Jun 152012

Whether your musical tastes run to the 70s television show with the Partridge family singing their theme song, C’mon Get Happy, or the 1950s song that inspired it, Get Happy, made famous by Judy Garland, the message is that happiness is in our hands not something we are handed.

When it comes to caring for a loved one, happiness may not be the first emotion that you would associate with a life role that many find overwhelming, frustrating, exhausting and time-consuming. Yet, as I researched more about happiness and how we go about creating the happy factor in our lives, it was apparent that many of the activities associated with caregiving are actually the principles that experts say will make us happier in our lives.

Following are five principles identified by Dr. Ian K. Smith in his book, Happy   Simple Steps to Get the Most Out of Life. I have taken his principles and added my own caregiving take on these tenets along with some tips on enhancing each of these ideas to create the maximum happiness along your caregiving journey.

1. Be kind, do something nice for someone, volunteer
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 75 percent of caregivers feel they had no choice to become a caregiver, the need was there and they were the one to fill the role. Even if you felt you had no choice, you have volunteered for one of life’s most important roles  caring for a loved one. This is one of the kindest, nicest gifts you can give another person. You are paying it forward for your own care later in life.

My tip: Be kind to yourself just like you are kind and caring to your loved one. Take the time to write yourself a thank-you letter for everything you do  the patience, the time, the love you are providing. Take this letter out and read it on days when you feel down or like you cannot go on. Congratulate yourself for the wonderful gift of caring  and the gift of volunteering  that you are giving.

2. Strengthen and deepen personal relationships
We know from numerous studies that isolation is bad for our older loved ones  it impacts both their health (such as not eating properly or enough) and their wellness (sometimes leading to depression). By spending quality time with your loved one, you are helping them achieve better happiness. What will take this up one more notch is to talk to them about days gone by. When I would spend time with my grandpa  he loved to talk about his early childhood growing up in Cleveland and riding the wooden roller coaster at Euclid Beach. Nostalgia and legacies are important to our older loved ones and we can learn a lot we may not have known about our family’s history.

The flip side of this happiness principle is carving out time to strengthen your other relationships. What researchers at Harvard University and the University of California at San Diego found is that our friendships actually can improve our happiness quotient. Their study showed that happiness is like a virus that spreads through social networks  your friends’ happiness and even their friends’ happiness can affect (or infect) you. The happiness of a first degree contact friend increases your happiness by 15 percent!

My tip: Increase your happiness factor  carve out time to grab a coffee or go on a walk with a happy friend and feel your spirit uplifted.

3. Develop a spiritual life – practice forgiveness
When we search for deeper meanings in life, believe in a higher power, or just take the time to understand both our own and other’s limitations, we are on the path to more happiness in our lives. Numerous studies have shown that our spirituality increases as we age. Forgiving your loved one for their behaviors  whether it is their crankiness, their obstinance or their constant needs  is hard for caregivers. Take these trying times and forgive your loved one because in the end they are probably afraid and that often changes our personalities. For your sake, find an expert that can give you techniques on how to cope so you can maintain your happiness level.

My tip: It is important that caregivers find experts: geriatric care managers, a therapist or caregiver support groups can all help you find ways to forgive the person you are caring for and forge new ways to cope when you get frustrated. Caregiving support groups can be a terrific resource on techniques on coping.

4. Spend money on someone else
This is a little tricky because sacrificing your own financial future is a concern I have for caregivers. A National Alliance for Caregiving study showed that one-half of all caregivers spend 10 percent of their annual salary on care-related costs. While you do not want to go bankrupt while caring for your loved one, feeling good about paying for something your loved one needs can be very satisfying and puts a deposit into your happiness account.

My tip: Ensure you talk to your financial planner or accountant about your caregiving responsibilities and especially about what you are spending out of your own pocket so they can help you save your nest egg. It may be that some of these costs can be covered under Medicare or Medicaid or you may even be able to qualify for tax credits if your loved one depends solely on you and other criteria you must meet to claim them as a dependent.

5. Be hopeful (the glass half full form of optimism)
The Mayo Clinic actually did a study tracking participants over a 30-year period and found that the optimists had a 19 percent higher chance of still being alive and that they suffered less from depression. Other studies have shown that optimistic people have less chronic stress because they view setbacks as minor incidents that can be overcome. We know chronic stress is the number one factor that causes caregivers to develop chronic illness at twice the rate as the general public according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund.

