Happiness Purpose Your Calling

A Hundred Days to Happiness #90: The Incredible Hero in You

One of my favourite Disney movies is “The Incredibles.” It’s about a family – a mom and dad and their two school aged kids, living a typical suburban life.

Each has superpowers but they live ordinary lives nonetheless. Ultimately, a crisis arises and each must use their unique powers to save one another – and of course – the world.

We love movies like this because they echo the deeper truth in heroic mythology. Myths are not factually true, but they reawaken psychological truth.

This is the truth: each of us has a unique potential in life. It arises by the rich interplay of our genes, experiences, relationships and personalities. We feel most fulfilled and we are most engaged in life when we are expressing our unique potentials in the living of our daily lives.

The rules of society that ensure order, safety, respect and care for all of its members are essential, but most of us accept limiting norms that prevent us from expressing our unique positive potentials.

In an ordinary life, we do what we are expected to do and we settle into a job that pays the bills and allows us to work until retirement. To find fulfillment in life, we must live the extraordinary life. We begin a quest of discovery – for meaning in our lives and for our own unique potentials.  Finally, we will answer the call to use our unique talents and passions to meet the needs of the world. This is the hero’s journey, and it belongs to you and me.

Your happiness exercise:  You don’t want to be a hero because you need a little more excitement in your life, but you must recognize your unique role in your world.  How can you best engage your deepest passions and greatest strengths to meet the needs you see around you?

What are you passionate about? What are your strengths? What does the world need? What does it ask of you today?

To live an extraordinary life, answer the call.

Happiness Positive Potential Purpose Uncategorized Your Calling

A Hundred Days to Happiness #89: Answering the Call

In his classic book, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell poignantly described the common tragedy of the refusal of the call:

“Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless – even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire of renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his Minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.” (from The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, Copyright 2004 by Princeton University Press)

Though this may sound bleak, it is sadly the norm.

Most of us settle in life. We may compromise our values because of peer pressure, parental influence, desperate conditions, comfort, pleasure, our own self-interests and egos. We take the job that is not our dream and we stay there. We follow someone else’s path and never find our own way.

We settle for passionless relationships and superficial friendships. We work for money, and we just survive. We buy things to satisfy a deeper need, but our needs are never satisfied. We seek thrills to feel alive, but those feelings fail to last. We remain empty and unfulfilled.

It is the exceptions who shine among us. They are the people who exude joy and enjoy near limitless energy in their day’s work. For them, such work is like play because it is their mission and their passion.

You know where they stand because they know who they are. Their words and actions are aligned with their beliefs. They exemplify integrity.

You are transformed by their presence because they are fully present. They are free from the burdens of the past that would hold us back – past pain and loss, unforgiven or unexpressed. They are not consumed with our anxiety for the future because they know that their life and their power is in the present.

Life remains an adventure – one in which they are fully engaged. It is a story which they coauthor, a work of art that they create.

They live for something greater than themselves, and this leads them in growth beyond their smaller selves and on a journey in which they will discover a profoundly deeper sense of self. They have heeded the call to live – the purpose of their lives, and they rise to meet the call of the moment and of each day.

Your exercise in happiness: Are you one of the few? Have you heeded the call?

What is your calling? What has your life said to you so far? What themes repeatedly arise in your life and in your relationships?

What do you need to do to feel complete? What holds you back from doing this?

Coming up: You – the hero of your own life story.

Happiness Meditation Your Calling

A Hundred Days to Happiness #88: The Joy in Giving

Giving is the 8th choice in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks’ book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories”. They define giving as “the choice to share yourself with friends and community and to give to the world at large without the expectation of a “return”.

They discuss the ideas of the 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who felt the highest level of giving was to provide to those in need that which will make them self-sufficient. Examples of this would be mentoring and teaching others a trade, a skill or an education. It can be the gift of your time and attention to make someone else stronger. These are the gifts that will last a lifetime. They may outlive us and be given forward to others and down to future generations.

This is the joy in teaching. I know this first hand as a father, physician and teacher. My children may not remember every word of wisdom I’ve preached to them, but they will never forget the skills that I taught them. Of my three children, only one of them doesn’t remember the moment I let go of the bike and they peddled alone on two wheels, but my amnestic son loves cycling the most and will never forget how to ride. I taught them to read and to draw and to make up stories from their imagination. My joy is in seeing their joy in mastery.

