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Every year I receive a Christmas card from a former favorite teacher who always says he hopes I’m thriving and flourishing. I always tell him that I am. For I believe that I have been blessed to have been around many folks I call my heroes for everyday living who have taught me the lesson of “thriveability.”
Like most people, I’ve led a “Dickens” of a life. When I read Charles Dickens’ words, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times,” I often think that he was describing not only my life but all lives. I suggest you take some time to reflect on the trials and tribulations in your own life and how necessary they may be to the fullness and richness of your life now. As upsetting as these events may have been, ask yourself if they were not in some way essential in making your life more authentic, vibrant, meaningful and joyful.
Beyond blind optimism or trying to cling relentlessly to a forced positive attitude, I have come to understand that each of us has within us not only a physical immune system but also a powerful psychological immunity. This remarkable system is at the foundation of our innate thriving response, defined as total joyful immersion in the simplest aspects of our daily living. We can awaken to that inborn response, and those who have found it through their times of misery can help lead the way.
Only those who have learned to thrive through crises, or learned from those who have, can fully understand what it means to flourish and deeply savor every moment of their lives. You have untapped innate evolutionary strengths, made not only to carry you through any trauma but also to help you become stronger and elevated by it. Because of your natural “thriveability,” there is nothing that can happen to you that has to prevent you from experiencing a deeply meaningful and profoundly more joyful life.
For the last few months before her death, I visited a young woman suffering from pancreatic cancer. I always knew when I was close to her hospital room because of her unique and contagious giggle. I knew that she had died when there was no laughter coming from her room. It seemed as if someone had unplugged a wonderful music that resonated through the hospital walls. She had told me that every morning was a cause for celebration for those like her facing death.
This amazing woman had watched hours of tapes of comedians that her husband had made for her, and everyone would say how they could hear her laughing most of the day or late into the night. I noticed that nurses coming to and from her room would almost always have a smile on their faces. On my first visit to her room, she saw me looking at her high stack of videotapes.
“Those are my pain killers,” she said. “When I laugh, my pain is much less. You know what people say when they are laughing really hard, ‘Stop it. You’re killing me’? Well, for me, it’s the reverse. If I stop laughing, it will kill me. The pain is much worse when I’m not laughing.”
Research in positive psychology clearly shows that a hardy laugh does have pain-reducing and immune-enhancing capacities.
Her husband told me, “I swear that woman was invincible. She kept laughing up to the end. She really did die laughing. Just thinking about that goofy laugh of hers makes me smile again. I wish we had a tape of it to play to remind us of how it lightened the hearts that always seem so heavy.”
If life has handed you a dirty deal, it may also have handed you a new lease on life in the form of new goals, new meanings and an authentic feeling of being alive that you have not yet experienced. You may be ready to learn that your regrets about your past and worries about your future have caused you to lose sight of the present where happiness grows. You may be ready to learn what the new positive psychology is discovering: we all have the capacity not only to survive and recover from terrible crises, but to thrive and flourish more than ever because – as Oliver Hardy was fond of saying when Stanley Laurel led him into yet another catastrophe – you may be on the verge of going through “another fine mess.”
Bob Mueller is the vice president of development for Hosparus. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.