My tip: One of the characteristics of an optimist is the power of their smile  remember how good you feel when someone smiles at you? You inevitably smile back and for a few seconds all seems right with the world. Even though you may be blue or having one of those days  try smiling. It is hard to be mad or sad when you have a smile on your face.  Sonja Lyubomirsky, a researcher at the University of California at Riverside and who has long studied the health impacts of smiling, finds that people tend to mirror each other. Smiling is truly infectious  it catches on faster than the flu. You will be amazed how happy you are when you just smile.

Charles Schultz, cartoonist and creator of the Peanuts comic strip said “Happiness is a warm puppy and a side of French fries.” I am smiling as I write this (because I agree with him) and I hope you are smiling as you read it. Caregiving can be many things and maybe it can even make you happier.

©2012 Sherri Snelling

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About Blog Author Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.


  40 Responses to “Can Caregiving Make You Happy?”

  1. When I was the primary caregiver for my dad for 3 yrs before his passing, it was extremely stressful. But I was so happy and felt so good that I was able to care for him in that way and I knew he loved seeing me everyday. I looked forward to seeing the smile on his face when he saw me and said hi, and most of the time he knew who I was. If I had to do this all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. It not only fulfilled me but also made him happier and at ease knowing a loved one was caring for him. I learned so much more than I ever thought I would.

    • That was a beautiful message.I am taking care of my Mom now,it is not easy..but rewarding!

  2. yes caregiver makes me happy coz caregiver can help in taking care of my loved ones who are mentally sick or have a behavioral problems

  3. I usually get a special thrill, from the huge smiles and the look of comfort and satisfaction shown by my clients after care.
    It encourages me on. it makes me feel, everyday, that there is a greater reward, because it truly takes a special person to care.

  4. Hello i am new to this blog os hope it gets posted ..i look after my mum going on 4 yrs now sadly declining rapidly .and yes the stress is sometimes unbearable ..but i get so much joy when i see her smiling face in the morning ..and sooo happy i can cuddle her i know it will be a sad day one day .that i have to face when it comes ..but yes i am privelaged to be able to take care of her no matter what ..we all should take care of our loved ones time is indeed short .
    take care all xx

  5. I'm a new caregiver–just six months in–to my Mom. Yes, this is a big job with demanding responsibilities but I am happy to be here with Mom and able to do it. We share ups and downs, sing together, pray together and frequently struggle together but I'm really happy I have the health, strength and heart to be here. One of the very best tips I received when I arrived was to connect with the Alzheimer's Family Organization and its support group and respite care resources. AFO has really helped me and our family in this journey.

    • It is a beuatiful thing that we are able to be there for our Mom's, I am doing the same thing now,and I have panic atacks when she looses it. I worry more about how I will be able to take care of her since I don't live with her,and I am looking for someone to live with her,but it is so expensive for a live in,I will ask God to help me.

  6. I am a caregiver for my mother she is 93 years old I never thought I would see the day when my mommy would be so depended on me she has went from one stage to the next mood swings depression loud out bursts just saying things that aren't very nice. My mommy has always took care of herself up til she was 85 at least I started to notice a difference in her she didn't like doing anything she used to do and at times i wonder if she is putting on for attention she says things like nobody cares an my back hurts an if you ask her a minute if she is still hurting she will say no. But it is 7 of us an I'm the only one taking care of her it get's tiresome but I'm always happy to see the lord wake her up the next day although i know it will be tough I don't know how many more years the lord has for her but i guess i will enjoy the ride.

  7. i'm not there yet. Wish I were. I struggle with the thought that I'm losing myself in the demands of 24/7 care of my husband. This self centered frustration, while real, makes me ashamed and guilt ridden. I do have a friend who comes over 2 days a week for 3 hrs to stay with him and I always feel good when I return but then I return to same sad situation of losing my husband, and the wellness evaporates especially if he gets cranky, obstinate or verbally angry at me. I'll keep trying and reaching out to get help because I can't give up on either one of us. Just being honest.

    • Hi Betty….. my mother feels the same way about the situation with my father…. it has been about 2 years now. She is 83 & he is 85…. and no longer drives. She is really isolated as they are 1 1/2 hrs. outside Chicago and there is no support in the area. She rarely gets out anymore and is losing confidence in some of her abilities. She really has no one to talk to but me as her friends are not doing well & have all lost their husbands. They are reluctant to have help in the home as they are pretty independent & not used to strangers. I myself am very sad about both my parents situation. He is at the beginning stages and is critical & upset with her often about the way she does the things he used to do. She basically wants to stay in her room isolating him & herself. Not good for either of them. Good luck to you Betty! So glad you are getting out!

