Happiness Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose Your Calling

#24 Discovering your purpose in life

Sunset in La Puerta, Mexico by Nicole Kinnear
Sunset in La Puerta, Mexico by Nicole Kinnear

When I talk to my kids about their future careers, I know that what they decide to do with their lives will be shaped by their life experiences. Though they may have passion in a number of areas today, they will discover more of themselves as their lives unfold.

I draw for them three large circles analogous to the model used in the business classic, “From Good to Great”. In that book, Jim Collins asserted that great companies chose as their business the intersection of three great circles representing (1) what they did better than any other company, (2) what they were passionate about, and (3) the needs of the world.

I see potential in each of us, and when I look at my kids and talk to patients, both adolescents and adults at a crossroads in their lives, I draw them those three large circles.

The first circle represents your passions. What do you love to do? What would you be willing to do for free? What could you do for hours at a time and instead of feeling exhausted, you feel energized?

The second circle represents your talents. What do you do better than anyone else? What comes easiest to you? In what area of your life can you become great if you had the right training and put in enough practice?

The third circle represents the needs of the world. How can you use your talent and passion to meet the needs of others?

The intersection of these three circles – your passions, your talents and the needs of the world – is your calling – what you need to do. Your calling is not icing on the cake when the rest of your life is looked after. It is the purpose of your life. It is your gift to the world.

Your happiness exercise for the day: Try this exercise today. Take a blank piece of paper and draw three intersecting circles. In the first, write what you are passionate about. In the second, what you do better than anyone else (your friends and family may help you here). In the third, look for the needs of your world.

Happiness Positive Potential Your Calling

A Hundred Days to Happiness #23: Finding Your Calling


My mom, Ina

Sometimes if you’re lucky, life takes you in the direction of your calling – the place you call home, when you are engaged and empowered by a sense of purpose greater than yourself. More often, however, you can lose your way with endless detours. Some of those detours can be meaningful; some may be distractions.

If you’re fortunate, the circumstances of your life may seem perfect and sufficient to make you happy. But sometimes having a good marriage, well-behaved kids, a comfortable home and enough food is not enough. Without a deep sense of purpose, you may still feel incomplete.

For most of us, life isn’t perfect. Sometimes, events don’t go our way. Relationships are rarely maintenance-free. Kids will go through difficult phases. Yet if we have an abiding sense of purpose, it can give us the strength to endure the challenges of our lives and still be happy.

Your calling may not necessarily be your original career choice. It becomes obvious sooner or later when your work is aligned with your deepest passions. In spite of success and promotions, if what you do every day does not engage your true self, you will feel unfulfilled and incomplete. Despite outward success, happiness may still elude you.

As a child growing up in Vancouver, my mother was very bright, and she hoped one day to go to university. I remember my mom’s gift with words and her love of books. I would go to the Burnaby Public Library with her as a child, and we would both reach our limit on the number of books we could borrow at one time. In an alternate universe, I believe my mom would have been a writer.

But tragedy intervened. By age nine, my mom lost both her parents, and in order for her brothers and sisters to stay together, they all had to work to support the family. The older siblings worked to support the younger ones still in school. My mom studied to do secretarial work.

My mom found her calling in her devotion to family – originally in her family of origin and later the family she nurtured with my dad. She always impressed upon me the enduring value of family, especially when I was a teen and thought friends and girlfriends were more important.

When her three children were grown up, my mom’s sense of family and friendship expanded. Her circle of concern and care expanded into the community, and her time and energy were devoted to making the world a little kinder and happier for others.

I wonder if I would have discovered my calling without the devotion of my mother. She gave me a love of books and of writing. She nurtured my creativity. She modelled care and concern beyond my own self-interests and beyond family. She inspired me to do my part to make the world a better place for others.

Your calling isn’t always what you first choose. Life can intervene but when it does and you listen, you may hear a deeper meaning – perhaps a still small voice that will empower you to live your life’s potential and allow you to discover ever greater happiness.

