Some people love their cars and some people don’t.
I drive a Honda Civic – a perfectly serviceable car. It hasn’t been washed for half a year – after all, there is water restriction in California, or so I tell myself. There is a dent in the back bumper from that time when I tried to parallel park and a post magically appeared behind my car. I haven’t bothered to fix that dent nor the scratches that the car got when I fearlessly drove through a felled tree on the road. It’s not that I don’t love my car. I just love its functionality more than its appearance.
Several years ago, as I was walking to my job at the hospital, I saw a colleague getting out of an electric blue Corvette. The car was beautiful – compact, sleek, sparkling in the sunlight. My colleague happens to be not only a very tall but also a somewhat heavy man, so he had some difficulty getting out of the car – the Corvette was not made for his body habitus. Nevertheless, he looked positively radiant. I asked him later, “Why did you spend so much money on an expensive car that is too small for you and does not have that much functionality?” (perhaps I haven’t mentioned that I am not a very polite person). His answer surprised me. “It makes me happy”, he said. “When I get up in the morning and think about facing the day in front of me, I know there is always a bright spot in the beginning – I get to drive my Corvette to work. And that makes me happy.”
I pondered this. There was no way any blue Corvette was going to make me happy. Even a bright orange Aston Martin couldn’t make me happy. And I like orange. But I had to admit that I could not judge my colleague or somehow downplay his joy over something I didn’t understand. People are different. Happiness is relative, and in the eyes of the perceiver.
Over the years, I have had many conversations with my patients about what makes them happy. I have started looking at it as part of the treatment for their heart disease. People who can name sources of their happiness are usually more motivated to take their medications and to follow the lifestyle advice. Additionally, there is a small secret that the physicians may not tell their patients – and I just exposed it in case any of my patients happen to read this blog – tying the lifestyle advice to the sources of happiness makes it more likely to work. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – more often than not happiness comes in small packages. It can be a father, now less short of breath, able to play catch with his son. It can be a chronically ill patient now able to take an airline trip to see a new grandbaby. It can be singing a solo in church, making a trip to the grocery store, walking around the block.
Just recently, a patient I had not seen for few months, literally skipped into the room for his clinic appointment. “Are you seeing this?” he asked triumphantly, a big smile on his face. Well. Sometimes patients forget that I see dozens of them every day, and expect me to remember everything that was said at their last visit. I searched my brain as I was looking at him. Ah. The cowboy boots. Mr Golnach was wearing beautiful patent-leather ornately decorated boots that might as well have walked down from an expensive store window display. This had been his dream – to get his leg swelling down so he can finally put his beloved cowboy boots on. Clearly now, between better diet and regular medications, his heart failure was compensated well enough where the boots had become a possibility. “Isn’t this great,” he sighed happily. “Now I can die”.
Self-care tip: Find sources of happiness in your life, small and big. Naming them will add quality to your life, and keep you motivated to live better.
Question: Tell us your story about an unexpected source of happiness.