    • I understand, because I am going through the same feelings & feeling so guilty about it. I pray to God each night that He will give me the wisdom to react with kindness & patience, but my fear of losing the husband I know (and seeing it happen before my eyes, even after doing everything possible to stop this disease in its tracks) makes me react in ways I'm so ashamed of. And yet, I can't seem to get in control of my feelings & just accept that he's not the same any more. I keep pushing him to be like he used to be, & when he's not, i can't seem to accept that without pushing harder & ending up with both of us so upset. My husband has always been an optimist. I'm depressed & frustrated. He seems quite happy & is usually trying to cheer me up! I think this is hitting me a lot harder than it is hitting him. He talks about how lucky we are to be as healthy as we are! I just don't want to lose him like this! I keep searching, searching for an answer…for a cure. I won't give up!

    • Dear Betty,

      It is such a hard road. My heart just breaks for you when I read your post. I hope you are taking advantage of all the help you can find in your local community and via your local Alz Organization. If you have not called them yet, please do. They will be there to help and direct you to folks you might not even know exist in your location, who can help ease your burden. Never, never feel like you have to walk this path alone. And, it's ok to know you are not there yet. Your heart is dealing with so much. But, it does get a little easier if you can begin to assemble that support system you need. Don't wait on it. Call everyone you can till you have a plan that works for you and your husband. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • I to am caring for my husband, I do think it is different than caring for your parents, you expect that but not necessarily your spouse. My husband is 16 years older than me and i still work fulltime so it is hard, I am not to the point that he can not be left alone but we are heading there. It is a difficult place to be and not many if any understand but we are out here and I am just looking to connect others who are.

    • Betty, if your dad does not have much money then you can get help through the state or the federal government. I did that and now have an aide here 6 hours/day for 7 days week. Only recently was I able to be eligible for this, but after 5 years of doing this on my own I knew it was time to let someone else help me. The key is to get a good aide, one who can handle bouts of anger etc. My aide is excellent, but it took me a long time to find one as good as he is. Do not give up. If your dad does have money then use it to hire help for you. Believe me you do not want to do a 5 year stint like I did, and I am now 60 years old. It hurts me to move him and I have trouble breathing. All in all the best thing I ever did was to get some help. Check out the guidelines for your state regarding income and start applying for help. I pay 7% of the caregiver costs. (well dad does). Also, you can try a senior center, and while he may hate it at first he will get accustomed to it after a month or so. Dad went for years, but no longer can handle it so we care for him at home now. Please get help! Go on the internet and to the state and see what you can get, or just spend his money. And DO NOT spend your own money cause you will never get that back. The lower his $ goes the more things you are eligible for through the government.

  8. Carry for my Mom did make me happy despite the stress. It was my way of giving back to her and she was my buddy all of my love. Since her death I miss caring for her. In tribute I wrote a book, My Million Dollar Mom (buybooksontheweb.com) which includes a chapter entitled, The Funny Side of Alzheimers which contains many of the funny things she said and did.

  9. It is so sad tosee my wife , sweetest woman in the world, deteriorate. I find being her caregiver is very demanding on my mind.

  10. As a retired nurse I understood the demands of a child caring for a parent or a older spouse caring for a spouse, but for my son who is caring for his wife who is 51 and he is 48 it is a challenge given he still has to work, son just graduated from high school…and no local groups to seek support based on these unique circumstances. He has been dealing with her decline for ten years, dx is FTD and no treatment is availble. He maintains a positive attitude and extends himself to meet her needs. He has gotten care star support for in home care while he is working but has had problems finding reliable care givers. Any advise?

    • wow. im so sorry for your loss. Im also thankful for pelope, men, like you. there is no doubt in my mind that his mother will forever be thankful for your presence and love in that moment. sometimes, its the hand of someone we dont know well rubbing our backs that get us through the worst moments of our lives. know thats what you did. and thanks for sharing it with us.

  11. it is always challeging, but at the end of the day…. you feel great because you done something good. as long as u put it in your heart, understand them, put you feet i their shoes…….ask guidance for our Lord…….everything will be great!

  12. @ Betty-Excellant post & I wish you luck in your situation.Not giving up and being honest is the way to go about everything in life.I'm new to this site,why is'nt there many posts with difficuties from people,and suggestion ?