Today’s happiness exercise:  Ask yourself today, “Have I discovered my calling, and am I answering it in what I do today?”  If not, reflect on your life so far. What were your passions and talents as a child? What has life taught you? What is it telling you now?

Growth Happiness Relationships stress management Your Goals

A Hundred Days to Happiness #22: Your Power to Choose

Gibsons - Davidicus Wong
Gibsons – Davidicus Wong

Stress is an essential part of our daily lives, and at times, we can feel overwhelmed.

How can you regain control, and how can you be happy in the face of stress?

It’s essential to recognize two things. First, enduring happiness isn’t found when life is perfect because life doesn’t work that way. We, and every aspect of our lives, are ever changing. Different aspects of our lives may be working well while others are not. If your happiness depends on an idyllic stress-free life, you’ll rarely find it, and when you do, it won’t last.

Second, even at the most stressful times in your life, there are some things within your control. When you’re overwhelmed and feeling helpless, you may only see the immovable obstacles and your inability to cope with them.

Yet in almost every situation, you have some choice. The key is to recognize your options and your power to choose. This may be a change in strategy, perhaps a different approach or a shift in attitude. It may be a decision to take a detour or a modification of your short or long-term goals.

I remind patients – and myself – in the face of a difficult situation, that there are three choices. Leave it, change it or reframe it.

If you hate your job, you could consider quitting, but if you don’t have something better lined up, you could try to improve your work conditions.

The greatest stressors for employees can be the workload – too much to do without sufficient time and support to get it all done – or relationships with coworkers. A good and sympathetic manager may be approachable and helpful in addressing these issues.

The third choice is to think about your work in a different way. Is it your attitude that is the problem? Will this job be more tolerable if you see it as a steppingstone to where you plan to be in the future? If you choose to keep this job, would a change in your approach make it more enjoyable?

If you’re coping with a difficult relationship, you again have three choices. I’ve had patients who were struggling in their marriage but when they recognized that they had a choice to stay or leave, that power of choice helped them recognize why they chose to stay.

In the context of our whole lives, our relationships are much more meaningful, and unlike a job, we shouldn’t end a marriage because a better offer came up. We can transform our relationships if we look at one another in new ways and if we make the relationship a priority rather than a competition. Too often, spouses keep an internal list of rights and wrongs, what they’re giving up and how they’re giving in. A relationship is not so much about compromise as it is about growing emotionally and growing together. We can grow personally as we grow in love.

However, if you are stuck in an abusive relationship, you shouldn’t compromise your own dignity, self-respect and self-worth as an individual. You shouldn’t compromise your most important values.

If you’re stressed and unhappy at school, quitting may not be an option. Yet you should ask if your course of study is aligned with what you really want to do with your life. Years of study have to be fueled by your personal passion. What can you do to improve your course load or improve your performance? Do you need more rest? Do you need to be more efficient?

During life’s most challenging times, remember your power to choose.

Emotions Happiness stress management Uncategorized

A Hundred Days to Happiness #21: Happiness in the Face of Stress

Prague Castle
Prague Castle


Stress is an essential part of everyday life. In fact, we need positive stress, or what Hans Selye called eustress, to move forward, grow and achieve our potentials. My son needs that little extra help to get out of bed on a school day; otherwise, he’d be in bed all morning.

Distress, however, is from negative stress or stress that overwhelms us. This can affect us mentally and physically. It can take the form of competing demands from your work, school, home or social lives, an abusive or adversarial relationship, or situations that seem beyond your control.

We function at our best when the challenge of our activities matches our resources and abilities. An example would be the perfect job that absorbs all of your attention, engages your talents and provides you with the time and support you need.

When your abilities far exceed the task at hand, you’d be underachieving and you’d feel bored. You need enough challenge to bring out your best.

If the demands of the situation are beyond what you can manage, you experience increasing stress. A common example is a job in which you’re doing the work of two people, there’s not enough time to get everything done and you don’t even have time to take your lunch break.

