am whole, I am here, I am holy,” she says.

“Scars heal and the horror and fear does fade with time. What I’ve been left with is great perspective on life and how to live it. I do a frequent gut-check: Where am I spending my time? Who am I choosing to spend it with? What’s stopping me from having the life I want?” she asks. “Cancer wasn’t a gift, but what I learned along the way was.”

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