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Compassion Coping with Loss Empathy Forgiveness Friendship Grace Growth Happiness Letting Go Love

The gifts that give back

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7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)

At one time or another, we all think about ourselves when we give to others.

That’s perfectly fine when your gift is a shared experience: a nice meal, a concert or a movie. You’re celebrating your relationship and saying “I love you so much that I want to enjoy some special time together.”

Some gifts are thinly veiled gifts to your self. Examples among spouses abound. Consider the husband who buys a big screen TV for his wife a week before Valentine’s so that they can enjoy watching the Super Bowl together. Have you ever received a gift that someone else uses more than you?

When I was 14, I gave my brother a record album that I liked myself. He immediately noted that I would be enjoying the music as much as he so I exchanged it for something he really liked (that I couldn’t use).

There are three virtues that I call “double blessing”: forgiveness, gratitude and generosity. They are two-way gifts – gifts that give back. They benefit the giver as well as the receiver. They strengthen our relationships, and they nourish our souls.

Forgiving

Shakespeare said it best in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath; it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Sometimes we are loath to forgive someone who has hurt us. It is especially difficult if that person’s actions have caused great suffering, were done with ill intent and with no remorse.

To forgive may feel like you’re letting the other off the hook, giving something up or diminishing yourself, but what you give up and lighten may be a load that has been weighing you down and holding you back.

If you’ve travelled by plane recently, you’ve noticed that most passengers are maximizing their carry on luggage, stuffing them under seats and overhead. This makes for an even more uncomfortable flight for themselves and their neighbours.

We weigh ourselves down by carrying into each new day the baggage of our past: resentments, prejudices, insults and slights. They hold us back from stepping lightly, moving forward and welcoming new experiences.

Forgiveness isn’t so much letting someone else off the hook as it is unhooking you from the load you’ve been towing. You are the one who is freed.

Appreciation

I taught my children that two of the most important prayers are those of gratitude at the dawn of each day and at dusk. When we frame the day counting our blessings, we nurture both optimism and happiness. We greet a new day with a cup half full and go to bed, with a cup overflowing.

But we can do much more than just counting our blessings and acknowledging the gifts of the day. We can strengthen our relationships and spread happiness by thanking those who have helped us.

We all need to feel appreciated and to know that we make a difference to the people around us. If someone has touched you and made your life better, thank them. Don’t take anyone for granted. Don’t miss a day’s opportunities to express appreciation and to make a difference. All is fleeting.

Generosity

Each day you can see people in need, and you can help in ways big and small.

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your own day and make a positive difference. You can make someone’s day with an act of kindness, a sincere complement, a helping hand, encouragement and appreciation.

When we give freely and without expectation, we are nurturing our own capacity for unconditional love. We are each beneficiaries of kindness and love from many people throughout our lives: teachers, coaches, health care providers, family, friends and benevolent strangers. We cannot give back all that we’ve received, but we can give that love forward.

It is the greatest re-gift.

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patient-doctor relationship

The long term relationship that’s vital to your heart . . . and every other organ in your body

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During the month of Valentine’s Day, many of us think about our most significant relationships. Young couples think about grand and romantic ways they’ll express their passion; married couples think about the money they’ll save by dining at home.

But the relationships that are more often taken for granted are those you share with your physicians, and of course, the most significant of these is your relationship with your family doctor – a long term relationship that’s important not only for your heart, but every other organ of your body and your wellbeing as a whole.

It is my relationships with individual patients that originally drew me to family practice. The practice of medicine can become cold and clinical without the emphasis on the human connection. Nothing can match the potential depth and breadth of the patient-family doctor relationship.

As physicians, we must earn our patients’ confidence – to trust us to keep private their medical history, their deepest secrets and their greatest values and to have the faith that we will be their advocates and do our best for them.

In exchange, we are privileged with the sharing of our patients’ personal stories – the good and bad things they may have done, the great and awful things they have lived through and how they make sense of it all.