Chronic mounting stress can lead to burnout. If we feel that the mounting stress is exceeding our abilities, we begin to feel helpless, and that helplessness commonly results in anxiety. We will have difficulties relaxing, sleeping and enjoying each day.

Over time, continued overwhelming stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness, and this can eventually lead to depression. At this point, we lose our motivation, enthusiasm and capacity for positive experiences. Even if we’re not teenagers, we might have difficulty just getting out of bed.

The key is the locus of control. We are most distressed and unhappy when we feel powerless in our lives – if our actions feel futile, if our dreams are repeatedly shattered, if our feelings are not acknowledged or if our voices are not heard.

This is important for teachers and parents to recognize – that we must listen carefully to hear a child’s voice.

Your happiness exercise for today:

Ask where you are on the spectrum of stress. What are the major stressors in your life and how are you coping? Are you experiencing enough challenge in school or work? Are you feeling fully engaged? Are you growing and moving forward?

Or are you feeling distressed by your situation or your workload? If you are, what aspects of the situation are under your control? What are your choices?

Coping with Loss Emotions Healthy Living stress management

A Hundred Days to Happiness #20: Obstacles to Happiness



Today, what stands between you and happiness?

There are many times in our lives when we don’t feel as happy as we could be. We’ve had some bad news – a friend moving away or falling sick, or we’re coping with disappointment – not getting the job we were hoping for.

And there are the darkest times when we can’t feel happy at all: the catastrophes and tragedies of life – the loss of loved ones and dear friends.

Often, the obstacle is a difficult situation – at home, at school or at work.

Think about your own life. Are you as happy as you would like to be? What is holding you back?

I have found with my own patients and in my own life that stress is one of the most common causes of unhappiness. We can be healthy and have enough to eat but be miserable if we are overwhelmed – if the demands of our daily lives are more than we can manage.

You might be surprised how often physicians become stressed, burnt out and depressed. If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the traps of overcommitting and overworking ourselves. Because we find so much intrinsic gratification from using our intellectual, emotional and social skills to help our patients, we can bury ourselves in our work. It’s hard for us to say no to someone we could help. What we usually end up doing is saying no to ourselves, our own wellbeing and sometimes to our own families and friends.

A lot of physicians skip their lunches, family dinners and even sleep for a night or two to keep up with the neverending cascade of care, but if we aren’t wary, we will eventually have difficulty staying afloat even at what we do best – our work.

It is well-known that in the process of burnout, physicians will let their physical health, social lives and family relationships deteriorate at the expense of their work. Ultimately, what was most gratifying to a physician can become meaningless. That’s when physicians can become irritable and prone to error.

Obviously, you don’t have to be a doctor or even an adult to have too much stress in your life. Last week, a mom brought in her 10-year-old son who had been having difficulties keeping up in class. When I had a chance to talk to him alone, this pleasant, bright boy did not have a learning disorder. He had been depressed due to years of social stress, including numerous negative experiences with friends and bullies.

Your happiness exercise for today:

Think about your life today and how much stress you are currently experiencing. Is stress keeping you from being happier today? What are the sources of your stress, and what can you do about them?

If you’re a parent and you’re not sure if your children are as happy as they can be, consider the stresses they may be coping with. Help them to identify the source of their stress and empower them to do what they can to make positive changes.

At work or at school, is there a friend who might be overwhelmed and could use your support?

Coming up: How to deal with stress and other obstacles to happiness.

Emotions Happiness Letting Go Purpose Self-care stress management

A Hundred Days to Happiness #19: Three Key Emotional Health Skills

Whistler - Davidicus Wong
Whistler – Davidicus Wong

When considering health, most of us focus on physical wellbeing.

I see emotional wellness as a deep sense of meaning and purpose, an abiding sense of peace, the ability to manage the stress and transitions of life, awareness of your thoughts and feelings and the ability to manage them.

