No one told me that I could still have the best life possible despite being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. No one told me that I would need to find my own path and it would take a lot of time and effort. I learned on my own that I was in control to create my best possible life even when I was too sick to see all the endless possibilities.

A Complicated Maze

Many times I have felt as if I was trying to navigate through a complicated maze while learning to manage and live with my diseases. None of us are ever certain what lies ahead in all that confusion or know what direction to go. It is also easy to lose your perspective and you can, at times, find yourself wandering the same path over and over feeling lost, helpless and confused.

We are all capable of finding our own path and confronting illness head on despite any challenges. And while the maze might appear cumbersome, there is still much we can do to live the best lives possible.

Here are 5 things I have learned about having the best life despite chronic illness.

1. Remember the true meaning of love.

You may believe that there is no way to see the true meaning of love because chronic illness makes you feel as if you’re incapable of it. But when your spouse is up at midnight happily bringing you pain medications or changing the dressings from your knee surgery — that is something to be appreciated. When your child hugs you softly and tells you that he is being gentle because he doesn’t want to hurt you, you smile. And when your best friend comes over to cheer you up because you cancelled your coffee date due to a flare up, you feel treasured.

Little acts of true love can remind you that you are still loved and still living the best life you possibly can. Look for these little acts and embrace the love they represent.

2. Find your compassion.

If you get on the train and a young man doesn’t automatically offer you his seat, you don’t wonder where his manners are. Instead, you ponder the chronic pain battle he is fighting because you have gained the gift of compassion and you understand true internal struggle. It could be the lady in the restroom who jumps in front of you to get the next stall. You don’t think she is rude. Instead, you wonder if she is living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Or it could be the 20-year-old who just parked in the handicap spot even though she doesn’t appear to be sick because she may be battling fibromyalgia.

Compassion in people with chronic illness evolves over time and is a remarkable gift to have. Having compassion transforms you into the best version of yourself and allows you to make your life the best it can be.

3. Know the value of time.

As you sit at your doctor’s office for the third time this week and listen to the clock tick away, you know the value of time. You are aware of all the time you are spending driving to appointments, sitting in waiting rooms, and as you lay in your bed at night waiting for the pain medications to kick in. You recognize the time it takes you to get ready for work every morning with stiff, painful joints, or whatever symptoms you may have. You acknowledge it when you walk into your office after sitting in your car after a half hour of driving or as you work at your desk throughout the day and take half hour breaks to stretch your joints.

People with chronic illness know, respect and understand the value of time and we don’t want to waste a minute of it. Knowing this makes our lives easier and allows us to have the best lives we could hope for.

4. Seek Beauty — Big and Small.

Life is full of pressures even without chronic illness. We have stress at the workplace and responsibility at home. Often issues come up and we can find ourselves so overwhelmed that we forget to stop and smell the roses. Finding beauty in little things even when we are feeling low can be an easy way to happiness. You may notice actual roses after you have dragged yourself out for a walk that turned out to be quite painful. Or perhaps, you notice the giggle of your child or grandchild at the sight of a rainbow-colored butterfly and you start to feel as if everything is perfect.

Look for beauty in everything — big and small — and don’t allow life to pass you by. Don’t worry so much about things you have no control over and focus on seeing yourself and the world in the best light.

5. Look for Gratitude.

Gratitude is not about “looking at the bright side” of things or denying the harsh realities that life presents us. It is more about learning from our experiences and appreciating the things, people and events that help us along the way. You can be grateful for your medical providers who are helping you stay healthy and alive or for the moments you spend with family doing normal activities and not focusing on being sick. You can be grateful for your friends who are still around even when you continue to cancel on them or for your sister who is there the minute you ask.

You can be grateful for the simple act of breathing.

You can either be a victim of your situation or you can find joy in living your best possible life. If you are willing to open your heart to the good, gratitude becomes just as important as the breaths you take.

You Only Have One Life

There is no denying that chronic illness is difficult. Symptoms of illness force us to make perhaps unwanted lifestyle changes and bring emotional turmoil to our lives. But having the best life amongst all this chaos is a choice. It involves a combination of good disease management and maintaining a positive attitude. And the quality of your life is determined by how you choose to live day-to-day managing and coping with your disease.

Take active steps to seek help and nurture optimism throughout your life. And since you have only have one life, why not make it the best possible life?

To learn more about heart disease and living happily:

Three Ways to Take Care of Yourself Despite a Heart Condition
Heart Troubles Got You Down? 7 Tips to Find Meaning
Heart Conditions: Three Things You Need to Know about Patient Empowerment