Sunday, February 19, 2012

Be Happy (Yah, Right!)

I have collected foreign coins since I was a little boy. They have come from all over the world, sometimes gifted to me by friends who lived in faraway countries, sometimes picked up in my travels. Until this week I had never asked myself, "Why do you collect coins? As often happens in life, apparently unrelated ideas/relationships/dreams collide, resulting in unanticipated conclusions and consequences.
Are you happy? If you have Parkinson's disease (or any number of other life-changing diseases or adversities), it is almost inevitable that you will find yourself thinking about, worrying about and ultimately experiencing a significant potential for decline in your quality of life. That seems to make sense. But what is quality-of-life or happiness? This question was debated this past Thursday on a conference call I attended with an international group of friends of mine. They all have Parkinson's disease and want to find ways to improve the quality of life of others with PD.
The conference call was early in the morning (at least in my time zone) and, having overslept my alarm, I didn't have time for coffee before the call and had not taken my morning Parkinson's pills. Despite my best efforts, my caffeine and dopamine deprived brain easily turned with excited anticipation (and trepidation given all the details yet to be ironed out) to my upcoming round the world trip. And that brought my coin collection to mind. I imagined the coins I could bring back from all those countries I would be visiting. Somehow, the concept of quality life collided with my coin collection. "Did my collecting of foreign money improve my quality of life?" I found myself asking. The truth is that I have rarely taken out the coins, some carefully sorted and placed in plastic sleeves while others have been carelessly left loose or crammed into assorted containers. I immediately knew that it is not so much the collection I value, nor even the collecting that makes me happy. How do those bits of silver, nickel, copper and even aluminum contribute to my quality of life? It was then that the realization struck. It is not a trip around the world or even the sights that I will see that are likely to make me happy. But it is the adventure, the experiences and the relationships represented by those foreign coins and around the world trip that bring a smile to my face.

Not everyone shares my thirst for adventure, experience and relationship. And in the same way, not everyone who has Parkinson's disease will experience the same diminution of quality-of-life. Studies support the conclusion that approximately 50% of one's "happiness" is genetically influenced. Only 10% is circumstantial. And the remaining 40%? Well, it is intentional activity; attitude choices, conscious responses to adversity, refusing to be negative and taking responsibility for one's own quality-of-life. All stuff within one's control!
As my friends and I said goodbye and ended our call I found myself feeling very thankful for people like them in my life. I was appreciative of their encouragement. These are people who, despite their own struggles, are passionate about helping others. And in the process, strange though it may sound, Parkinson's disease has actually added to the quality of their lives.

"Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself." Viktor Frankl (Man's Search for Meaning)

1 comment:

  1. Viktor Frankl is one of my heroes; I think I'll steal that quotation for my facebook page. I enjoy reading your blog Bob. Keep writing.