Your emotions matter.

Emotions influence your behaviour, your relationships and your thinking.

When we’re angry, we regress and aggress. We don’t think clearly or logically. We can’t see any other point of view but our own. An adult will act like a child, a 10-year-old like a toddler. A teenager . . . may still act like a teenager. We say and do things we may later regret.

When depressed, we withdraw; we think negatively about ourselves, others, our world and the future. Depression narrows our thinking and shades it black; we don’t recognize our positive options, and we may close ourselves off from the world.

When anxious, we freeze; we overestimate danger and challenge, and we underestimate our ability to cope. Anxiety holds us back from doing what we need to do, from moving forward, from reaching out, and from giving our best to the world.

You might see your emotions as products of genetics, physiology and luck. But it’s crucial to recognize your own resources and ability to cope with them. In fact, gaining mastery in key emotional health skills can bolster resilience to life’s challenges.

Three Key Emotional Health Skills

  1. A meditative practice. Prayer, yoga, formal meditation and mindfulness are all effective ways of calming the mind, centering thoughts and reflecting. By deliberately pausing, breathing and slowing your thoughts and actions, you become less reactive.

Begin each day with a prayer of thankfulness. Count your blessings before you even get out of bed. This can prime the pump to allow you to see the good that you have and your ability to make a positive difference in your life.

You’ll be more likely to see the positive throughout the day, and as each day unfolds, you may feel more empowered to seize opportunities to make a difference.

As you retire at the end of the day, reflect on the blessing of the day (how you helped others and how others helped you) and its lessons. You may not end the day any younger or richer but perhaps a little wiser and with memories of some positive experiences. What is the measure of your days?

  1. Choose your thoughts.

Thoughts are powerful.

If we don’t take care, they can provoke anxiety, fuel anger and prolong depression.

You can’t control the weather, traffic lights, the behaviour of others or luck, but you can choose your thoughts.

Cognitive therapy is one method of becoming aware of your thoughts, recognizing how they affect your mood or anxiety level, and gaining control over your emotions by choosing more efficacious thoughts.

The next time you feel angry, irritated, sad or anxious, reflect on the thoughts that may have triggered your emotions. Is there another way to look at the situation?

With time, you’ll gain facility in recognizing the underlying assumptions and beliefs behind unhealthy thinking.

  1. Turn your problems into goals.

Instead of replaying the past or ruminating on the negative, think about what you want.

When you are most relaxed, visualize yourself having achieved your goal, experiencing a sense of peace, and living a life rich with purpose and meaning. How do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear? Make it real!

If the effects of stress, anxiety, mood or other psychological symptoms are having a significant impact on your performance at school, work or at home; your relationships, your self-care or your enjoyment of life, see your family doctor. Your emotions are an important aspect of your health.

Compassion Happiness Positive Potential

A Hundred Days to Happiness #18: Be a hero today; make someone else’s day

Superman UnderArmour

A week after my mom passed away, my dad showed me recent photos taken at the Confederation Centre for Seniors where my mom was both a volunteer and active participant. There was a competition for the best Easter outfit and my mom, putting others in front of herself as usual, helped a frail elderly lady show off her outfit and encouraged other patrons to vote for her.

Of course, my mom helped the older lady win the contest, but looking at the photos with my dad, I agreed that it was my mom who looked especially beautiful in her outfit that day.

After I moved out of my family home, phone calls with my mom would inevitably move towards what was going on with all the people she knew. I would often interupt to ask who these people were. I remember calling up my sister and asking, “Who are all these people, and why does my mom care so much about them?” My mom’s circle of concern had grown so wide that I knew only a fraction of her friends.

My mom worried about the state of the world. She was saddened by random acts of violence and stories of tragedy and loss, but she actively did her part to make up for the unfairness of life.

My mom found happiness in bringing happiness to others.

