DaVita Stories

Recipe for a Good Life: Gratitude, Resilience, and Community

This post was originally published on the Family Talk Blog Sept. 27, 2017. It was republished with permission, on DaVita Stories.

Lately, it’s hard to pick up a newspaper. Hurricanes, one after another, have pounded the Caribbean, Florida, and Texas. Mexico has been beset with earthquakes—hundreds have died. It seems like the earth has been in a state of crisis, taking out its fury on innocent men, women, and children.

It’s easy to experience compassion fatigue. As soon as the new hurricane hit, we didn’t hear much about Houston anymore. But trust me, there are still thousands of people in Texas up to their eyebrows in water logged furniture, walls, and belongings.

What can we learn from these natural disasters?

Life can change on a dime.

One moment we are warm, dry, and comfortable. The next minute we are cold, wet, and miserable. I think of all of the people who have lost their homes, their livelihood, and their transportation. Without savings to fall back on, supportive family who live elsewhere, or a job, families can find themselves in dire circumstances. They can end up homeless with few prospects.

We take a lot for granted—running water, electricity, plumbing, heat or air conditioning. We don’t think about it much, except when we don’t have it! But many things can happen in an instant—dramatic health changes, job loss, natural disasters, accident, and ultimately death. We know this intellectually, but we are rarely prepared for it when it happens.

Don’t take anything for granted.

Pause–consider everything and everybody that you appreciate. Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude for all of the goodness that you do have, including hot and cold running water! When you think about it, there’s much to be thankful for.

Cultivate resilience.

My Aunt Midge, in mid-life, was hit by one health problem after another—she lost her voice, had a stroke, and then was diagnosed with cancer. Each time, she got knocked on her rear by these major health crises. But, after a short time, she dusted herself off and went forward in her life. She made lemonade out of every lemon. She started a self-help group for patients with her voice condition. After her stroke, she figured out how to get around New York City, where she lived, on an electric wheelchair. She was a holy terror on the sidewalks. She went to the theatre and restaurants. And when she got cancer, she told my wife and I that she was too busy to let it stop her from going out. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Life can knock anyone down, no matter how strong you are, no matter how much money you have in the bank, or how many friends you have. We are only flesh and blood. We have little to no control over the world around us. Our bodies can betray even the strongest, healthiest person.

Resilience is about picking yourself up and putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how discouraged you feel. Indeed, it’s about not letting how you feel stop you from living.

When my brother was killed by a drunk driver, over 35 years ago, someone asked my mother— “How can you go on?” My mother looked surprised.  Despite her unfathomable grief of losing her son, it never occurred to her that she wouldn’t wake up in the morning, get dressed, go to work, do the laundry, or make dinner. She knew that she would still enjoy a sunset on a long summer day and the taste of a crisp apple in autumn. Life goes on and sweeps you up into its path if you let it.

We need each other.

The support of friends, family, and our community helps us cope with life’s disasters. We were all heartened by strangers helping strangers in Houston. We don’t need to wait until a natural disaster to reach out to each other.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist with The Everett Clinic, a DaVita Medical Group, and the Director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. He specializes in working with children, families and adults. In his spare time, he’s a second degree black belt in Aikido (a peaceful martial art) and teaches aikido to children in Seattle. In addition (like many Pacific Northwesterners) he likes to hike, bike, and play in the sun (and rain).