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Happiness during time of a pandemic

By on April 27, 2020 in Columnist with 2 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

It seems strange to be writing this article in late March 2020 during the worst pandemic in most of our lifetimes. 

Like many of you, I have sometimes been emotionally down and feel like my world has changed possibly forever. In order to deal with my feelings, I have been trying to focus on my many blessings and remembering some of the happiest times that have filled my life. 

This is something each of us can do. It might even be worth keeping a journal of these memories.

We know what happiness means, but we may not be sure what causes it. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but would like to share some thoughts and other information on this topic of happiness. 

You may have experienced or been told by parents about a baby that seemed happy from day one. As long as its needs were met, the baby exuded happiness and joy, smiling readily and making everyone around smile, too. Is there a “happy” gene? 

A Stanford study some time ago suggested that genetics might play a role in depression, so why not for happiness? 

A twin study in Minnesota published in NeuroScience in 2012, suggested that there might be a genetic role in causing higher levels of life satisfaction or happiness. 

The study concluded that about 50 percent of higher life satisfaction comes from genetics. Of course there are other factors. Happy babies are easier to relate to and may evoke more loving responses.

We know that active brain chemicals (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin) are released during moments of positive emotions. These are sometimes called the “feel good” chemicals. They reduce pain, increase appetite and are happiness boosters.

On the other hand, life satisfaction or happiness has more to do with other humans than most of us realize. Having a feeling of self-acceptance while treating others with compassion leads to a happier life. 

Lester Holt, NBC newscaster, has been chosen as the most popular newscaster in America. I think that relates to his warm personality and his thoughtful manner, but also how he ends his nightly newscast. He always ends with an uplifting, warm, human-interest story that touches our feelings at a deeper level.

As far back as Aristotle, people have been trying to discover keys to happiness. 

Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers in history said, “Happiness depends on ourselves more than anyone else.” 

He also said that happiness should be a central purpose of our lives. He suggested that it is a result of virtue. 

When asked about happiness, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It required being honest with yourself and those around you, feeling you have done the best you could in your life to have the ability to love others.” 

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29 and brought worldwide attention to this disease. He has succeeded despite the disease. 

He said, “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and inversely to expectations.” 

In other words, he accepted his condition and went on with his life. 

Viktor Frankl survived horrific conditions in a WWII Nazi concentration camp, and later wrote his book on Man’s Search for Meaning. While he didn’t mention happiness specifically, he was very concerned with satisfaction and fulfillment in life. His book mentions brief moments of love and caring even in the worst of circumstances.

As I started thinking of the happiest times in my life, the more I remembered, the better I felt. 

I decided I have the power to choose. I can dwell on this difficult and depressing pandemic in which I am in the “elder” age of greatest risk, or I can think of positive things where I have been blessed in this life. 

The first thing that came to mind was the day Lynn said, “I do take this man to be my husband.” 

After our first date in college when she was a sophomore and I was a senior, I knew she was a girl I would gladly spend the rest of my life with. Even though we were separated for two years when I was in Chicago at medical school, she still said “yes” when I asked her to marry me. Now, after nearly 58 years of marriage, I love her even more today.

My second happiest memory was the day I graduated from Northwestern Medical School. 

It wasn’t just getting the degree that made me happy. It was seeing my parents watching me with great pride. Neither of them had gone beyond high school. They lived very modestly with few material possessions, but they gave me unconditional love and their sacrifice so I might achieve my goals.

Finally, the next happy memories have to do with family, which is more important than anything else in my life. Having three wonderful children, Steve, Dave and Kirsten, is without a doubt Lynn’s and my greatest achievement. 

As an only child myself, I enjoyed (and was sometimes challenged by) the noisy banter and joking and occasional chaos. 

Several years later we added another person to our family. Chantrea Long was a Cambodian refugee I had met in a Thai refugee camp on the Thai border with Vietnam. 

He was in our home only nine months, but it was long enough for Chantrea and me to bond. He left to be with the Cambodian girl he hoped to marry who was in Boston. They did marry and moved to Maryland where they both found jobs. 

I visited them a few years later. As the three of us went walking in the Washington D.C. mall with Vanna’s arm linked with mine and the other with Chantrea, she said, “Jim, men where I work think I am cold and unfriendly.” 

I expressed surprise since she was so warm and welcoming to me. She said, “In our country, women aren’t supposed to talk to men not in our family, but Jim, you are family.” Happy memories for sure.

Despite all the uncertainty with this pandemic, I know that somehow most of us will survive and will never forget. 

Stay positive as much as you can and remember happy times.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. James S Russell says:

    This article made me happy. Thanks, Jim

  2. Chantrea Long says:

    Jim, Vanna and I ( Chantrea Long)also Lynn all I can say is WE ARE FAMILY for EVER and EVER. Thank you Lord who bind us together.
    Love from us always.

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