She has always been my inspiration for practicing spontaneous and not-so-random acts of kindness. She was always looking at the needs of others in her huge circle of friends and in her community, and she would find big and small ways to help.

When we are focussed on our personal goals and needs, life can be frustrating and empty. When things don’t go our way, we can feel powerless and insignificant. We forget the tremendous power we do have.

Each of us has the potential to make a positive difference in another person’s day. It can be something as small as a complement or kind word to someone who needs it. It can be a card or small gift on a special occasion such as a birthday, a homecoming or a move away, telling others that they are valued just as they are and that they make a difference in the lives of those around them.

We each have special skills or talents, knowledge or connections that we can use to help so many people that we see every day. Too often we hold back. We might not be looking for these golden opportunities. Sometimes, we see them but we let them pass by.

We’re like superheroes undercover so long that we’ve forgotten our capacity to do good, so many ways, so many times each day.

Ordinary as we are, we can do extraordinary things.

Your happiness exercise for today:

Be a hero today by making someone else’s day. Look for opportunities to help someone in need, and give special thanks to someone you see each day who makes a difference in your life. 

How many people can you get to smile today?

Don’t hold back. It’s surprisingly easy, and those smiles are priceless.

Compassion Empathy Happiness Love Parenting Positive Potential Purpose Uncategorized

#17 What makes your day?

A walk through Central Park, Burnaby
A walk through Central Park, Burnaby

What are the essentials of your day?

These are the things that make the difference between living fully and just living. At school or at work, are you just putting in time or having the time of your life? What makes the difference to you?

I’ve written of the three tasks I gave my kids each day as I dropped them off at school: learn something new, help someone else, and have fun. I trust their teachers in looking after the three R’s.

I emphasize the three L’s: learn, love and laugh.

At our family dinnertime (an essential of my day), each of us (mom and dad included) shares what we have learned, what kind or loving act we’ve done for someone else (as well as the great things others had done for us) and how we have had fun (What was the most enjoyable thing in our day?).

We share at least one good laugh a day (even if I have to make it at my own expense). I’m always struck by how thoughtful and kind people can be. Today, my patient brought freshly baked pudding for Chinese New Years.

I love to hear how they combine creativity with kindness, seizing an opportunity to do what they can to help someone else and make their day. That might be giving someone a hand at the moment it’s needed or just choosing the right words at the right time.

I’m glad that I have my kids to keep me accountable because it is so easy for grown-ups to forget about the three L’s. We sometimes forget that we ought to be lifelong learners and we keep on repeating the same mistakes year after year. We can get by with fewer expressions of love though we all could use more hugs, and it’s no surprise that adults have less fun and fewer laughs than most kids.

But it has a lot to do with how we look at our lives. When I drove my daughter to school one day, I reminded her how lucky she was to be a kid and to have so much fun every day.

“What do you mean?” she said. ” Grownups have a lot of fun! You get to drive real cars, you can go anywhere you want, and you can eat whatever you like.”

It’s funny how our children can teach me so much about love and laughter.

Your happiness exercise for the day:

  1. Make a list of the essentials of your day – the things that make your day and make you feel complete; the people, the activities and the experiences that bring you happiness.
  2. Before the day is over, make sure you check off every item on your list.

Have a happy day (and I really mean it)!

Burnaby Division of Family Practice Exercise Healthy Living Physical Activity Positive Change Positive Potential Preventive Health Self-care

Physical Activity: a Foundation for Your Wellbeing

On the flying trapeze

On Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll be at Cariboo Hill Secondary School (8580 − 16th Avenue, Burnaby) speaking on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice in our continuing Empowering Patients series of public health education.

The topic is Healthy Physical Activity. I’ll discuss: (1) why we were meant to move – the benefits of regular physical activity, (2) the 6 key aspects of physical function and how they enhance all your activities of daily living, and (3) practical tips to fit physical activity into your day. 

The talk is free to everyone of any age. To register, call Leona at (604) 259-4450 or email 

The greatest predictor of your health tomorrow are the habits you practice today.

