Why I Still Believe in Santa

IMG_7847

We live in an age of disbelief.  In a season traditionally of reverence and celebration, in recent years some may have found under their Christmas trees, Richard Dawkins’ book,“The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great (subtitled “How Religion Poisons Everything”).

At age 7, my wide-eyed daughter had been troubled by doubt.  It started after visiting Santa at the mall.  Because she hadn’t decided what she wanted for Christmas, Santa told her, “When you’ve made up your mind, tell your mom and dad.”

After that, she began entertaining conspiracy theories and doubting her own parents.  “It’s you, isn’t it,” she’d challenge me.  “You’re Santa, right?”

I explained to her that the Santa in the mall was just one of Santa’s look-alike helpers and that Santa’s local representatives are human and may misrepresent him.  I have to confess my first thought had been to sue Santa.

Why would he say such a thing?  Was he intentionally downloading his job onto parents?  Are we supposed to e-mail letters to Santa ourselves or line up at the mall again just to tell him what our kids want?

I didn’t return to the mall.  Even with the photo, I’d never be able to identify the right Santa.  They all look the same to me.

Santa’s not the problem.  Like other icons of belief, it’s the abuse of his image by individuals and organizations that confuses and misleads the world.

A child’s belief in Santa parallels cognitive, emotional and spiritual development.  To young children who understand the world in black and white terms, Santa’s an old man in a white beard who lives far away at the top of the world, watching and judging everything they do.

This version of Santa for the simple of heart and mind is a bit petty; he only gives presents to good little boys and girls. In the old days, noncompliant kids would get a lump of coal, which we now know to be carcinogenic. Authority figures such as parents and teachers sometimes leverage this simplistic understanding in order to get kids to behave.

Eventually, most children realize that life doesn’t follow such simple rules.  Some keep getting presents no matter how naughty they’ve been while many nice kids get no presents.

Like parents, commercial institutions seize the Santa image for their own purposes – in this case, to make a profit.  By so doing, they poison everything and contaminate a child’s simple faith.

Many lose faith when they don’t get what they’ve hoped and prayed for.  Commercialism has blurred the distinction between our wants and needs.  We are conditioned to crave for the latest games, toys and fashions.  In the big view of real life, we ultimately receive what we need though it may not have been what we wanted or expected.

As children mature, they scrutinize adult behaviour.  The advice to “do as I say and not as I do” convinces no one.  Many a child has lost their belief in the Tooth Fairy because of a parent’s disbelief.  Again and again, fathers are caught with their hands under their children’s pillows because they themselves could not believe she would come.

As I grew up, I realized that my conception of Santa was too limiting.  Although it’s comforting to imagine his traditional image, I knew he must be more than he appeared to be.  That chubby old man would have died from diabetes or a heart attack centuries ago.

My faith is not dependent on a fantasized image of the North Pole.  If I were to venture to the far north and find no elves, reindeer or Fortress of Solitude, my worldview would not be shattered.

I see Father Christmas all around me, here and now.  My faith is renewed when I engage in the endless exchange of kindnesses and when I witness gifts given from the heart – with special thought, in appreciation of others, and with unbridled and unconditional affection.

Christmas present is not a material thing but it is material to our daily lives.  It is the gift of the moment – what we have now and the relationships before us.  It is the potential of the past realized.  It is tomorrow’s memories in the making.

It is the recognition of the divine in our present lives – in others and in our selves.  It is the acceptance of what is – naughty and nice, faith in the good within us, and love unconditional.

In an age of disbelief, I am a believer.  My faith has been tempered by a questioning mind and emboldened by experience.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in the Burnaby Now, Richmond News and Vancouver Courier. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Advertisements
Posted in Emotions, Happiness, Love, Relationships | Tagged | Leave a comment

How to Stay in Love

Mom & Dad's Wedding Photo

Dad and Mom’s Wedding Photo

My sensible wife reminds me that Valentine’s Day is only a Hallmark holiday – a day when florists are overwhelmed selling roses at the highest prices of the year and when you should have made a reservation if you wanted an intimate night out.

Of course, we could never outlaw Valentine’s Day in Canada; the chocolate, floral and greeting card industries would lobby ferociously for their biggest day of the year.

Quite contrary to Hollywood movies, I’ve always told my children I wouldn’t let them get married when they were head over heels madly in love. After all, infatuation is not unlike a psychosis where reality testing is impaired. We see only the idealized good in the other and none of the bad.

Legally, individuals with impaired judgement cannot give consent. So why should they be allowed to sign a marriage certificate? Every young couple needs a cooling off period . . . . until they see (and love) each other as they really are.