I love teaching medical students. These intelligent young people are brimming with enthusiasm for practical knowledge, clinical skills and complementary ways of helping their future patients. I love to share the intrinsic rewards of our profession – the depth of the patient-doctor relationship and the satisfaction of making a positive difference in the lives of others. Inspiring future doctors invigorates my own work.

One of the greatest joys is in teaching patients new ways to look at their lives and showing them new approaches to their life’s challenges. This could be showing a patient with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma how they can take charge of their own health through knowledge of their condition and its treatment with lifestyle and medications. This could be teaching them meditation or cognitive therapy to master their own thoughts and emotions.

Maimonides’s second highest level of giving is anonymous giving – giving without recognition and with no expectation of reward. Whenever I donated blood, I would send out a prayer of health to the person who will one day receive the blood draining from my arm. On Saturday, May 7th the Canadian Blood Services is hosting their “Thanks Mom Stem Cell Drive”. At Burnaby’s Metropolis in Metrotown, any healthy person aged 17 to 50 can register to be a potential stem cell donor with a simple cheek swab. By registering, you could one day be called to donate stem cells in a process similar to a blood donation if you are a match for someone who could be facing a life-threatening condition such as lymphoma, leukemia or other blood diseases. For more information, check the websites at or

One of my favourite ways to give of oneself is to answer the call on a daily basis. I believe we each have a calling – a great purpose in our lives, and that calling is the intersection of our talents and passions with the needs of the world.

Yet if we approach each day with open eyes and an open heart, we will see many big and small ways we can make a difference in the lives of the people we meet each day.

Your happiness exercise: Move through this day with open eyes and an open heart. Look for ways you can use your unique talents and resources to help someone who needs it. It can be a kind word, a generous act or a helping hand. For extra happiness points, you could even do it anonymously!

Approach every day like this, always asking, “How can I make a positive difference today?” I feel this is the greatest way to seize the day.

Happiness Positive Potential Purpose Your Calling Your Goals

A Hundred Days To Happiness #87: Follow Your Bliss

Before I was born, my parents – both Canadian born – decided that they would not teach their children to speak Chinese. Times were different. They had grown up when Canadian society was less tolerant. There were few Chinese in Burnaby, and there didn’t seem to be much value in mastering a foreign language.

They wanted us to speak perfect English. So we never learned Chinese. Though I’ve been called a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) by Chinese-speaking Chinese and I can’t order much beyond Combo Meal A in a Chinese restaurant, my brother, sister and I learned to express ourselves, our thoughts and our feelings.

Our home was filled with books and magazines. Eventually, I read every book in the house including every volume of the World Book encyclopedia.

Once I had exhausted our home library, I started cycling to the Burnaby Public Library. Like my mom, I would reach my card’s borrowing limit each week. I learned how to juggle, perform classical magic tricks, tie knots, do calligraphy, draw anything I saw and do mental calculations.

But the books that had the greatest impact on prepubescent me were books on philosophy and the great works of fiction. These were filled with perspective-shifting, life-changing words. Once you see through a new lens, you and the world never look the same.

I was inspired by great writers, and I hoped one day I could write words that would open minds, lift spirits and inspire.

One writer whose books had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Campbell, the mythologist featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS television series, “The Power of Myth.”  Campbell highlighted the common themes in the myths and legends of all human cultures and how they really speak to our personal journeys through life.

Joseph Campbell’s famous commandment to each of us was “Follow your bliss.”

Your happiness exercise: What does it mean to follow your bliss? To discover that which gives you your greatest joy, deepest meaning and enduring happiness. It is what you were meant to do. It is your mission in life. It is the point of the story of your life.

Reflect on your life so far and your world today. At what times were you most engaged? What are your greatest talents? What does our world need?

If nothing occurs to you immediately, don’t fret. You have a lifetime to discover your life’s purpose, and we have different priorities, responsibilities and a unique calling at each stage of our lives.

If you already know your purpose, are you attending to it? Are you consumed each day with that which engages your spirit?

Coming up: Answering the call.