I recognize four facets of self-care. They form the foundation of your future.

The first is what you eat (a healthy diet); the second, how you feel (effective emotional management); the third, how you relate (healthy relationships) and the fourth, what you do (physical activity).

For some illogical reason, human beings take some if not all of these four foundations for granted. We can spend more time websurfing and updating facebook than talking face to face with the people we really care about. Most of us spend more time in chairs, in cars, on transit and in shopping malls than in getting the physical activity our bodies were designed for.

If we put more thought into what we eat, how we feel, how we relate and how we move, we wouldn’t leave choice to chance, and we would all be empowered to take control of our own health.

In fact, many of my patients feel they are too busy to fit healthy activity into their days. They see exercise as a luxury – something they vaguely hope they will get around to some time in the future. But if you’re sedentary now, it is less likely that you’ll enjoy good health and be able to move so freely in the future.

Exercise is not just for athletes. Any body can adapt and improve with healthy activity. Even in our 60s, we can build muscle and increase strength with resistance exercises, such as light weight training. Our brains and bodies are engaged in sports: we can learn new skills and new dances at any age.

But what we don’t use atrophies. The muscles we neglect shrink and become weak. Our cardiac and respiratory fitness plummets if we restrict our movements to short walks. If we become accustomed to moving little and very slowly, we will lose our sense of balance. Without stimulation and practice, coordination deteriorates and we are more prone to falls and injuries.

At the end of your workday, you may feel tired and feel you’ve had enough physical activity for the day. If you’re a firefighter or a Vancouver Canuck, you may be right, but for the rest of us – even if we’ve been on our feet and walking most of the day – our bodies require particular types of activity to remain in peak condition.

Consider the six aspects of physical function (from Carolyn Kisner and Lynn Allen Colby’s text, Therapeutic Exercise): cardiopulmonary fitness (endurance), flexibility (the ability to move freely), coordination (smooth, efficient movement), stability (joint stability and muscle balance), dynamic balance, and muscle performance (strength, power and endurance).

Just running and cycling is not enough, neither is weight training alone. A good exercise program will address all six aspects of function – reduce falls and injuries, maintain vigour and strength, and keep us fit well into our golden years.

Friendship Happiness Positive Potential Purpose Relationships

#16 Intend to be happy

Rolls Royce Museum, Munich

We’ve all made the mistake of pursuing counterfeit happiness.

It can take the form of a goal. I’ll finally be happy when I can move out. I’ll be happy when I finish school. I’ll be happy when I get a job. I’ll be happy if I can get another job so I can quit this job.

It can take the form of a person. I’ll be happy when I find the perfect partner. We’ll be happy when we can finally be together. We’ll be happy when we’re finally married. I’ll be happy when he cleans up the garage. I’ll be happy if she stops complaining.

It can take the form of  material goods – a new car, a new home, clothes, a big screen T.V., a new stereo system, or the latest Apple product.

We seek happiness through entertainment and through mood-altering substances.

These counterfeits are mere mirages. When we finally arrive, there is nothing to grasp, satisfaction never lasts and we remain empty inside.

So where can we find authentic and enduring happiness?

Right in front of us right now – in the present moment. It begins with the intention to be happy. We must each discover the attitudes, values and goals that will give greater meaning to our daily lives, and our words and actions must align with our deepest values.

We have to live each day for something beyond our own self-interests.

We have to feel deeply connected with one another.

It requires attitudes of thankfulness, graciousness, generosity and generativity. We accept both the reality of our challenges and the gifts we are given. We appreciate the love and care we receive and we pass forward to others that same love and care.

Starting today, resolve not to waste another day pursuing counterfeit happiness. Starting today, intend to be happy, and spread that happiness in your world.

Your challenge today: team up with one or more of your friends, classmates, coworkers or family. Do one new thing each day to bring more happiness into your lives. You’ll find new ideas or exercises each day on this blog.