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April 26, 2017

On Gratitude And Humor [Warden]

I had minor surgery yesterday.* Although it wasn't high risk, being put under general anesthesia is always somewhat of a concern and the whole process from admittance through recovery is neither convenient nor cheap.

In short, surgery is a stressful experience for most people.

Matters weren't helped by a three hour delay due to my surgeon having to deal with multiple complications from the operation scheduled prior to mine--the exact same procedure I was about to undergo.

But as I sat there in pre-op waiting and holding my wife's hand, I couldn't help but feel gratitude. Prior to modern medicine, this condition would have disabled or killed me. I had insurance and enough money in our HSA to cover the deductible, so I didn't have to sweat finances. And not only did I not have to go through this alone, Mrs. Warden and I had spent our time happily chatting and cracking jokes with each other and the nursing staff as we waited--my wife at one point wryly mentioning to the male nurse who had been called in to shave my stomach that my back could probably use a little work, too.

The nursing staff was absolutely terrific, and I was genuinely appreciative for the care they provided. Every time my wife or I has ended up in the hospital, we've always received top notch care from the front line staff. There isn't any question in my mind that at least part of this is due to the fact that we always do our best to remember and use the name of everyone on staff, to stay positive, and to say please and thank you even when we're in pain or distress.

The pleases and thank yous are a habit we've built over the years with each other--one we've passed on to our children. Recently, someone complimented me on how polite my kids are. It's true that they are and I'm always proud to hear that sort of thing, but having good manners is not the primary reason I taught my children to be polite.

I taught my children to be polite as a constant reminder to be grateful for the small kindnesses that others do for you. My wife and I model this daily for them. Not only do we thank each other for routine things we do for one another like setting the table, doing the laundry or mowing the lawn, we also thank our children for behaving well, cleaning their rooms or helping with the dishes.

Expressing heartfelt gratitude has an almost miraculous effect on the people around you. It makes others take joy in doing for you, turning resentment or obligation into enthusiastic kindness, and it's as much true for a nursing staff as it is your spouse. When you practice verbal gratitude daily, it changes the very nature of your relationships.

Taking the opposite path can prove, well, disastrous. One of the things my wife talked me about as we waited on the surgery was her boss's marital problems. He's a talented and ambitious man who pulls down a salary large enough to spoil his stay-at-home wife with expensive clothes, cars, and vacations.

The vacations, rather than being a blessing, have turned into a source of bitter resentment for him because his wife refuses to go to any of his preferred destinations or participate in any of the activities he enjoys. If he pushes the issue, she retaliates by passive aggressively ruining the experience with complaints, feigned illness and drama.

He's so upset over it that they haven't been speaking. The issue, of course, isn't really about the vacations. It's about his wife making their marriage a win/lose proposition rather than a win/win one and then stacking the game in her favor. At its core it's a simple lack of appreciation and gratitude--one so deeply ingrained that experiences most married couples can only dream of affording become a source of petty squabbling.

What a shame.

As I waited for my surgery, I wondered how I'd handle something as terrifying, painful and exhausting as cancer. I vowed that if I ever found myself faced with it, I'd do my very best to model strength, courage, grace, and good humor to my kids, as it might be the last and most important lesson I ever taught them.

Lying there next to my wife, I noted that gratitude and humor are fundamental building blocks of a healthy marriage and if you can display both when you're in a trying situation, then you're probably on solid ground with your spouse.

I found myself overcome with happiness that I'd married someone who loves me so deeply and who is constantly working toward improving and strengthening our marriage. I felt like there wasn't anything we couldn't get through together.

I'm beginning to think that the gratitude and a sense of humor are linked-- not in the sense that the funniest people are the most grateful (people who aren't at all funny can still laugh uproariously at someone who is)--but that gratitude provides the necessary perspective to have a good laugh at one's own misfortune.

My father, a recovering alcoholic, told me when I was a teenager that he knew his drinking had gotten out of control after he lost his sense of humor. This simple insight always stuck with me. It's perhaps just a backwards restatement of the "laughter is the best medicine" adage, but has been of much more practical value to me as a warning sign for when my mental state has gotten off the rails.

The sicker a society is, the more complicated it makes the rules of living out a life of happiness and fulfillment. In reality, the steps are both simple and unchanging. You know what they are and so do I. It's just that simple doesn't translate to easy and so we tend to look for other, less difficult ways.

None of us are immune, but you see it much more on the left. Instead of looking inward, the left is constantly trying to fix the other guy.This is one reason I've lost interest in politics. I'm fascinated by culture and the forces that move/control it, but I know that the actual practice of politics has very little impact on our daily lives.

Temperament is at least somewhat genetic, but I think that Abraham Lincoln had it mostly right when he said that most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

I also think my old man had it right when he told me that no one decision will have more impact on your happiness than your choice of who to marry (or not). Growing older definitely has its drawbacks--your body breaking down being one of them--but one of the great joys of aging been a greater understanding of love and the role it plays in my life.

Love isn't a feeling. It's thought put into action. It's a choice. And it begins with gratitude.

*I'm still riding a Percocet high, so I apologize for the rambling nature of this post.


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posted by Open Blogger at 08:30 PM

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