Acceptance and Happiness

Acceptance and Happiness
ד,א בן זומא אומר, איזה הוא חכם–הלמד מכל אדם, שנאמר “מכל מלמדיי, השכלתי” (תהילים קיט,צט). איזה הוא גיבור–הכובש את יצרו, שנאמר “טוב ארך אפיים, מגיבור” (משלי טז,לב). איזה הוא עשיר–השמח בחלקו, שנאמר “יגיע כפיך, כי תאכל; אשריך, וטוב לך” (תהילים קכח,ב): “אשריך”, בעולם הזה; “וטוב לך”, לעולם הבא. איזה הוא מכובד–המכבד את הברייות, שנאמר “כי מכבדיי אכבד ובוזיי ייקלו” (שמואל א ב,ל).

 

I had a fascinating group with the patients in both of my Positive Aging Groups this week. This is what happened in my first group.

 

The group began with patients discussing celebrities in the news. In particular, they talked briefly about a celebrity who changed from being a man into a women.

One patient reported that he read in the newspaper that the woman now regrets her decision.

Patients observed that even when people seem to have everything anyone could want, they are still unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives.

 

In response, I shared with the group an antidotal story about Michelle.

Michelle is a MHA that I worked with in the past. She was born male and changed from Michael to become Michelle. Now in her late 50’s Michelle also regrets her decision to change from a man into a woman.

 

During our shift together, Michelle shared that she was very unhappy as a man and she was so certain that she would be happier if only she was a woman.

Now, 20 years later, Michelle has a different perspective on the source of her mental anguish and pain.

During our conversation, Michelle shared, “I made a mistake. My problem had nothing to do with being a man or a woman or my external apparatus. The real problem was between my ears. I was the problem.”

 

Our discussion and the pain that Michelle shared with me that night has stayed with me since then.

Michelle had to come to the realization the hard way that true happiness comes from self-acceptance.


So, I introduced the topic of the group as: how is it possible to feel good about yourself and accept yourself as you are? And, if you could have everything you ever wanted, would that make you happy?

Patients observed that there is nothing outside that can make someone feel good inside. Patients also shared that it is impossible to ever satisfy another person’s needs or all of one’s wants.

 

As a group, the patients reached the conclusion that happiness is a state of mind that comes from comes from being happy with what you have, not from what you acquire. The goal is to recognize how much you do have and appreciate it and share it with others without over-extending yourself.


The group was very successful and even one of my most cranky patients actually asked if we could extend the time of the group from 1 hour to an hour and a half.

 

The next day I had a similar discussion with my colleagues.

 

The 3 of us are all in the process of moving or relocating. We shared tips on affordable communities that also have good school districts.

 

Then, Mabel, a fourth nurse that we work with joined us.

 

I find Mabel to be a challenging person to work with. Although she is very capable and competent, Mabel loves to be the center of attention and sees herself as the hardest working and the most burdened nurse at our work site.

I find the role that she has assigned herself to be odd. Mostly, because it is not true. In my opinion, we all work hard.

 

Generally, I alternate between ignoring her snide comments, or soothing her by validating her with a “there-there” or “Oh yes, you are so hard working…..”

 

Another difficulty that I have with Mabel, is that I find her snidely anti-Semitic. She will frequently make comments that imply that I am so much richer than her, or alternatively I am too cheap. Now, neither in my opinion happen to be true. I make less money than her, and therefore, I spend less money than her.

 

Our styles are very different too. I am not a flashy dresser. Our patients frequently have altered moods and thought disturbances. They can be unpredictable. Therefore, I prefer to blend into the woodwork.

 

Mabel, however, is cut from a different bolt of cloth. She is always dressed extremely fashionably and well put together. Mabel is the kind of person who likes to be the beautiful one. I am happy to let her play that role.

 

So, once Mabel joined our discussion she began making her usual snide remarks about the state of my financial affairs, “Carol is so rich. She can afford a very fancy house.”

 

To me, the implication was “Carol is a rich Jew, and I am a poor Haitian.” I wanted to challenge her directly, but, I did not.

 

Instead, I thought about the group from the day before and the section from Perkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with what he has.”


This time, rather than get defensive, I agreed with Mabel, “You are so right! I am very rich! I am rich because I am happy with what I have. Being wealthy or poor is a state of mind. There is never enough external stuff than will give anyone inner contentment.”

 

Anyway, that ended the conversation, and she concurred with the wisdom of seeking inner wealth rather than outer wealth.

 

Emotional attachment to possessions or approval distract us from our true purpose in this world. Our true purpose in this world is to transform the physical into the spiritual. We are spiritual being having a physical experience, not physical beings having a spiritual experience.

If we are happy with what we have, we can live contentedly within our means and according to our deepest priorities. Therefore, we have to feel wealthy on the inside and accept ourselves on the outside if we want to have peace of mind.

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The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party

 

The Birthday Party

This week I had one of the most moving moments in my professional life.

I work in Geriatric Psychiatry. As part of my job, I facilitate 2 groups on Positive Aging.

Last week, one group began with a patient sharing that it was his son’s birthday that day.

What emerged was that this was his anniversary of becoming a father. A seminal moment in anyone’s life.

So, I decided to do the group on “what do birthdays mean to you?” And on, “how do you celebrate your  birthday now, compared to when you were younger?”

 

Aging & Birthdays

 

Then, I added to the mix one of my favorite questions, “how old are you chronologically?” And, “how old do you feel inside?”

 

What does it mean to be old?

It was a fascinating discussion.

Many of the patients shared that birthdays were not that important to them.

As they are aging, the group members shared that they are challenged by many health conditions.

Consequently, the patients feel more and more that they appreciate the gift of being alive each and every day.

Everyday is special, not just their birthdays.

Many in the group also shared that as children, they did not have a lot of material wealth. So, gifts and parties were not common.

But, one particular patient, Bob, shared that he never had a birthday party. No one in his family ever acknowledged or celebrated his birthday.

Although all the other patients voiced that birthdays were not as important to them as celebrating life — I think the thought that someone NEVER had a birthday party really touched them.

One patient, Henri,  responded to Bob, “we need to celebrate your birthday. Next week, I am going to bring you a cake!”

Henri also asked me to remind him about his commitment when I saw him during the following week.

Although I did remind him, just in case, I brought in cookies, happy birthday napkins, soda and other paper goods to work for the group as a backup.

It turned out to not be necessary.

When I walked into the group room, I saw that everyone in the group had brought in something to celebrate Bob’s birthday!

The group bought a card, 2 gifts, drinks and a birthday cake! They even bought a candle and sang “happy birthday” to him.

Since birthdays are about sharing good wishes, I also asked my patients, “if you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?

Here is a picture of their responses:

 

If you could have anything you want, what would you wish for?

It gave the patients great pleasure to give and support each other.

Truly, this was a touching and heartwarming moment!

The funny thing was, I told this story to my friend, Adelle, on my way home from work. Adelle then said, “you know, today is my birthday too!” An example of positive aging, Adelle proudly turned 70 on the day of Bob’s birthday party.

And now, today happens to be my birthday as well. I do not publicly admit my age. But, inside, I tell everyone that I am 87.

(I then remind them to tell me “you look great for your age!”)

In the Jewish tradition, a birthday is a propitious day for giving blessings to other people:

May we all be blessed with love, health, material satisfaction, friendship and peace, and many happy birthdays.

Many blessings,

Carol

*In order to protect the privacy of my family, friends and patients, please be aware that their names and personal identifiers have been changed.