Why I Still Believe in Santa

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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.

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

Why I Still Believe in Santa

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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 in the Westside Post, Richmond News and Vancouver Courier. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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The Fast Choice is Rarely the Healthy Choice – for Your Relationships, Emotions and Body

As an intern in my twenties coming off a night of call with the weight of the hospital off my shoulders, I would crave for a hashbrown and Sausage McMuffin on my way home to sleep. Though my hunger was soon satisfied, I eventually recognized I wasn’t renewed by fast food and a quick nap.

We all know that fast food (processed, sugary, fried, fatty or salty) makes for poor fuel and nutrition. If we hold off the urge for a quick fix, we can let the craving pass and make a healthier choice.

The same holds for the other quick and convenient fixes that have become the habits and norms of daily life. Consider the “fast foods” of our friendships, activities, emotional needs and rest.

The Need for Real Friendships

A hundred Facebook friends or Instagram followers cannot replace a handful of good friends. You can have a long list of associates but most of us need just a few true blue friends for life.

Like fast food, fast friends may be interesting and fun, but they don’t provide the long term support and love we need over a lifetime. Your real friends are there when you need them, providing unconditional care.

They tell you what you need to hear – even if it’s not what you want to know. They see and bring out the best in you. Connecting through social media is no substitute for calling and meeting up with a best friend.

The Need for Meaningful Activity

Boredom can be quenched online. Binging on Netflix, watching endless YouTube videos and playing Candy Crush can fill the void with distraction. They consume attention and time but ultimately leave us wanting more.

Boredom signals for a need for challenge and meaning. Our brains were built to learn and our spirits crave for meaningful challenges. Satisfy your mind with new places and experiences. Enjoy the stimulation of a really good book.

The Need for Rest and Recreation

All work and no play make Jack and Jill burnt out.

We all need balance in our activities.

The internet is saturated with attention and time vampires. Another evening check of your phone or pad can lead to a late night. A Starbucks coffee or Tim’s double double are no substitutes for a good night’s sleep.

During a day of work or study, a change of pace with a walk, meditation or music can refresh you better than a shot of caffeine or nicotine. I’ve found that a quick lunchtime swim can energize a busy afternoon in the clinic.

The Need for Peace and Happiness

When you’re feeling down and distressed, what do you reach for?

It may be easiest to scroll through social media or play Candy Crush, vape, drink, smoke or get a dose of another favourite chemical. Again we may turn to our usual comfort foods.

Though these quick fixes may help us feel better for the moment, the effects are transient. None provide the lasting happiness or peace we really need.

Shopping in person and online may provide instant gratification but they ultimately leave us feeling empty. The joy of a new purchase never lasts.

What we ultimately need is meaningful activity and relationships. Take the time to reflect on where you devote your precious time and attention. Don’t settle for a quick fix.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His articles appear in the Vancouver Courier, The Westside Post and Richmond News.

Posted in Empowering Healthcare, Friendship, Happiness, Healthy Living, Positive Change, Preventive Health, Relationships, Self-care, Your Goals | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving and the Power of Appreciation

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What’s your favourite holiday?

If you ask kids this month, they are likely to answer “Hallowe’en!”

Mine is Thanksgiving.

Like Christmas, it’s a time we can gather with our loved ones and express appreciation for one another, but unless you’re American – or a Canadian who celebrates Black Friday, Thanksgiving does not require a frenzy of shopping.

And if you’re lucky enough to celebrate with a big family feast, you’re not likely to gain as much weight or drink too much as with the traditions of Christmas.

Thanksgiving prompts us to collectively reflect on the good in our lives – the many important people and things we take for granted. We don’t do this often enough.

The human brain has a natural negativity bias.

We notice more what is wrong than what is good.

We are attuned to pick up on things that are out of place or we just don’t like – in our environment, in others and in our selves. Noticing potential dangers or longing for things we lack had great survival value for our species but can make us overly anxious when our lives are generally safe – and unsatisfied when we really have enough.