  13. I am not there yet either. I have been caring for my dad, 84 years, who has alzheimer's, for the past year at home. We have lived together for a long time. We used to care for his aunt now 92 years, who also has alzheimer's, but who is in a home. I find myself being the only family member who interacts with them on a regular basis, and it is depressing to me. I am turning 50 years, and fear that my best years are already over, because of the time and effort that I have to dedicate to their care. I love them both,but it is draining emotionally, physically and financially.

  14. I care for my frail aged parents and my invalid husband. At times I find it very hard to smile but when I do those endorphines
    flood me and I'm inspired to continue the journey.

  15. I find I am very happy staying home (had to quit my job which I loved) and caring for my husband. We have plenty of quality time together and I find things to keep us busy and getting out of the house each day. Some days are challenging, but I try to learn from them. I know harder days will come so I want to be prepared and try to make those days happy, too. I especially work on meeting both our needs and staying objective and not reactive. I truly feel blessed to have this early-retirement time together.

  16. I'm caring for my 90 yr. old mother. It is very hard, as I don't get enough sleep. I struggle with a lot of emotions. It's very hard to see a very active, independant woman decline. I have a hard time accepting all the changes, but I pray each day and ask God for help and strength. The Happiness article was helpful. It gave me a new perspective and awareness. I struggle with guilt feelings, as well, especially when I'm not as patient as I should be. This only happens when I'm extremely tired. Meal times are difficult, constantly encouraging my mom to eat and drink. Sometimes she gets angry, irritable and even tells me I'm crazy or to shut-up. I read a book that said that these patients are trying as best they can and I need to remind myself of this.

  17. I and my family have been care giving for my Mom since 2006, when she came to live with us. She is now in the end stage of life and has been bedridden since early June. At the end of May, Hospice accepted her case then and we are so blessed to have them alongside of us for this leg of the journey. She suffers from Vascular Dementia and has been bedridden since early June of this year. It has been a profound privilege to be able to care for her and watch over her. My daughters (ages 9 and 12), along with my DH are all integral parts of our daily routines, as well as a sister who lives just down the road and another not too far away. For us, it takes a family and I dare say, I could not have done it without their support. There have been very difficult moments over the last 6 years, but the joy of life remains a strong bulwark against the fleeting moments of sadness that are inevitable. We would not have it any other way than for her to be here with us to ease her burden. What we have all learned and the happiness gained in knowing she is safe, comfortable and well cared for is priceless and eternal. To be able to hold her hand, place a kiss on her cheek or just tell her I love her at anytime during the day, for me is a big part of happiness. Bless you all … 🙂

  18. I took care of my mother for 10 years as her sole caregiver. We lived together until she made her transistion in March of this year. I miss her terribly. By the time she had passed away she was total care. She had lost her sight, ability to swallow solid foods, ability to speak etc etc. It was very painful and at the same time very gratifying to be able to take care of her. I don't regret a minute of taking full responsibility for my mother.

  19. I have been caring for my 80 year old mother since 2008. The last year she has had a big decline physically and mentally. I will be 60 soon and I also have moments when I wonder is the “best” years of my life over? I try not to focus too much on that and be thankful for each day

  20. My attitude has alwas been, give the same care that I would love to have if I was in the position of my client.
    It makes me super happy every single time that my client feels as happy as I am.
    Proud to be a Care Giver, for Dementia/Alzheimer’s Clients. I love them all, I have and is still learning their language!

  21. My mother is 80 years old, has AZ and other health problems, and is living in a nursing home. She has been there since falling and breaking her hip in May. She doesn't like it there and wants to come home. She no longer has a home to return to because my sister decided she should stay at the nursing home and sold her home. It belonged to my sister. I live in another state but I want to bring my mother home to live with me. I don't know if she is physically able to make the trip even though she seems o.k. when I visit her. I know she isn't healthy, but she's in fairly good shape. I think she could sit in the car for the trip. I just don't know if I should try to bring her to my home or not. I don't know how to decide if she's able to leave the nursing home. My sisters do not want her to leave there and say she needs that level of care. I feel guilty about my mother not being cared for by family. I think I can care for her and that I can get help if I need it. Any suggestions or comments?

    • Ellie, don't feel guilty. Your sisters are right, she needs more care than you can give her. My mother is 98 1/2 and lived with me for over 2 years. She always wanted to go home – to her mother. Her only memories were in her childhood. July 1 I put her in an Alzheimer's home because I was exhausted. She asks to go home constantly. This is not her, it is the desase. I cannot change that and she is getting better care than I can give her.