Over the years, we become a part of our patients’ stories. Sometimes, life can be overwhelming and each of us could lose our sense of control. When we feel helpless, we feel anxious. When we feel hopeless, we feel depressed.

When needed, physicians can help shape patients’ stories with more positive, empowering perspectives. Though patients may present a number of problems, I encourage them to verbalize and visualize their goals.

One of the greatest gifts I can give to patients who see themselves as hapless victims of bad luck, relationships and health is the transforming perspective that they can be agents of positive change in their own lives.

Though we may not have chosen the canvas of our lives nor the colours on our palette, we can choose how we see this life and what we will create with it.

On Tuesday, February 16th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Metrotown branch of the Burnaby Public Library on “The Patient-Doctor Relationship: making the most of the every medical visit.” I’ll offer some tips on improving communication and working together to achieve your personal goals. I’ll cover the key information you should know about medications and other treatments and the key screening tests we need at different stages of our lives. For more information, please phone the Metrotown branch at (604) 436-5400 or register online at http://www.bpl.bc.ca/events.

Categories
Growth Happiness Healthy Living Love

Your Positive Potential at Any Age

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At every age and in every day, we have challenges, gifts, and a call to action.

In each day, I see all of life in the patients I serve – from newborns to the long retired.

Even when we cease to be paid, there is work to do: this is the work of a lifetime that we carry out consciously or unconsciously. It is the active creation of our own lives, the writing and rewriting of our own life stories, and the cultivation of relationships.

For many of us at any age, life can seem a struggle. We fight, flee or resist what we don’t want and we crave and pursue what we want, thinking that when we are free of that which we don’t want and have all that we desire, we will be happy and at peace.

But that’s not reality. Life is never perfect or if it ever is, it won’t stay that way. Change is the reality of life, but we can still be happy.

In youth, what we want may be on the horizon and in the future just beyond our reach.

As time passes, what we want is in the past – loved ones missed and opportunities lost. In the latter half of our journey, we may be looking back more than forward. The present reminds us of what we don’t have: people no longer with us; our youth, vigour and time.

We forget the possibilities of the present.

At every point in life – indeed, in every day – you have a positive potential to be realized.

Given your abilities and your experiences, what can you do to help another person today? There is always someone in need of just the thing that we can do for them.

Looking at the people in your life today, what can you do to make each relationship even better? Is it time to call and catch up with an old friend? Is it time for a crucial conversation? What thoughtful action would express your appreciation for another?

Accept your body as it is. How can you become as healthy as you can be? What can you do to help yourself? What would be the first step to improving your wellbeing?

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll present a free public presentation in the Visitor Centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver). As part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging public presentation series, I’ll be talking about “Achieving Your Positive Potential at Any Age.” For information and registration, call (604) 806-9486 or check online at www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Empowering Healthcare Friendship Happiness Healthy Living Love Parenting

Keeping Your Relationship Healthy

DSC00078The Family Doctors of Burnaby have been presenting free public talks in our campaign to raise health literacy called the Empowered Patient. Our goal is to provide the key information that everyone in our community needs to live a healthy life and get the most out of our healthcare system.

A key message is that healthcare is self-care. How you live today is the best predictor of your future health. The four foundations of self-care are: (1) what you eat (consume, drink, smoke or inject), (2) what you do (physical activity, risky behaviour), (3) how you feel (managing your emotions) and (4) how you relate (your important relationships).

When you think about it, you shouldn’t be surprised that your relationships can foster or harm health. Every week, I see patients who are distressed by conflicts at home – either with their spouses or their children.

When patients request a stress leave from work, the problem isn’t just the workload. It’s usually difficulties with coworkers and supervisors. Bullying is common in our schools and in our workplaces.

When I see people with depression, I always inquire about friends. They can be a crucial support or they may contribute to maladaptive behaviour, including excessive drinking or abusing drugs.

Attending to your most important relationship is fundamental to your health and happiness. Work can consume as much of your life as you allow. Consequently, you may invest less time and energy in what you value most.