Happiness Your Calling Your Goals

A Hundred Days To Happiness #86: Being True To Your Self

Truthfulness is the 9th attitude cited by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks in their studies of extremely happy people and described in the book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices Of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories.”

They define truthfulness as “the choice to be honest with yourself and others in an accountable manner by not allowing societal, corporate or family demands to violate your internal contract.”

The truth is that all of us have been guilty at one time or another of not being totally honest with others and with ourselves. Sometimes we hide the truth to avoid embarrassment and sometimes for convenience. More poignantly, we may not see the truth ourselves.

Some of the saddest people I’ve known have lived pretend lives . . . which are not to be confused with dream lives. Couples may pretend to have a happy marriage – concealing the lack of intimacy or the reality of abuse. People may seem to be successful – but feel empty having ignored their personal passions and taken up a job they do not enjoy.

If we pursue a social or career path simply because of family or social expectations of us and without regard to where our deepest passions lie, we are destined to live an unfulfilled and unhappy life. We must first be true to ourselves – our deepest selves: our passions, our values and our dreams.

The truly happy people I have known exemplified integrity; they lived in perfect alignment. They were moved by their highest values and pursued their calling. Their actions and their words were aligned with their spirits.

I think Gandhi said it best:  “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”

Your happiness exercise: Check your alignment throughout the day. If you are feeling unsettled, anxious or sad, ask yourself if your words or actions are out of sync with your true self. What are your highest values? Are acting in accord with them? What are your greatest goals? Are your studies and your work today moving you closer to them?

Happiness The Qualities of a Child

A Hundred Days to Happiness #85: Appreciation – Enjoying What You Have Today

The seventh attitude in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks book, “How We Choose to Be Happy: the 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories” is appreciation – “the choice to appreciate your life and the people in it and to stay in the present by turning each experience into something precious.”

I’ve written of the joys of being a parent and the special gift of seeing the world anew through the eyes of a child. We all start off living in the moment and being fully present in the here and now.

How much easier it is as a young toddler when the entire span of your past memories extends over two or three years. The clock ticks slowly, 5 minutes of sitting still feels like hours and a summer seems to last a lifetime.

As we grow up and grow older, we accumulate a past. Our minds return to that past, cherishing the good old times, rehashing our worst experiences, recalling past hurts, regrets and losses. The past can hold us back from enjoying the present, and the more time we spend preoccupied with the past, the more we lose out on the present, which soon slips into the past – another moment lost.

Along with the responsibilities of adulthood, come worries, and our anxieties again draw us away from the present and into the imagined future. This becomes another distraction from the enjoyment of the present.

We live in the present, and we can only be happy in the present.

Your happiness exercise: Appreciate the gifts in this day. You will never again be as young as you are today, but don’t waste a moment worrying about it; rejoice in your “youth”! Do today, what you may not be able to do tomorrow.

Appreciate the people you love in your life today. Leave nothing important unsaid. It doesn’t hurt to say “I love you” again. Spend more time with the people you love to be with, and don’t waste one moment arguing about something that won’t make a difference a year from now.

Today, resolve to be as present as possible as you create memories that you will cherish in the future.

Growth Happiness

A Hundred Days to Happiness #84: Options for Happiness – Open Your Eyes to the Gifts in Life

We teach our kids to plan and work for their future but remind them that their journeys through life will not always go as planned. They will meet roadblocks in the form of unexpected challenges and detours that at first may bring disappointment.

In life, we won’t get everything we expect and ask for. Often, we get what we don’t deserve – both good and bad.

Life is a gift but it’s like a gift from a best friend or a wise parent, uncle or aunt who knows what you need and knows you better than you know yourself.

It is like a carefully wrapped present. You have to open it with curious expectations and a sense of adventure. It won’t be what it appears to be. It won’t be what you expect. You may find tickets in a jewellery box or a bracelet in a shoe box. For sure, you’ll be surprised.

When you finally open it and it’s not what you think, at first you might be disappointed, but ultimately it will be of great value, just what you need to grow and to discover greater happiness, and something to be treasured.

Too often we don’t recognize or appreciate the unexpected gifts in our lives. It’s as if you received a gift card to the spa, tickets to a great show or a certificate for music lessons that we leave in a box on the shelf, forgotten and unused: potential experiences, lessons and happiness never realized and forever lost.

