My frantic day begins at 5:25 every morning. Moving efficiently through my morning routine, I quickly stuff down enough calories to fuel the first half of my day. I dash out of my home, hoping to get ahead of the initial bolus of traffic. Upon arrival at the office, I review the schedule and charts for the day. I greet my arriving co-workers as we prepare our office for the oncoming onslaught. We dive into our work day, attempting to keep our schedule somewhat intact. An abbreviated lunch time gives a quick respite before Round 2, “the afternoon”, begins in earnest. Who signed me up for this program? How did I get trapped into such a rigorous routine?
Let’s take a step back and revisit the day from a slightly different perspective.
I awake, well rested, in my secure and comfortable home at a time that I selected. I follow my convenient personal hygiene routine with clean, heated water in ample supply. I eat a warm and healthy breakfast that takes just minutes to prepare. I ease into my safe and dependable car that carries me to work, with music or information at my fingertips. I find my schedule filled with people who entrust themselves to my skill and judgment, and allow me to make a comfortable living. My staff surrounds me with friendship and support as we share in the privilege of treating our patients. Our schedule is carefully orchestrated to my wishes and provides an interesting mix of tasks and challenges. Lunch time quickly arrives and allows the entire staff to reorganize and re-energize for the second half of a rewarding day.
This is actually two sides of the same coin. Everyone is prone to fall into the trap of self-pity, especially following an especially challenging day (or stretch of days). The missing element is often gratitude; failure to appreciate the good fortune we experience. We overlook the many blessings and gifts we have been given. Dwelling on the limitations and negatives life presents is like scanning a book for misspellings instead of enjoying the story. We lose perspective when we fail to be grateful for the long list of things we often take for granted. Among them:
• Free choice of our location, hours, and workload
• A community that trusts and patronizes our profession
• A profession that is intrinsically rewarding
• A great variety of educational opportunities
• A mind that problem solves and retains essential information
• A free economy (mostly … )
• Health and hands that can perform complicated tasks
• Living in the U.S.A., a safe and prosperous nation
• Existing in this moment in history with all its technological and information advantages
So many individuals are simply marking time until anticipated retirement. We should be cautious with such wishes even though that phase of life can be rewarding and fulfilling. Are we really in such a
hurry to become senior citizens with declining health and less to contribute to society? Don’t get caught wishing your life away. Cicero, from Roman times, stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Maintaining a grateful attitude lends itself to kindness and ethical behavior. It fosters a “pay it forward” mindset that encourages additional levels of service. “Life is service” becomes the mantra in many a Christian, or any loving, home. A grateful individual rarely feels isolated recognizing the contributions made by others and basking in the presence of a loving God. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like having a talent and never developing it. It is an opportunity lost that may result in a diminished life. It can lead to a more solitary existence.
Melody Beattie stated, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Take the time to enumerate and relish all the great things in your life. Make a list and include family and friends in the process. Allow gratitude to energize and shape your daily activities. Approach life from that perspective, and humbly share your good fortune with others. Make ethical behavior and a good attitude your norm.
*Dr. Kurkowski is Chair of the Minnesota Dental Association Committee on Constitution, Bylaws, and Ethics. He is a general dentist in private practice in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Email is mmkurkowski@ msn.com