For any of your relationships to thrive, you must attend to them. Nowhere is this more important than in your relationship with your significant other.

Here are 5 tips to focus your attention:

  1. Nurture emotional intimacy. After a busy day of work and looking after children or household chores, we may save nothing for our partners. Agree on making a habit of checking in with one another each day. How are you feeling? How was your day?
  2. Be affectionate. Express positive feelings. Remember that every person expresses love and has a need to feel loved in different ways. Some use words, some prefer physical affection, some appreciate kind gestures and some like presents.
  3. Schedule regular dates. When we get busy with the rest of life, time together having fun can be postponed indefinitely. Write it in both your calendars. Commit your time to what matters most.
  4. When things get stale, have an affair . . . with your own partner. Text each other during breaks throughout your day. Leave love letters. Sneak in a date during your lunch breaks.
  5. Consider a refresher on communication.

Too often, cohabitation morphs from cooperation to competition. We may begin to see our partners as competitors, and we may keep a running tally of who gets their way and who’s giving in. If you’re not sure who’s winning, ask your friends (who’ve been listening to your complaints).

Many couples develop negative stereotypes of one another. We may begin seeing the other in a negative light and misinterpret every action negatively.

Common thought distortions are Mindreading (We make negative assumptions on the other’s intentions without checking them out), All or Nothing Thinking (We see all the bad and none of the good in the other), and Excessive Blaming (When something goes wrong or is left undone, it’s the other’s fault. That’s the risk of being the only other person around).

It takes a very reflective, honest and insightful person to recognize these thought distortions. The rest of us may need a refresher on communication or couples counseling.

On Friday, January 30th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking on the topic of healthy relationships at Burnaby Family Life. This free presentation is sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. Register online with lcullen@divisionsbc.ca or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.

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Exercise Forgiveness Friendship Grace Healthy Living Love

What’s Your New Year’s Strategy?

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My tradition with my children at the start of a New Year is to walk through the old calendar and remember the year past. What did we do? Where did we go? What days did we celebrate? What events did we survive?

We ask ourselves, “What acts of grace did we receive through the love and kindness of others?” and “What did we ourselves do for others?”

What were our best experiences and what were our most challenging?

What did we learn? How did we grow?

I’ve taught my children to seize each day – to be open to spontaneity and the beauty of each day, and to grasp the fleeting moments we have to help others and make a difference.

My children are now old enough to recognize that we seem to accelerate in our passage through time. Each year passes more quickly as does each and every day. To use our time most wisely, we must be more deliberate, consider what matters most and walk in the direction of our dreams.

The holidays were a time for celebration but also an opportunity to reflect.

What are your goals for the coming year? What is your strategy to achieve them?

My friend wants to eat more healthily, and his strategy is to eat a salad each day. To keep it fun and interesting, he will use a variety of ingredients, including nuts, beans and fruits.

My patient wants to improve her cardiovascular conditioning. Her strategy is to start aquatic fitness classes at our community pool. To stay on track and make it social, she’s going to go with a friend.

Another wants to improve his relationships, and his strategy is to express his positive thoughts and feelings about others. He plans to follow the example of the Dalai Lama who said that he may still get angry but he won’t hold a grudge.

Not everyone is keen on New Year’s resolutions. In elementary school, I had to make a list each year. Many grownups have given up this ritual because of memories of failed resolutions.

But I still make my list of priorities after considering the most important areas of my life.

Because our time each day and week is precious, for everything we add to our list, we must remove something else. How can we decide what to do and what to stop?

Ask yourself, “What brings greater value to my life and the people around me?”, “What must I do?” and “Of my current activities, which are really a waste of my time?”

Consider four questions.

  1. What should I do more of? Stretching? Strengthening? Cardio exercise? Calling old friends?
  2. What should I do less? Eating out? Snacking? Driving? Drinking with friends? Watching TV? Working and playing on the computer? Looking at my phone?
  3. What should I cut out? Smoking? Napping after supper? Hanging out with bad friends?
  4. What should I add to my life? Language lessons? Meeting new people? Creating art or music? Writing?