Enjoy the gift of your life. See the relationships of the past as gifts. What were you lucky to have and to enjoy? What came without you deserving it? What did you learn? How did you grow?

What do you have today? What blessings can you count? What do you have today that you didn’t really earn, that you didn’t really ask for but you have nonetheless to enjoy at this moment?

Each morning, you might have expectations about what the day will bring, but be open to the surprises: the unexpected challenges and detours. Expect your journey through each day not to be a straight line. Look at the new opportunities for adventure, learning and happiness that open up at every corner and with each turn.

Expect the unexpected. Expect to be surprised.

And when you receive those gifts, unwrap them fully, appreciate them and use them right away. The best way to show your appreciation for special gifts is to use them right away, and the most gracious thing to do in life is to give forward.

When it comes to the luck and the love in our lives, it’s more than okay to regift.

The sixth choice in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks book, “How We Choose to Be Happy: the 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories” is options – “the decision to approach life by being open to any new possibilities and taking a flexible approach to life’s journey.”

The key is to look for the multiple options open to you each day, to see them as gifts and to use them well to grow and realize greater happiness.

Accept, embrace and engage in the mystery and adventure of your life.

Next: The seventh attitude of extremely happy people – appreciation.

Coping with Loss Emotions Growth Happiness

A Hundred Days to Happiness: Recasting – Finding Meaning in Misery

Most would agree it’s easier to be happy when life is going well.

We can understand when those who have suffered great loss or trauma remain unhappy, angry or negative. Yet I am inspired by my patients who appear to have grown stronger and indeed happier after enduring great hardship, disability, trauma and loss.

Both my parents grew up in poverty. My father in Cumberland’s Chinatown lost his father by age 5. My mother – growing up in Vancouver with her brothers and sisters – was orphaned at age 9. She and her siblings struggled to keep the family together, clothed and fed. Her traumatic losses and challenges strengthened my mom and reinforced her commitment to family.

I always remembered my mom as a happy person who took responsibility not only for her own happiness but also for spreading more happiness in her world. My dad remains an ever cheerful and happy man.

The exceptionally happy people interviewed in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks’ book, “How We Choose to Be Happy: the 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories” confronted their emotions through difficult times and found ways to recast tragedy and trauma into happiness and growth.

Foster and Hicks defined this process as recasting – “the choice to convert problems into opportunities and challenges and to transform trauma into something meaningful, important and a source of emotional energy.”

They used the term recasting with the metaphor of a steel mill. When confronted by the harsh reality of unchangeable circumstances – the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship and losing your job, we can choose to fully experiencing the fire of our difficult emotions and forge a greater sense of meaning in life.

It’s crucial to allow ourselves to fully experience the depths of our negative emotions – sadness, loss, anxiety and anger, but we don’t have to express them in negative ways. All our feelings require acknowledgement before we can work through them and either allow them to dissipate or transform them in a positive direction.

We have to process our normal emotional responses to the inevitable setbacks, obstacles, losses and traumas of human life. Suppressed emotions inevitably resurface in both predictable and unpredictable ways.

Recasting past and current losses and challenges is not easy. We have to confront our emotions and take the time to fully process and work through them. We have to reflect on our experiences and ask what we can learn – about ourselves and about our lives.

We may then find ways to make positive changes and move forward in our lives.

Next post: Options – being open to new possibilities.

Happiness Uncategorized Your Calling Your Goals

A Hundred Days To Happiness: Centrality – Putting Happiness First

In life and in practice, hope is essential.

Physicians have to walk with careful balance when delivering a guarded prognosis. We must always tell the truth but endeavor not to steal hope. Without hope, many would give up completely and fail to enjoy the potential of the days that remain.

Hope for a better life helps us endure difficult times. Take Snow White as an example. She endured years of housework with no end in sight. Imagine how long it took to clean a castle – with no running water and no vacuum cleaner! Compared to this, cooking and cleaning up after seven old men was a piece of cake. What kept her going was her optimism and the hope that someday her prince will come. (For the other side of happily ever after, see my April 11th post at

I was taught to defer gratification and do what had to be done first. As a child, I would eat my vegetables first – even the Lima beans – before I would touch the parts of the meal I enjoyed the most. I would never dream of starting with dessert.