Our negativity bias is great for business. What we have seems not enough, we crave for the new iPhone, new clothes and expensive rides. Consumerism capitalizes on our dissatisfaction with what we have and the commercial world convinces us that happiness is to be found in looking better and having more.

We can only be happy when we appreciate what we have today.

Our negativity bias, when it highlights danger and challenge and ignores our personal resources, can make us anxious. When it highlights what is wrong in our lives and ignores what is right, it can make us depressed.

That negativity bias is bad for relationships. Because children hear more criticism than complements, it erodes self-esteem and how they feel about their parents. When couples hear more words of complaint than affection, aversion overpowers attraction.

As a rule of thumb, the human brain must perceive five positives just to balance with one negative. I’ve asked couples and parents to come up with five positive comments for every criticism they express at home. They at first realize that it becomes such an effort to come up with so many positive comments that they hold their tongues with the negatives.

But in modern neuroscience, we know that we can change the way we think. As Canadian neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb said, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Once we start looking for more positives in others, the more we will see.

And when everyone in the family starts hearing more complements than criticisms, their relationships will improve and the home can become a haven of positive affection.

The gift of Thanksgiving is the power of appreciation. It’s an attitude and a perspective that can foster personal happiness and improve our relationships.

Appreciation – like love and forgiveness – is a twice-blessed gift. Expressing our appreciation for others makes us feel happier; feeling appreciated makes others happier.

This year, I’m starting a new Thanksgiving tradition by sending a note to the people in my life whom I most appreciate: those who make a positive difference to me and others.

I invite you to embrace the healing attitude of gratitude and start your own tradition. The best place to start is at home, in your neighbourhood, at school and at work.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in the Vancouver Courier.

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The Privilege and Joy of Parenting

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Fathers Day is not just a day to honour our dads (My own dad is my role model for kindness, generosity and resilience); it’s a time to remember the privilege and joy of being a parent.

This month, as my son turns 27, I recall that I was just three years older, when he came into this world and into our lives. He was due on our 3rdanniversary but came two days early. (I was looking up the traditional present for a 30thanniversary. Not silver, gold or diamonds but rather a medal my wife deserves . . . for all the times I’ve come home late for dinner or stepped out of social events to attend patients in hospital).

Though I was in the early years of my practice, I had already delivered hundreds of babies. Nearly three decades later, each birth seems no less transcendent; I appreciate the privilege of being a family physician and to be present during the spiritual milestones of my patients’ lives.

As new parents, our lives and identities were transformed much as they did with marriage. We were no longer just individuals or a couple, living only for ourselves. In a magical moment, we became parents . . . and a family, living beyond our own self-interests.

We were responsible for all of the needs of a precious child.

Being a parent is the greatest of gifts. From the moment of his birth, my life has been infused with new levels of joy, enhancing my experience of everyday life. I would come to see life through my son’s wide and curious eyes. The world was again teeming with wonder and adventure.

I became more mindful and present. Those ordinary parent-child activities – reading and drawing together, playing in the park, building sandcastles, going to the Vancouver Aquarium, riding the Stanley Park train, swimming and learning to ride a bike – were extraordinary. They remain vivid, palpable memories today.

We grow too as our children grow up. We learn patience, acceptance and most importantly unconditional love. We are given the honour to give forward the legacy of love we have received from our own parents.

And being loved by our children, motivates us to be our best selves that we may be exemplary role models and worthy of their love.

This Fathers Day, we will celebrate and thank our fathers – and graciously appreciate the joy and privilege of being parents.

 

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Remembering and Honouring Our Mothers

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Visiting the cemetery each week, reminds me of what matters most in life.

When we remember whom we have loved and lost, and recognize that all lives – even our own – will someday come to an end, the multitude of tasks that consume our days and the real and imagined dramas that engage our emotions are revealed as distractions from the marrow and meaning of life.

This time of the year has become bittersweet for myself and many others.

