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Measuring GNH (“Gross National Happiness”)

This evening, when I fin­ished clean­ing up the kitchen after our fam­ily din­ner, I glanced at the cur­rent issue of the Econ­o­mist. The cover fea­tures this head­line: the Joy of Grow­ing Old (or why life begins at 46). It’s a light read, as this so-influential mag­a­zine goes, but nice to con­tem­plate if you’re, say, 50 years old and won­der­ing about the future.

The article’s the­sis is this: Although as peo­ple move towards old age they lose things they treasure — vitality, men­tal sharp­ness and looks — they also gain what peo­ple spend their lives pur­su­ing: Happiness.

Fig. 1 (above): “A snap­shot of the age dis­tri­b­u­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being in the United States,” Stone, et al: PNAS, May 2010 (y-axis: “WB” stands for well-being.)

Young adults are gen­er­ally cheer­ful, accord­ing to the Econ­o­mist’s mys­te­ri­ous author or authors. Things go down­hill until midlife, and then they pick up again. There’s a long dis­cus­sion in the arti­cle on pos­si­ble rea­sons for the U-shaped curve of self-reported well-being. Most plau­si­ble among the expla­na­tions offered, which might be kind of sad except that in real­ity (as opposed to ideals) I think it’s gen­er­ally a good thing, is the “death of ambi­tion, birth of accep­tance.” The con­cept is explained: “Maybe peo­ple come to accept their strengths and weak­nesses, give up hop­ing to become chief exec­u­tive or have a pic­ture shown in the royal Acad­emy…” And this yields contentedness. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Happiness In Life: Carrying The “H Card”

The most moving speaker at the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) convention I went to in Denver a few months ago was a doctor with Stage 4 cancer who had survived well past all expectations for his disease. While talking about achieving happiness through balance in life, he pulled out of his wallet a card made for him by his daughter, a preschool teacher.

“This is the C card,” he told us. “It says: ‘I have cancer. I can do whatever I want.’”

What a great idea, I thought. As much as it resonated with me, though, I couldn’t help but feel there was more to it than that.

Recently I was comforting a dear friend who had lost her mother. Remembering this handout from the AAFP, I held her close and said: “You’re a mourner now. You can do whatever you want.” I might as well said: “You have the M card.”

There’s this crotchety old guy in his eighties whom I’ve known for years. He does whatever he wants. I don’t think he actually carries a card in his wallet that says: “This is the O card. I am old. I can do whatever I want,” but he might as well. He is indeed old, and so he is entitled. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

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