    • This exact scenario plyead out with my elder client who was the sole caregiver for his very dimentia wife. He did not tend to his medical needs, which lead to accute hypertension that dropped his kidneys to 10% function causing him to go onto kidney dialysis for the rest of his life. The toll is high to the individual (3 days per week, 10a 3:30p by time leave & return to house, not to mention a severely restricted diet) and society ($42k per month Kaiser picks up for the dialysis).

  22. Hello new family, I relociated and assumed the position of primary caregiver about thirteen years ago. My Mom is ninety three with dementia. I have been able to continue because of my faith in God. I have joy in this overwhelming situation. I have joy at this moment because this day is over and I have some time to unwind before sleep overtakes me. I feel truly blessed to have been chosen for a role as special as this. Caregivers are very special people and need to discover ways to have some happiness. My birthday is fast approaching and I will be fiftyfive years old. If I focused on my future I would have no happy moments, so I try really hard to think of all the experience I’ve gained in my many roles and it helps me a lot. GOD BLESS

  23. A s Sherri notes there is nothing like a puppy to bring joy and by engaging pets in Alzheimer patient care real benefits can be found. A study published in “Companion Animals in Human Health by Kathryn Batson et al titled “The Effect of a Therapy Dog on Socialization and Physiological Indicators of Stress in Persons Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease” concluded that pets can serve as a useful intervention for increasing socialization in Alzheimer’s sufferers. These researchers looked at the impact of a trained therapy dog, in this case a miniature schnauzer, on a variety of social interaction variables such as smiling, tactile contact, verbal praise, physical engagement as well as physiological factors such as heart rate and blood pressure.

    The presence of the therapy dog enhanced nonverbal communication as shown by increases in looks, smiles, tactile contact and physical warmth. The findings of the study support the advantages of short-term visits on the mental state and quality of life of person’s suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

    For more info on how to engage pets in providing care, visit the non-profit site palliativepets.com

  24. I've been working as an OT with seniors with dementia for 10 years and please allow them to be as independent and active mentally and physically as possible.

  25. I am so stressed!!! My spouse is 78 and has been on Aricept for 5 years and on Nanenda for 2 years. He has some stage 4 symptoms and some stage 5 ! He can't do even do simple tasks that he use to do around the house. I would not be so stressed if he would just leave things alone and let me do them.It would be easier on me than cleaning up the mess afterwards! It's just like having a 2 year old follow you around that you can't discipline.He leaves caps, coats and shoes tucked in a corners. He leaves lights on yet he constantly goes behind me cutting mine off even if I'm going back. He takes a napkin and wipes his plate clean after eating. When he finishes his meal he takes a sip of tea and washes his teeth out. He straightens the place mats that I have purposely left for the table to dry ! I continuely ask him to leave things alone and to let me do them but I guess he forgets and then he's doing what i ask him not to do. He asks over and over if he's been to the mail box and if he's fed the dog. Some family members he doesn't know anymore! The asking of the same questions over and over doesn't bother me as much as the following me around in the house. And he talks constantly. Sometimes I just have to go to another room where the computer is to get away. I'm at the point now that I'm afraid that I may just snap! Sometimes i think I'd like to run away and never be seen or heard from again!!!! Day care or having anyone in to help isn't an option because he doesn't think there is anything wrong with him.

    • You may have to put him assisted living until he is at different stage of the disease. I had to put my mother in AL, which she hated, but I could not work and tolerate her at the same time.. After 3 years in AL, she came back home in a totally different stage of the disease that was more easily managed. Mom was on all the meds at first, but they only seemed to agitate her more. Now she is totally off meds and without all the Parkinson side effects of meds. I have 3 caregivers and now her care cost than AL. Think long term, especially if money is a concern. Use money for AL when absolutely necessary (for your sanity as well!), but don't think of AL as the end…My mother is in good physical health at 80. She could live another 10-15 years. I have to use money wisely. Take care of you first!

  26. This responsibility, however, wears on you and puts your happiness in jeopardy. They say happiness is a choice but the wave of emotions associated with being an Alzheimer’s caregiver makes it hard to find a balance that fosters happiness.

    • It is just too bad that you say this. I have Alzheimer's and I am not old. I had a serious stroke. Happiness is your choice of life and does not have anything to do with caregiving. I have an adult child and 4 grandchildren and without my emotional and financial support, this family would not exist.

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