This is a serialization from my book, Happiness: A Physician/Biologist Looks at Life. To see the Table of Contents and the dust jacket blurb, click here; to start from the beginning, click here; to read the previous post, click here.
I’m no god, or even a guru. I question whether most of the television and bookstore gurus can really help us. People who constantly sport an enormous grin, and tell us that they have the secrets on how to be incredibly happy, unbelievably rich, or impossibly successful, aren’t very convincing.
For one thing, I have known some of these people, and even seen them as patients. Despite the unquenchable optimism they project in public, they aren’t so enthusiastic in private, and they are not always overjoyed to be alive. At the same time, as a physician I have the opportunity to study people in depth, and I find that truly happy people are easy to miss. And true happiness is equally easy to miss; hence this book.
Like the happy people I have studied, I am still learning, and I am still learning the things that I will be talking about here. I don’t have all the answers, and I constantly make mistakes. That disclaimer is important, and it will become much more important by the end of the book.
Besides that, guru-hood would interfere with my intent here. We have a tendency to deify people who tell us useful things, and that deification often obstructs real learning and growth. If I’m some avatar of enlightenment, then that implies that you have little chance of mastering what I am saying.
If, on the other hand, we can recognize that we are all groping around blindly (and we are), then someone who stumbles across resources for the group is not divine. He is just another member of the group. If we can maintain a proper perspective about this, maybe we can learn what he has found and how he found it, and maybe then we can all learn how to stumble around more logically. That’s what I want to do with this book, to teach people to stumble around more logically, and to stub our toes a little less often.
I’m also not a psychiatrist. I’m an emergency physician, although actually that’s more helpful than one might think. Skills necessary for working in the emergency room include being able to look briefly at a patient, quickly figure out what’s probably wrong, and decide what can be done about it on the spot. Sometimes that means a few minutes of some intensive counseling and advice.
I often see people in the middle of some of their worst crises. That’s both good and bad. It’s bad because people are in pain and fear. It’s good because people in crisis are often open to re-examining their lives, and their priorities. A crisis in an emergency room can be a real opportunity for patients to grow.
A lot of the disease and discomfort I see are created from the misconceptions we have about our lives. When appropriate, I try to talk to my patients about those misconceptions.
Over the years I’ve gradually developed helpful advice from some of my brief discussions with these patients. I also see myself reflected in my patients, much more often than I would like to admit. Again, we are all stumbling about, and we can all learn from each other. A lot of what follows is taken from discussions with my patients, and even discussions with myself.
To continue reading, click here.