This is your life. This is your year. This is your day.

What will you do with it?

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. For more on achieving your positive potential in health: davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Categories
Balance Growth Happiness Healthy Living Parenting Physical Activity Positive Potential Preventive Health Procrastination Relationships stress management Your Goals

Can you really balance your life? 3 keys.

When you look back on your life when you have retired, on the closing stretch or with your last breaths, will you ask what you have done with your time?

What will be the measure of this life?

Your net worth? The vehicles you drove? The number of good meals and drinks you enjoyed? Your total number of facebook friends? Your twitter followers? Every movie you watched? The TV series you followed? The value of your watches and rings? The clothes you wore? Whatever else you may have collected? All the material things you wanted and needed, finally bought and eventually threw away?

Chances are you will no longer find value in any of these. Your thoughts will turn to that which had deeper and more enduring meaning to you.

Ironically, throughout the greater part of our lives, our thought, energy and time are consumed with many of the items on the dubious list above. We do this at the cost of what we value most.

We recognize this late in the day, when we have worked long hours or spent too much time online, and the kids are asleep . . . or grown up. We see it at times of crisis, when our lives are out of balance and we have neglected our health, our beliefs or our relationships.

How do we make time for what really counts in our lives? Is it possible to live a balanced life?

Here are three keys to balancing your life.

1. Take time to reflect. If we don’t make time to consider our priorities, we drift away from them. The demands of work, our current preoccupations or the crisis of the moment distract us from committing time to the other important areas of our life. Reflecting allows you to check your compass and bearings and redirect your direction.

2. Balance your week. Look at how you allocate time for the important areas of your life. Throughout the week, I think about the most important areas of my life, including my family, work, friends, emotional wellbeing and physical health.

What challenges do you have in each area? How can you best use your time?

There are times in our life when free time is scarce. We may have to work overtime, study for exams or juggle childcare with housekeeping. At any time in our lives, we have to recognize where we have the freedom of choice. Are you choosing to spend time where it is most needed and valued?

We tend to put off ‘til the weekend important things we ultimately fail to do. This might include clearing the clutter, taking out the trash, balancing the budget or spending more time with the people you love.

3. Balance each day. When we’re busy, we may not take the time to exercise, get enough sleep or eat proper meals, but these are crucial to your wellbeing. By scheduling them into your day, you won’t neglect them. These are the habits of health.

Maintaining a healthy balance in life doesn’t come naturally. It is a dynamic process that requires the daily intention to give priority to what matters most. By staying on course, you’ll find greater satisfaction with your journey through life.

At the end of the day, we’ll judge ourselves by how we spent our time.

Cousins hiking in Banff - Davidicus Wong
Cousins hiking in Banff – Davidicus Wong
Categories
Compassion Empathy Empowering Healthcare Exercise Forgiveness Friendship Grace Growth Happiness Healthy Living Letting Go Love Parenting Physical Activity Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose Relationships Wisdom Your Calling Your Goals

It is what it is. I am what I am. Accepting yourself and your world.

I am what I am
I am what I am

Over the past few years, I’ve heard many of my patients say, “It is what it is.” At first, only those over 30 would repeat this phrase, but more recently, younger adults have picked it up.

For most, it is not an expression of resignation and surrender. Rather, it is an acceptance of reality – the facts of the present, current circumstances or a phase of life.

“It is what it is.” reminds me of a much older quote, “I am what I am.”

It was first attributed to God – before He was labeled and gender-fied by us – in Exodus. It is a part of the collective unconscious of those who grew up in the 20th century with some thanks to Popeye (the sailor man) though comic artists would write it as “I yam what I yam.”

Although what Popeye meant is subject to philosophical debate. I recognize in it grounded self-acceptance and authenticity.

We can consume our attention and energy on things we cannot change – where we came from, bad luck, the past and personal characteristics that are beyond our control – age, ethnicity, body type and height. We can obsess with anger, bitterness and resentment, but this accomplishes nothing good.