With mature love, we see the best in our loved ones, want what is best for them, see their faults, accept them and love the whole imperfect, human package.

We’ve seen many wedding invitations with the inscription, “Today, I marry my best friend.”

In my practice, I’ve seen some marriages fall apart over time. I’ve seen young couples blissfully in love and delivered their babies, but years later, they can’t stand being in the same room together.

If they were to have invitations to a divorce party, I would expect to find the inscription, “Today, I divorce my worst enemy.”

Why does this happen?

Sometimes they have fundamental incompatibilities in values and temperament. Sometimes, one partner does something that forever changes how the other sees them. Instead of all good, the other is seen as all bad.

Neither of course is a true reflection of reality.

And there is that Negativity Bias of the human brain. As Rick Hanson – the psychologist and author of “Hardwiring Happiness” – has said, our brains are Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.

This Negativity Bias has had survival value for the human race; it helps us spot and avoid danger. Yet it makes us miserable; we don’t recognize the good in our situation, our partners and ourselves. It also makes us miserable to live with if we voice all those negative observations as complaints and criticisms.

Many couples just drift apart. We take the other person and our relationship for granted. When they are neglected, the relationship is at risk.

Lasting relationships – like good health – require our daily attention and maintenance.

Here are four suggestions that have worked for my patients in lasting loving relationships.

  1. Foster emotional intimacy. Agree on a habit of checking in with one another each day. How was your day? How are you feeling? (Don’t ask the tired parent who has been at home with the kids, “What did you do today?”).
  2. Show your affection. Express your positive feelings. Remember that Negativity Bias: you have to say 5 positive for every negative comment just to come out neutral. Think about that before you criticize your partner or your kids.
  3. Schedule regular dates. Commit your time to what and who matters most to you. Don’t wait ‘til there’s time; make time.
  4. Communicate in a healthy way. Take a breath and let anger cool before you react. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings and point of view. Express how you feel without blame.

Before you open your mouth, carefully consider your words. Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?

This Saturday, I’ll be enjoying a nice dinner with my wife before watching a play. It won’t be a celebration of Valentine’s Day but rather our relationship.

Posted in Love | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You Belong Here: the Positive Potential of Our Community

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

When my kids were young, the happiest place on Earth (besides home) was Disneyland.

Now that that they’re in their twenties, our favourite place for a grown-up family vacation is Hawaii.

Though we’re all Vancouver-born, Hawaiians treat us as if we were born there and speak only English (and a bit of Hawaiian) to us. Families with mixtures of all ethnicities are welcome. It feels like home.

Alesund, Norway

Alesund, Norway

We had a different experience travelling with cousins last August in Norway. In a public square of shops in the seaside town of Alesund, we saw a teacher talking to a group of high school students. For a moment, I thought they were talking about us.

Later it felt that they were all watching us. Finally, we learned that their assignment was to take photos of tourists . . . and those of us who looked Chinese or half-Chinese stood out.

An hour later, while walking around the harbour, we were approached by a motorboat with two elementary school boys. They pointed at us, laughed and mockingly made the gesture of bowing in the stereotypical Asian fashion.

The next day, in Bergen Norway, we ascended Mount Floyen, and on the peak was a sign proudly announcing nine recently born goats. Each had been given a name, and the black goat was named Obama.

Mount Floyen, Norway 1

Mt Floyen, Bergen, Norway

 

Mount Floyen, Norway 2

Mt Floyen, Bergen, Norway

We didn’t stay long enough in the country to find out if racist attitudes are endemic or if people just don’t realize what demeaning public signs say about them.

An abiding sense of belonging is one of the social determinants of physical and emotional health. It is a shared responsibility. As a society and community, we need to reach out to every member of the community and ensure all are supported in health and wellbeing. It takes a village to care for every person within it.

As individuals, we share a responsibility to connect to and support one another. In many neighbourhoods and particularly in apartment buildings, many do not feel a sense of belonging or connection.

We tend to see other people as The Other – a person who is different, strange, threatening or less than us. We can pre-judge others whom we don’t know based on their accents, skin colour, clothing, body shape and gender.

We can make broad, sweeping and inaccurate assumptions based on outward appearances alone. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to connect on a truly human level. We sell ourselves short, and we all miss out.

Here’s an exercise that I’ve introduced at some of my public workshops. Participants turn around to face a stranger and after smiling but without talking, they are instructed to look into the eyes of the other as I say these words. You can try this out now but imagine you are facing another person you’ve seen in your neighbourhood whom you don’t yet know.

