We devote so much of our souls in the pursuit of happiness. Yet we often mistake happiness to be represented by a place in the future (or past) when we have that perfect mate, job, child, house, or the next new thing. Sometimes we define happiness in the negative – when we will be free of the drudgery of a dead-end job, school, debt, growing up, or living with people who drive us nuts.
Such happiness is illusory. Real happiness is within your reach today, and part of the secret lies in a not so secret phrase.
At the entrance of my workplace are inscribed the words, “Carpe diem.” This Latin aphorism, taken from one of Horace’s Odes, reminds me of the fleeting gift of each day and my responsibility to make the most of it.
When I would drive all three of my children to the same elementary school, I wouldn’t let them out of the car without the benediction to make the most of the day. They knew that at dinnertime I would ask how they had fared in my challenge to meet three personal tasks: help someone else, learn something new, and have fun.
To seize the day is to appreciate and make the most of the blessings, challenges and opportunities before you right now. What you see depends on your perspective. Look for the negative and you will find it. I have to remind patients who are rightly overwhelmed by the suffering caused by acute or chronic illness and disability that overall their health is good and that most of their bodily systems are working very well. They are still alive after all. We can then work together to do what we can to help them feel as healthy as possible and to improve their function at home, work or school.
The admonishment of carpe diem is as relevant to adults as it is to children and students of the classics.
Learn Something New
To learn is to grow, adapt, expand, evolve and change. We can expand in our awareness and in our abilities. It is a stretch towards our personal potentials. All of us can learn from the lessons of experience as well as adopt new skills in music, sports and crafts.
The best physicians learn from experience, educational rounds, journals and their patients. I am continually learning new skills and adopting improving practices to provide the best care to each patient.
I challenge myself physically, progressively improving my swimming technique, increasing my speed and endurance to discover my athletic potential. I nurture my creative spirit in music, art and writing. I am continually learning and growing.
And in the process of learning, discovery and becoming, I have found happiness. As my friend, Stan says, happiness is a byproduct.
To be a daily learner, we must be open to the wonder in the world of knowledge and the precious individuals that share our lives. A learner’s mind and heart will be open to the change and evolution in our loved ones and see them as who they have become and not just who they were.
Help Someone Else
If we each cared only about our own interests, happiness will always elude us for our lives will never be perfect and we won’t come up ahead in the end. When our attention turns outward and success is no longer defined by our own personal advantage, our potential for lasting happiness expands.
Life becomes more purposeful, meaningful and fulfilling. We are well aware of our potential to harm others and our world, through ignorance, malice or self-interest. Yet we each have a tremendous potential to make the world a better place by making it better for others.
Of course, this is the nature of the work of firemen, health care workers, police officers, librarians, teachers and lifeguards. But it is also a capability and calling we are each given.
Each day, we have fleeting opportunities to help others in unique and special ways. It is therefore a daily calling to recognize another’s needs, consider what you can do, and seize the momentary window to do it. It can be a helping hand, a smile, a needed complement, an expression of appreciation, a word of comfort and encouragement, or an anonymous gesture of kindness.
It is more regretful to have given too little than too much, to let an opportunity for kindness slip by than to have seized it.
With compassionate giving, we can be happy as we bring happiness to others. We can make the world a better place for everyone.
To seize the day does not mean to take the money and run or to blindly pursue gratification. It is to enjoy and appreciate the pleasures of being a live human being today.
There are the simple pleasures of seeing beauty, enjoying our food and physical touch. These can be all the more significant and enjoyable when we are mindfully focused and remember that these gifts are just ours for the day and that we are mortal.
Regardless of age, we can remain open to new experiences.
Happiness is not a goal, place or time in the past or in the future. It is within your grasp this moment. Seize it today. Help someone else, learn something new, and have fun.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise Column appears in the Vancouver Courier and Burnaby Now.
His internet radio show, Positive Potential Medicine can be found at positivepotentialmedicine.pwrnradio.com.
You can find his tweets at twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and his posts at facebook.com/davidicus.wong