A necessary step towards personal peace is acceptance of the things we cannot change.

The flip side of this is acceptance with appreciation – being thankful for the good that we have received and the positive aspects of the present moment. It comes with the recognition that we live in a changing world and we ourselves are changing. Some call it aging, others growth.

Acceptance of others – particularly those with whom we live and work – is a key to healthy relationships and personal happiness. In my children – in whom my wife and I have worked to instill the values we share, we must accept their unique personalities. Each of us has our unique challenges and strengths. Each of us is fallible and human.

Compassion allows us to accept and forgive others – and ourselves – for being imperfect and making mistakes. Appreciation allows us to recognize the good – and love enables us to see the beautiful – in one another.

The acceptance of the imperfection in our selves and our world is the starting point of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer that has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It points to the next step, the acceptance of our own responsibility to change for the better that which we can. Hidden in the reality of the present is your potential. Recognize this and be empowered.

You may not like your body type but you can improve your level of fitness. You may have high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, but you can make positive changes to take control of your health. You may hate your job, but it can be the steppingstone to more meaningful work. You may not be able to change the people in your life, but you can improve your relationships.

Reality might bite. The world is constantly changing, and so are we. Let’s empower ourselves to be agents of positive change.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre.

Categories
Christmas Compassion Friendship Love Relationships

What Will Be Your Holiday Legacy?

New Years Day in Whistler 2

 

As children return to school and grown-ups get back to work, many are feeling the post-holiday blues. Suddenly, green and red seem out of season. The magic has faded and warm, fuzzy moments yield to the plain, cold winter.

What is left of the yuletide season?

When you think of holiday leftovers, what comes to mind?

Turkey sandwiches, fruitcake, hangovers, extra pounds and inches, credit card debt or overfilled garbage cans?

There are presents that will bring value into the New Year: mittens and sweaters to keep you warm, a new bike for a child, and books that will capture your imagination.

What else can we bring forward from the holidays?

Is there any leftover magic that can enrich post-holiday life?

1. Renewed Relationships For many families, the holidays are like a salmon run. Kids away for school and grownups who have moved from their hometowns migrate back to their families of origin. It’s a time to catch up and spend time together, and wonder why we don’t do this more often.

We’re back together with those who matter most.

It’s a time to reconnect with old friends, but often there isn’t enough time to physically get together. We have to settle for cards and e-mail updates.

Note for the New Year’s calendar: make time for your friends. Don’t settle for facebook. Have real face time with friends.

2. Expressing Love and Appreciation We all take for granted the people in our lives. The holidays give us an opportunity to express some of our deepest feelings. It never hurts to tell our best friends and family how much they mean to us and how we love them even if they may have heard it before.

We all need that positive reinforcement. We all like to feel appreciated.

Each year, I am moved by my special patients who take the time to write a card or wrap a present. They are exceptional in their graciousness.

That graciousness can be a positive contagion. Kind and thoughtful acts throughout the year can warm cold days and bring happiness to others. They can inspire others to be gracious as well, inciting a cascade of kindness.

Let us resolve to be more appreciative of the people in our lives and never miss an opportunity to express love.

3. Good Will Towards Others Forgetting for the moment holiday traffic jams, rude customers and overwhelmed retail workers, remember the general good will of the season. We greet others – even total strangers in the elevator – with smiles and wishes for a wonderful time with loved ones.

We remember that we all have families and friends whom we love and love to be with, and we wish for others what we want ourselves.

Good will is another positive contagion. Let’s pass it on more indiscriminately each day of the year, with good mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends.

4. Generosity The holiday season inspires us to think of others. We donate more freely to charity and we think of those in need, but of course, the food bank and those reliant on the generosity of others have needs every day of the year.

Let us remember those needs in every season.

As we put away the holiday decorations for another year, consider bringing into the New Year, the best of the season all year round: renewing our relationships, expressing love and appreciation, spreading good will and giving what is most needed.