The qualities of self-control and self-discipline help us through a long course of study and the training required to achieve our goals. Adults, unfortunately, often fall into the trap of deferring infinitely.

We can awaken mid-career – or even worse in retirement – realizing that we had denied ourselves of our greatest dreams and along the way, a lifetime of happiness.

Centrality is the fourth principle in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks’ book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories.” They define this as “the nonnegotiable insistence on making that which creates happiness central in your life.”

This is not the same as wasting our youth partying and drinking, abusing street drugs and engaging in reckless sex. It’s not spending all your money on whatever you want today or blowing what you’ve saved for your kids’ education on a weekend in Vegas.

The principle of centrality is the act of putting what truly makes you happy in your life today. Remember the list of the things that bring you happiness? Centrality makes that list your to-do list for this week – not next year or some day. Too often, some day never comes.

What are your dreams for your relationships, for better health and for fulfilling work? Why hold back on taking the first steps towards what you value most today?

What activities do you enjoy the most? With whom do you love to spend time? Why not do some of your favourite activities with people you love each day?

What have you always wanted to do or always wanted to be? We can each come up with a long list of practical excuses (i.e. not enough time or money, our responsibilities and obligations, fear of failure, fear of disappointing others), but that list of excuses will certainly be outweighed by the prospect of never being fully happy and living the rest of our days unfulfilled.

Your happiness exercise: Do at least one thing today that brings you great happiness. Take a good look at your greatest dreams. Do they still reflect your deepest values and your true identity? If so, ask yourself when you plan to start living those dreams.

Happiness Your Calling Your Goals

A Hundred Days To Happiness: What Makes You Happy?

The third principle identified by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks in their book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories” is identification.

They define this as “the ongoing process of looking deeply within yourself to assess what makes you uniquely happy, apart from what you’re told by others should make you happy.”

At first this may seem basic and simple – until you look at the qualifiers. The things that will bring happiness to you are not exactly the same as those that will bring happiness to someone else. Too often we assume as our own the dreams of others.

I would love each of my children to find the fulfillment I have discovered in my career and calling but I would not want any of them to become physicians or writers unless they found their own passions in those roles. Each of us has a unique potential in life. Part of the joy is the journey to discover that potential, learning from our experiences, making our own choices and listening to our deepest passions.

When parents dictate the career path of their children, they hold them back from discovering their own unique potentials. When my wife’s nephew graduated from high school, he wanted to study film. His parents insisted that he study commerce and someday when he’s made enough money, he can do what he wants. It’s the perfect setup for eventual job dissatisfaction or a midlife crisis.

Sometimes we discover in the course of life that we have outgrown our former dreams. For most of us, it is difficult to decide at age 17 what we wish to do for the rest of our lives. We have to be open to life while listening to our deepest desires. Determining what brings us happiness is a dynamic and evolving process.

It takes humility and courage to realize that what you have been pursuing is not what you really want, change courses and commit yourself to discovering greater happiness. I admire my colleagues who maintain their passion in caring for their patients, but I also admire my classmate in our first year at med school who, in spite of being the daughter of a physician, decided that medicine was not for her and left the faculty.

Too often we accept how advertising and entertainment influence what we think will bring us happiness: beautiful partners, the latest technology, exotic vacations, fast cars, movie star lifestyles and big homes. Magazine covers set a standard for desire that few of us will ever attain: six-pack abs, perfect figures and flawless beauty.

This can set us up for failure . . . and disappointment.

When we are unhappy after getting what we want, we realize that what we had wanted was not what we needed to be happy.  What we each need to do is to take a deep honest look into our own hearts and ask, “What brings me happiness?”

Foster and Hicks recommend the exercise of creating your personal dream list. In answer to the question, “What really makes me happy?”, write a list of everything that comes to mind. They then advise reviewing your list and distinguishing those items that reflect who you really are from those that were borrowed from or dictated by others.

They recommend asking yourself a similar question when you need to make decisions. What choices will make you happiest?

Next post: the principle of centrality – making happiness your priority.