What's a Dentist to Do? Choosing Joy

What's a Dentist to Do? Choosing Joy

Jack L. Churchill, D.D.S.*:

“Siblings Held in Death of Brother, 46.” “Northfield Drug Probe Nets 8; More Charges Possible.” “Coleman Calls on Foes to ‘Stop Attacking My Family.’” “Joy Ride’s Tragic Turn Tears at Four Families.” These are headlines in our local newspaper — just a few from one issue.

If we look to our newspapers, television, radio et al for positive messages, we often are disappointed, aren’t we? I believe joy has been conditioned out of most people. People go to work doing the same thing every day. They wake up grumpy, go through the motions at work, sit in traffic without a smile on their faces. Life is killing them. They get home from work, turn on the television, and get negative news reports. Then commercial time comes, and we get all those political ads! Most information we get nowadays seems to be joyless, doesn’t it?**

That’s the bad news! The good news is this: Happiness is a choice. Now, I don’t propose that we can just snap our fingers and feel happy immediately. True happiness comes from deep within us. It comes from a grateful heart. It comes from being grateful for those people, things, and situations around us. What did you say? You have nothing to feel grateful about? Taxes too much? At least you are earning money. Price of gas too high? At least you have a car. Political ads on TV are so negative! At least that is part of an election system that works in the greatest nation on earth. Be grateful for situations that make you struggle and make you stronger, and remember the story of the little boy who received a box of manure for Christmas and was thrilled because he was sure there was a pony to follow.

Happiness and joy are choices. Ignore the conditioning that says you must wake up with a scowl on your face. Smile. Laugh. These are outward signs that you choose to be happy. Cultivate a grateful spirit by making a list of 100 things you are thankful for.

There are people or situations or places that trigger a sense of joy in all of us. Perhaps it’s sitting on the boat dock in front of your cabin. Maybe it’s your son playing in the front yard, or the presence of a friend. Tap into that joy and bring it into your present moment. You can do this time and time again and get lots of mileage from it. Activate those “happy triggers,” as Andy Andrews calls them, during the day. Seek them out so you may choose to be happy whenever you wish.

Anne Frank said, “Our very lives are fashioned by choice. First we make choices. Then our choices make us.”

We have all watched the stock market decline dramatically. We could probably call this an “unhappy trigger”. I was presented with a marvelous antidote, of sorts. My family and I signed up to help at “Feed My Starving Children” through our church. This is a local, non-profit program where volunteers package vitamin loaded meals of rice, soy, and vegetables to be shipped to children in 50 countries, including here in the United States. Ninety-four percent of the funding goes toward the service itself and six percent toward administrative and fundraising costs (www.fmsc.org). Our church packaged 526,824 meals, enough to feed approximately 2,000 children daily for the next year.
It was while packaging those meals that we heard the story of a baby who was birthed into the sewage of an outhouse. A man heard the baby crying, found him, and crawled down to save him. The baby was fed by “Feed My Starving Children” food, gained weight, and is now thriving. He was given the name of Moses. Little Moses would someday like to be the president of Haiti. And we heard the story of Omar, who at the age of eight weighed only 19 pounds. On the program he also gained weight and was making great strides within six months. These are the things joy is built upon.

Don’t rely solely upon material things to build your foundation for happiness. These things are fleeting. I believe true joy comes from leading a purpose-filled life; a life that engages prayer, worship, reading, serving others, building relationships, and sharing your gifts.

Our dental practices, of course, often deal with people who are dentally sick. This is not a positive situation. Disease is not a happy place. However, we in dentistry must choose joy in improving these people’s lot and making them better than when they walked into our offices. Those around us in our work, whether they are patients who feel the joylessness of dental treatment or staff who may feel burdened by whatever in their lives causes that same feeling, can drain the joy from our work. Do whatever you can to prevent this from happening. The joy of doing fine dentistry is always something you can “hang your hat on”, and that includes the very real joy of improving people’s lives. There is, as well, the joy that comes of doing the right thing and doing it selflessly.

In the book Character is Destiny,*** John McCain states, “Selfishness is the enemy of happiness. The happiest people might not be the luckiest or safest or most comfortable or most popular. But they are, I have observed, the least selfish. They are those people who are less selfish today than they were yesterday, and less selfish tomorrow than they are today. And on and on, day after day, until, many years later, they look back on their life and are happy to see that it was good, not perfect, not without mistakes, not without disappointment and hurt, maybe not all they once dreamed it would be, but good.”

McCain, of course, was a prisoner of war for several years during the Vietnam War. He and his fellow prisoners were tortured often in an effort to get them to make statements discrediting their country and the cause they were sent there to serve. Many times their captors would promise not to tell anyone if they just confessed. “Just say it, spare yourself more pain, and no one will know,” they would say. McCain writes, “But the men I had the honor of serving with always had the same response. I will know. I will know. That, dear reader, is good character. And I hope it is your destiny, your choice, your achievement, to hear the voice in your own heart, when you face hard decisions in your life, to hear it say to you, again and again, until it drowns out every other thought: I will know. I will know. I will know.”

Seek happiness. Choose joy. Know that sort of integrity.

Please e-mail us at
jackchurchill@msn.com or fax us at (612) 339-3618. We look forward to hearing from you not only regarding this article, but also if you have any ethical dilemmas you would like to present to the membership. Perhaps we can help you decide what to do.

*Dr. Churchill is Chair of the Minnesota Dental Association’s Committee on Ethics, Bylaws, and Constitution. He is a general dentist in private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
**Material from Mastering the Seven Decisions by Andy Andrews, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN.
***Quotes from Character is Destiny by John McCain with Mark Salter, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, NY.