72: The Secret of Happiness

72: The Secret of Happiness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

The Secret of Happiness

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.

~Dalai Lama

I wiped the sweat from my brow after moving my son into college and pulled the worn paper from my pocket. I reread the note given to me by my patient many years before and smiled. I’d feared this day would never come.

My son had many learning disabilities and by the second grade was still unable to read. I knew he was smart and I kept telling him that one day he would “read like a champ,” but the truth was that some days I barely believed it myself. It was on one of those days that I walked into work at the Open Heart Surgery Intensive Care Unit and saw that Mr. Goodman had been readmitted.

I had known him for several years because he was a frequent patient in our ICU. Originally, he had contracted an infection in his heart valve that required a valve replacement, and he had been in and out of the hospital since. We had come to know him well and grew to love both him and his wife.

On this particular evening, as I trudged into the ICU, my heart was filled with a panic that even my son’s sweet blue eyes had been able to see. His learning disabilities seemed insurmountable. When I saw Mr. Goodman on my list, I was both happy to see him and sad he was back. As his condition deteriorated, the success of our interventions was declining.

Although Mr. Goodman became sicker and sicker, his spirits and smile never waned. I looked at his progressive diagnosis and walked into his room. When I put my stethoscope to his chest, his lungs sounded full of fluid, but he smiled and said, “I’m here for another tune-up.”

“I’ll make certain we change the oil and fix the radiator then,” I said, smiling back at him as I left the room. His wife soon came in and I heard them laughing. I have a PhD in worry and on this particular night I was overcome with worry for my son. I was drawn back into this room filled with laugher. “Mr. Goodman,” I said, “you must know the secret of happiness because you are always smiling.”

“I do,” he replied. “Bring me a piece of paper and I will write it down for you.”

Obediently, I brought him the paper. He proceeded to write and then handed me the note. It read: “The Secret of Happiness is not getting what you want, but wanting what you get.” As I stared at his message, I was overwhelmed with the message it held for me. I felt tears well up as I realized that I’d only been concerned with getting what I wanted, instead of being thankful for what I had been given. He’d seen, on this night, that I needed his special wisdom. I took his hand. “Thank you.”

As soon as I began to follow Mr. Goodman’s secret of happiness, my fears and tears fell away like leaves on an autumn tree. Once I saw my son as the treasure he was, I lost my worry that he would never read. If he never read I would be grateful for his beautiful smile, the joy he found in everything he did, his contagious laugh and kind heart.

I gave Mr. Goodman his medications and changed his dressings, but he changed my perspective. From his note I learned that worrying about my son overcoming his disabilities only led to frustration for him and me. Acceptance of the gift life had given me led to peace.

Mr. Goodman surely didn’t ask for the life he was given, and indeed it was not an easy one. Although he was not getting what he wanted, he wanted what he got and used that life to bring joy and laughter to the people around him. And on one dark night he brought wisdom to a weary, worrying nurse, who gratefully saved his note for a decade and a half. And, as it turned out, over time my son not only learned to read, but excelled at school.

~Alisa Edwards Smith

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