I remember my own mother who died suddenly in 2003, and I remember my patients who are mothers: young mothers fully engaged in the busiest, most stressful times of their lives looking after every detail of their infants’ and young children’s wellbeing; mothers of teens and young adults who will never stop giving and worrying about their children; and mothers with critical health conditions and whose remaining time with their families is painfully precious.

My mom was uniquely ethical and generous. She always did what she believed to be right and just, and she gave more than she got.

But when we think about it, giving more than you get is part of the lengthy job description of every mother. In spite of some progress in gender equality, mothers today still take on more than their share of maintaining the home and caring for their children.

Children can never pay back their mothers for the selfless care that began nine months before their births, continued through uncounted sleepless nights during infancy, a lifetime of meals prepared, and clothing purchased, picked up and laundered.

I appreciated how my mother loved and accepted me just as I was. She expected from her children a high standard of behaviour, but forgave us when we faltered. We didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. She saw the best in us and nurtured our potentials.

This day, let us remember and honour all mothers.

At my mother’s resting place, my sister and I chose these words, “Her legacy of love endures.” We honour our mother by giving forward to all whom we can touch with our lives, the love she gave to us and many others.

When you are being hard on yourself, judging yourself too harshly, beating yourself up for your failings or just think you’re not good enough, give to yourself what you need the most – a good dose of motherly self-compassion. Remember you were loved just the way you are and with the eyes of a good mother, you are beautiful.

Honour your mother by being the best version of yourself – and loving others as she has loved you.

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The Patient-Doctor Relationship in Family Practice

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In the office of my family practice, hidden from the view of patients, is a sign along the edge of the counter for my staff to see each day. “Treat every patient like family.”

It’s at the heart of our daily work: to give every individual the care and consideration we would want for a best friend or family member.

If you’re seeing unfamiliar healthcare providers and worry that they may have rushed to the wrong diagnosis, ask two questions. What else could it be? What’s the worse thing it could be?

This may open clinical minds prematurely closed with the pressure of time.

If you’re not sure about the management of your concern, ask, “What would you recommend to your mother (brother or child)?”

This might remind the healthcare provider what should be obvious – that you are a precious individual – someone else’s best friend and loved one.

I remember the moment I knew I wanted to be a doctor.

I was in grade 6 and hospitalized for a painful flare up of rheumatoid arthritis. On the pediatric ward of Burnaby Hospital, I felt that the caring nurses and doctors were treating me as a whole person and not just my condition, and I knew I wanted to do this work when I grew up.

The doctors seemed to have the easier job and it seemed that everything the doctors ever told me I had already read about in my family’s medical encyclopedia. That’s how I chose medicine.

I chose family practice though I considered paediatrics, obstetrics and psychiatry.

Family practice is a unique specialty. We don’t treat particular diseases or organ systems for a limited period of time. Rather we treat the whole person over many years. The family doctor sees the medical condition only in the context of the rest of the individual’s life including their important relationships.

I expected it to be a more satisfying calling, nurturing my relationship with each patient over time while working together in attending to that individual’s wellbeing. Guiding and advocating for my patients through health, illness, the ups and downs of their personal lives, we earn trust and confidence over many years.

I spend many hours each week counselling my patients through the challenging times in their lives. My clinic and sleep schedules are still interrupted by the delivery of babies. It is gratifying guiding patients I have known for years through the most exciting times in their lives: pregnancy, childbirth and the adventure of parenthood.

Family doctors specialize in the care of you, the whole person in the context of your life and relationships over a lifetime.

At 7 pm on Monday, April 29th, I’ll be presenting, “The Patient-Doctor Relationship: Getting the Most Out of Every Visit” at the Bob Prittie (Edmonds) Branch of the Burnaby Public Library. This free talk is part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients public health education series. I’ll discuss tips on how to work with your doctor to achieve your goals, the key information you need to know about every prescription, test and treatment, what you should know about your medical history, and the key screening tests adults should have at different ages. As space is limited, please register online bpl.bc.ca, at any BPL information desk or by phoning 604-436-5400.

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 Burnaby Division of Family Practice, Empowering Healthcare, empowering patients, patient-doctor relationship | 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.

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