Monday, August 1, 2011


Sometimes the answers to some of life’s problems stare you in the face on a daily basis. Even so, some people are too damned stupid or stubborn (me, for instance) to apply this knowledge which is so easily accessible.
One such lesson is that a positive attitude makes life better. In my job at the hospital, I see this all the time. I work in the cardiac intensive care unit. In order to be a patient there, you have to be in rather dire physical shape. So, while the condition of those in the ICU is usually similar, the reaction of those patients to their situation varies widely.
Some of the patients have an extremely negative attitude to their predicament. This is completely understandable. Having severe heart problems and recovering from highly invasive heart surgery is not only physically painful, it is also mentally draining. These negative patients react by complaining, refusing to follow the directions of the medical professionals and generally being whiney. Again, I can’t really blame them. Their situation IS rather far removed from rainbows and sunshine.
But not all patients react that way. There are other patients who react in a more positive manner. Remarkably, these people are all smiles despite their pain. They’re talkative, happy and pleasant to be around. Rather than dwelling on the fact that their ticker is defective, they are grateful to have the opportunity to have the problem corrected as much as medical science is able and to have the chance to improve and recover. And what I have frequently noticed – with often dramatic regularity - is that those with a positive attitude usually recover far more quickly than their negative counterparts. From what I’ve observed this isn’t merely a case of people being happier than others because they’re less sick in the first place and thus would have recovered more quickly anyway. These happy, positive patients start out just as physically messed up as the negative ones. It really seems their attitude helps them improve more quickly.
I can only speculate as to why this appears to be the case. Perhaps the more positive patients are more likely to do what the doctors and nurses recommend, even if it’s inconvenient or physically painful. Following these directions could lead to more rapid improvement. Perhaps there’s some physical benefit to be gained from a positive outlook in and of itself. Maybe a good mental outlook somehow promotes physical well-being. (Or, as Funkadelic said much more bluntly, maybe it’s a case of “Free your mind and your ass will follow.”) Again, I’m merely guessing as to the mechanism, but I’ve seen it work so often I must assume there’s at least inductive evidence for the phenomenon.
Which brings me back to me.
You’d think that someone such as myself, who pretends to be at least somewhat intelligent, would – after making such observations – attempt to apply them to his own life.
Ah, but I am an idiot in that regard. I seem to dwell on the negative in spite of myself. Rather than being thankful that I have a job and can pay my bills on time, I dwell on the fact that I have to drive over 60 miles one way to my job (which is long enough in good weather but which can become nightmarish in the winter), am often – due to traffic congestion - away from home 12 hours each workday and constantly have to struggle with the nearly nonexistent parking in Ann Arbor.
These are real concerns and obstacles I have to deal with and feeling stressed about them is a natural reaction. But the people in the intensive care unit are dealing with real issues as well. But some of them deal with it in a positive manner. And they’re the ones who thrive and get better. Why can’t I seem to apply that to my own life? Sure, working far from home may suck, but what if I didn’t have that job at all? I have a regular salary – not as much as I once made, but enough to pay the bills. I have healthcare coverage for myself and my family. I have a nice home and a dependable wife and wonderful children. The people I work with seem to genuinely appreciate the quality of my work and are quite nice to me. I have a lot to live for and much to be thankful for. And maybe, just maybe, if I make an effort to try to be more positive, things will get better. Perhaps something external will change. Or maybe the happiness will be its own reward. I don’t know. And I can’t promise I can make such a change without setbacks or problems.
But I can try.
And if others try to bring me down, perhaps the most revolutionary thing I can do is stay positive in spite of them. It will, at any rate, drive them nuts. And that may be the most positive outcome of all.

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