“This person was once a baby, loved and held in the arms of parents . . . just like you. This person was once a child with hopes and dreams . . . just like you. This person has felt alone and sad, heartbroken and disappointed . . . just like you. This person just wants to be happy . . . just like you.”

We are all a part of a greater whole, members of a family supported by a network of friends, neighbours and peers. We are part of a community, citizens of this country and members of humankind, connected to all living things, a part of nature and this planet.

My dream for a healthier community and society is for every individual to hear and believe the words, “You belong here.”

Next Saturday, February 9th, I’ll be speaking at New Westminster’s Century House to celebrate Inspiration Day. For more information, please call (604) 519 1066.

inspiration-day

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise column appears in the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.

Posted in Compassion, Empathy, Positive Potential, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HOW to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

IMG_7847

Since its debut in 1944, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has been a bittersweet favourite of the holiday season. In the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland sang it to cheer up Maureen O’Brien before the family’s plan to move to a new town.

The song evokes the mixture of emotions the holidays bring.

But how can we each find more happiness and peace in a season of stress and sometimes sadness?

1. Manage your expectations. As a kid with very specific requests for Santa, I made myself miserable on at least a few Christmases past when I didn’t get exactly what I wanted.

I soon learned that my parents and Santa didn’t always give us what we want but they knew what we really needed.

I eventually learned that the key to enjoying holidays with the people I loved was to appreciate their presence and our relationships. Presents – and the thought and care they represent – are just reflections of love.

2. Look for the light. Mankind has survived (so far) because of our brain’s negativity bias. Picking out what’s odd, wrong or dangerous, helped our ancestors survive.

But our brains still maintain this Negativity Bias. As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson has said, our brains are Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.

The Negativity Bias helps us avoid danger but makes us miserable. We emphasize what’s wrong with our lives (and other people) and dismiss the positive. Not only do we see the cup half full but we come across too critical of others.

One key to happier relationships is to look for the positive in each other and express our appreciation. We need to look for and express at least five positives for each negative just to come out even.

If we all remembered this, we’d think twice before making another negative comment.

Look for the best in your circumstances and the people around you. These include the qualities and kindnesses we take for granted – the very things we may miss looking back from the future. Are we missing out on enjoying the “good old days” while they’re still here?

The holidays are an opportunity to express our appreciation for those who make a difference in our lives. Putting into words the affection we feel may be the best gifts.

3. Make allowance for the expected challenges of the season. There will be heavy traffic, little parking, long lineups, items out of stock and lots of Christmas music. We are part of the traffic and the crowds; we’re all in this together. Strike up a friendly conversation with those in line with you. Bring your own playlist and sing along while you wait in traffic.

4. Remember the three potential solutions to a challenging situation: leave it, change it or reframe it.

No one deserves abusive relationships but many need help to get away safely.

Assuming there is no abuse, before an argument has you walking out of a family dinner, might you be able to transform the situation through new ways of relating?

Wrapping and framing make a world of a difference. A good frame and border can bring out the best in a painting. Pretty wrapping can make a gift all the more special.

The most challenging people come from a place of suffering: their home. The rest of their family suffer. They have to live with themselves 24/7.

5. Define your mission.

During the holidays, we can get distracted by the busyness, mixed emotions and difficult relationships. Some of us are missing loved ones no longer with us; I miss my mother most at this time.

Some of us have no one with whom to spend the holidays. Remember them and reach out with compassion where you can.

What is your personal mission for the holidays? Getting everything done and avoid going (deeper) into debt? Just surviving? Avoiding recurring family arguments?

My wish for you this holiday season is health and happiness. May we appreciate our imperfect but lovable human selves, fully present to one another as we celebrate our connections.

Accept the unique and precious gift of this season though at first it may seem routine. Our loved ones’ most irritating quirks are the qualities we may miss when they are no longer in our lives. Love them today.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Posted in Christmas, Compassion, Coping with Loss, Happiness | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Root Cause of the Problems of the World: A Limited Sense of Self

Tapestry Talk

What might be the root cause of the great problems of the world: poverty, homelessness, crime, violence, war, racism, discrimination, hunger and global climate change?

I contend that it is a case of mistaken identity: a false sense of self.

We each see ourselves as separate individuals – single selves distinct from other human beings, our neighbours, nature and the world. And with this illusion, we seek first what is best for our selves.

Even in our most significant relationships, discord arises with our differing views and competing needs; love and good will can be displaced by anger and resentment.

From the vantage of our separate selves, we create the illusion of the Other.

We can judge others in an instant, emphasizing differences (gender, age, body shape, colour, ethnicity and accent) with which we categorize them into groups of others.

