I am glad to be alive. It’s normal to take this for granted, but it’s wonderful to really feel it. Yes, life is complicated, can be hard, and there are few easy answers. Loss is inevitable.
I had a rough year. But it’s good to be alive – very good.
So I’ve been thinking about the importance of attitudes. My life, and the lives of patients have taught me that attitudes are not only important, but they can be chosen, developed, and become powerful healing allies.
In my medical school thesis about optimism, I wrote, “ The scale of Optimism-Pessimism, as measured by the MMPI psychological test, is an accurate predictor for overall health and quality of life! Pessimism is a predictor for depression, poorer physical health, and lower levels of achievement. Pessimism, and its bosom buddy cynicism, are fashionable these days. We all know that disaster-mongering is a key to success for the news media. Pessimists are comfortable with their “never wrong and rarely disappointed” attitudes, always fretting, expecting the worst from other people, even anticipating disappointment from life itself. If you expect the worst, then you can’t be disappointed, right?
But consider this: If it’s true that we can’t control what happens to us, only how we respond to it, then maybe it’s worth choosing the point of view that is associated with greater happiness and better health.
Some lucky people are born with a sunny disposition. For the rest of us, it’s something we can learn. In fact, “learned optimism” is just as powerful as innate optimism, as explained in a best-selling book 20 30 years ago by Martin Seligman, PhD: Learned Optimism: Change Your Mind, Change Your Life. Many people are led into depression by their own thought patterns, what Dr. Daniel Amen calls the ANTS, Automatic Negative Thoughts. Choosing to interrupt negative thought patterns by substituting calmer, more uplifting thoughts can be done – and it has tangible benefits. “
Lately I’ve been told that I’m a Pollyanna – often in response to my attitude that I’m actually rather grateful for the difficulties of this past year. I wish this “Pollyanna” remark would be delivered with the humble gratitude that I feel in my heart, rather than the typical patronizing snub. Within the past year I’ve experienced pain, cancer, financial setbacks, loss of loved ones, surgical menopause, chemotherapy, loss of faith, the nearness of death – and I know I’ve had the company of thousands of other brave souls enduring similar or worse ordeals. As a result of this series of setbacks, life has more clarity for me now than before: What I love, I really love! As for the rest, I don’t have time for it. I’m on borrowed time now, and I need to make it count.
Recently the kindness and unexpected generosity of oh-so-many people and circumstances have piled up to a mountain of overwhelming gratitude for me. While I would not wish such a series of setbacks on anyone, the payback has been tremendous. Clarity of purpose and clarity of gratitude are precious gifts in this life. So call me a sap. I’m a happy sap who is glad to be alive.
-Deborah McKay, ND Dr. McKay is a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist, weight-loss specialist, cancer survivor, a wife and mother who lives in awe and partnership with the natural world.