In the final year of med school, some nights on call were hard to get through. As medical students commonly referred to as scut monkeys, we were at the bottom of the hospital totem pole. Though we were there to learn and to care, we were an unpaid labour force assigned to the more onerous, time-consuming tasks. In the O.R., we could be holding retractors for hours without seeing much of what the surgeon and residents were doing. We would be the first to be paged to the E.R. for new hospital admissions or to the wards for distressed or confused patients.
To make it through those long nights, I would bring a list of my favourite things – what I looked forward to doing when I was no longer on call: licking a Dole Whip cone from the hospital cafeteria, riding my bike along the Stanley Park seawall or through the streets of North Burnaby, playing my parents’ piano, hanging out with my friends, having tea and chatting with my sister, going out with my girlfriend, enjoying dinner with Mom and Dad, or getting a full night’s sleep in my own bed.
This was no bucket list. None of these activities were really momentous or unusual, but they were related to comforting, enjoyable sensations and feelings. They reconnected me with life and the people I was closest to.
Now, each of my days is filled with meaningful work and experiences, and I feel connected to others and life virtually all of the time.
I still keep a list. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with the endless tasks associated with my work or the competing demands of my roles in life, I choose at least one of those simple joys.
Of course my list has changed. It includes going for a swim; calling my sister or dad; enjoying dinner with my family; reading a good book; writing, drawing or playing my piano, Skyping with friends, and just being around my wife and kids.
Your happiness exercise for today: Write your personal list of favourite activities. What can you do today to feel refreshed and reconnected to the people that matter most to you? What brings you joy? Do at least one of your favourite things today (and every day).