They are then seen as competitors, enemies or threats whom we regard with fear, anger and hatred. Often we simply ignore them and treat their unmet needs and rights with apathy.

These attitudes widen the gulf between us and ultimately contribute to the problems of the world.

How can we close this gap and create a more cohesive community?

  1. We must first recognize that every human being has a personal story but also the same fundamental needs as you. We all need food, clothing, freedom, education, safe housing, meaningful activity and a sense of belonging.

We each share the same range of emotions. We all have our dreams and goals. We have all experienced disappointment, loss and heartache. We all want to be happy.

Only by seeing beyond our personal prejudices and recognizing the three-dimensional human being behind outward appearances can we foster empathy and care.

  1. We must recognize our shared connection and interdependency. None of us can survive without others. We take for granted public education, healthcare, safe streets and neighbourhoods. These are the products of the ongoing planning and work of countless individuals working for the greater good. Consider all the people who have contributed to you having food on your table – from farms to processing plants to warehouses and to stores.
  2. We must identify our shared challenges and not blame others as the enemy or the scapegoat. The problems in our community, including homelessness, hunger, injustice and crime, can only be solved with our collective creativity and collaboration.
  3. We can then begin building and strengthening our personal and social connections. This requires the support of our institutions, including our government, but it begins with each of us.

Where is the need? Who among us feels alone and needs help? What can we do together?

What is a stranger? Someone you don’t yet know.

When you are irritated by the lineups and crowds in the shopping mall or the traffic on our roads, ask yourself “What is a crowd?” and “What is traffic?” Lots of people just like you. You are part of the crowd and traffic.

When you ask “What is the world coming to?”, ask “What is the world?” You are. We are the world.

You are not just an individual. You are an integral part of a greater whole – a partnership and a family, a network of friends and a community, a part of humanity, nature and the world.

On Thursday, December 6th, 2018, I’ll be giving a free talk at the Bonsor Recreation Centre in Burnaby from 7 to 8:30 pm. The topic: The Positive Potential of Your Relationships. I’ll discuss how healthy relationship and social connections are essential to your happiness and wellbeing; the qualities of healthy relationships; recognizing and managing challenges, and how we can foster a greater sense of belonging and connectedness in our community. It’s part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients health education program. To register, email Leona at lcullen@divisionsbc.caor call (604) 259-4450.

 

 

Posted in Burnaby Division of Family Practice, Compassion, Empowering Healthcare, empowering patients, Friendship, Healthy Living, Relationships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Your Health Depends on Your Relationships

 

Burnaby WWYD 1

What determines your health and happiness?

We know that it is much more than timely access to a good healthcare system. In the 2009 report of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Health, only 25 per cent of the health of the population was attributable to the health care system, 15 per cent was due to individual biology (i.e. genetics) and 10 per cent to environmental.

The remaining 50 per cent was due to a variety of social determinants, including poverty, work conditions, housing, diet and community factors.

One of the key determinants of physical and emotional health – and therefore, happiness itself – is our sense of belonging – our connection with our community.

Among the interesting findings of the 2013 My Health My Community survey were the responses to two questions addressing social connectedness. Only 45% of residents in metropolitan Vancouver had four or more people to confide in; 6% of residents had no one. Only 56% of metropolitan Vancouver residents felt a strong sense of community belonging. Not surprisingly, recent immigrants had lower rates of community belonging.

What can we do to nurture our social connections at a personal and community level and improve both our personal health and happiness and that of everyone in our community?

On an individual level, we could make our relationships a priority. Of course, at the end of every life, it is our relationships that were primal. Yet we all tend to take our most important relationships for granted.

Without daily care and attention, we can fall into conflict, become distant and neglect our most important partners in health and wellbeing. We spend more time and attention invested in work, school, personal goals and entertainment; they can take over our daily lives, leaving little for what and who matters most.

We must prioritize time each week and every day for the people in our lives. We must nurture positive interactions to offset our human brains’ natural negativity bias.

As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson has said, our minds are Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. We hear criticisms and demands from others more loudly than affection and appreciation.

Your child, friend and partner need to hear five positive comments to balance out one negative just to come out even.

We need real – not electronic – face time with one another. Our lasting happiness has nothing to do with experiencing transient pleasures and acquiring more material things. Happiness can only be enjoyed in the moments we are fully present, connected with our lives and the people that are an integral part of it.

You are not just an individual. You are part of a greater whole – a partnership and a family, a network of friends and a community, a part of humanity, nature and the world.

We can help others feel more connected in our community by getting to know our neighbours, recognizing what we have in common and offering assistance when and where it is needed.

