A lot of things has happened to me in the last month. It has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, it got me thinking a little bit more about life, death, happiness, sadness, and people we interact with every day. It got me asking, what is happiness and what makes others happy despite all that has happened to them?
I remember one shift, where I met the happiest and most pleasant and content patients. One was a 38 year old man who had a heart attack while playing hockey. I picked him up from the hospital after he had an angioplasty (where they place a stent in your coronary artery to widen an obstructed blood vessel in order to allow blood to flow through). Another was a 48 year old who was otherwise healthy until one day he suddenly had a heart attack. Aside from seeing these two patients in their hospital gowns, you would never have guessed what they had recently gone through, especially at such a young age. Despite recently having a recent heart attack, they were pleasant, cheerful, and looking forward to the future.
They were happy.
Are they happy because they just had a successful angioplasty procedure? Maybe. But what about this other patient I picked up later in the day. She was 79 years old, bedridden, was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) in her 40s and currently suffering from septicemia. Yet she was one of the most polite and happy people I’ve talked to. She told me that she has had a good life, that her MS came later than most people and that she’s lucky. She chose to look at the positive side of things–that she lived a happy 40 something years, when most people would have only seen the abilities and lifestyle they’ve lost to MS and sink into depression.
Perhaps the strangest thing was when she looked at me, and said to me, “You know, I just had my birthday two days ago in the hospital. I was expecting to pass away before then.” She chuckles and smiles. (I’m not sure if that’s something to smile and chuckle about.) She looks at me, her whole face shining, “I’ve come to accept death, and I welcome it when it comes.” When she said that, she reminded me of another gentleman, he was suffering from cancer. He was nearing death and was quite ill, yet he had a great sense of humor and a big smile on his face.
Perhaps all these patients above is teaching us something. That it isn’t what happens to you that makes you happy or sad, it is your perspective of the event that makes it good or bad. It is your choice to be happy, or to be unhappy.
What these people are going through is tougher than what most of us have endured in our lifetime. Yet they are happier than most of us. How many of us complain that we’re having a bad day because we missed our bus or your loved one is late for a special event or we spilled coffee on our shirts? Is that really considered having a bad day or is having a bad day losing someone you love? Hearing you got cancer? Realizing your child just got hit by a truck? Having a heart attack?
I challenge you to try and put things into perspective next time you’re having a “bad day” to step out of the box and look at the bigger picture. Is what happened really as bad and upsetting as you make it out to be? Is it worth being upset over? You do have a choice, after all. So what do you choose?