As a community – at work or school, in our neighbourhoods, and in our church and social groups – what are we doing and what can we do to reach out and connect with others? We are all a part of a greater whole, and we each play a role in the health and wellbeing of our community.

On Thursday, December 6th, 2018, I’ll be giving a free talk at the Bonsor Recreation Centre in Burnaby from 7 to 8:30 pm. The topic: The Positive Potential of Your Relationships. I’ll discuss how healthy relationship and social connections are essential to your happiness and wellbeing; the qualities of healthy relationships; recognizing and managing challenges, and how we can foster a sense of belonging and connectedness in our community. It’s part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients health education program. To register, email Leona at lcullen@divisionsbc.caor call (604) 259-4450.

IMG_7694

Posted in Burnaby Division of Family Practice, Empowering Healthcare, empowering patients, Healthy Living, Positive Potential, Preventive Health, Relationships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Keys to a Better Hospital Stay

Illnesses and accidents are unpredictable and we can’t always predict when we may end up in a hospital. Here are some tips to prepare and how to maintain a sense of control in the mysterious world of the hospital.

PREPARING FOR YOUR HOSPITAL VISIT

  1. Always wear clean underwear but don’t count on it staying clean if you’re surprised by an accident.
  2. Don’t miss an opportunity to use a washroom.
  3. Remember to wash your hands!

 

WHAT TO PACK

Essential Medical Information

  1. Your Medical History A one-page summary should include: allergies, chronic conditions, past illnesses and surgery, and family medical history
  2. Your Medicationsdrug name, dose, directions

and reason for taking it

e.g. Brand name: Tylenol

Generic name: acetaminophen

Dose: 325 mg

Directions: one tablet twice daily

Reason: for knee pain

  1. Your Preferences: An Advance Directive is a statement of what kind of medical care you would want in the event that you are unable to make your own decisions.

What procedures do you want?

What procedures do you refuse?

Under what conditions?

Who do you choose to make decisions for you?

e.g. You may not wish to have CPR (chest compressions, assisted breathing, a tube down your throat, electric paddles on the chest) if you had an irreversible, terminal condition with no hope for a return to an acceptable quality of life (by your standards).

You may not wish to be kept alive on machines if you were in a persistent coma with no hope of recovery.

TIPS:

Always plan in advance.

Talk it over with your family and friends (to avoid difficult family conflicts).

Choose someone you trust to respect your wishes.

Inform your doctor.

Put it in writing.

For more information: google “My Voice”

http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2013/MyVoice-AdvanceCarePlanningGuide.pdf

 

Comfort Items ear plugs, music, reading, word puzzles, eye mask for sleeping, toothbrush and paste, warm socks, non-slip slippers, a sweater

 

To Keep You Oriented a calendar,a quiet inexpensive clock

 

For Communication a pad of paper, pens, your glasses, hearing aid and teeth

 

What NOT to bring expensive jewelry, watches, electronics, wallets, purses, credit cards, your nicest clothes and shoes, and other prized possessions

 

Don’t bother with perfume or cologneYour neighbours may have allergies and respiratory problems

 

3 KEYS TO A BETTER HOSPITAL STAY

  1. Stay in control (and informed)

4 Things you need to know about every test, procedure and treatment

  1. The purpose or reason
  2. Common side effects or risks
  • Serious side effects or risks
  1. Alternatives (e.g. other treatments)
  2. Know your team
  3. Ask for each person’s name and role

(e.g. nurse, respiratory technician, dietician, physiotherapist, occupational therapist)

or specialty (e.g. family physician, hospitalist, surgeon, internist)

  1. Ask who is your attending or most responsible physician
  2. Set up a channel of communication

Prepare your list of questions.

Find out when your attending doctor will visit.

Key questions: What is the plan? The working diagnosis? The schedule of tests or procedures?

The results of tests? The expected day of discharge?

 

This information could be shared on a WHITE BOARD in your room or a large pad of paper at your bedside.

 

Make sure your family doctor knows you are in hospital and that hospital reports are sent to the office He or she can provide important medical information to your hospital care team

Preparing for Your Hospital Stay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cR0qs4lY19Q&feature=youtu.be&list=PLAWTWe0JNCdHrKBo0F03pjLdDeENFrctX

Three Keys to Improving Your Hospital Stay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1t3qDTQ48I&index=2&list=PLAWTWe0JNCdHrKBo0F03pjLdDeENFrctX

The Lonely Patient’s Guide to Hospital Land  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu08JBbNKe8&list=PLAWTWe0JNCdHrKBo0F03pjLdDeENFrctX&index=3

 

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

                

Posted in Burnaby Division of Family Practice, Medical Ethics, patient-doctor relationship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment