Saturday, March 06, 2010

Shiny Happy People

I have a friend whose father, a really smart, successful, funny guy, was also kind of an asshole. He was arrogant, negative, selfish, and prone to anger. Then, at the age of 50 or so, he went to see the movie Groundhog Day, and suddenly decided that he was going to be a different person. And he was. From that day onward, every time he had one of his old negative impulses, he would think “Groundhog Day” and then react the way he wanted to be. Other people were even allowed to remind him if necessary. It’s been something like 15 years now, and he’s never slipped back into his old ways. He’s kind, thoughtful, positive, and accepting now.

I’ve been hoping for that kind of moment myself, ever since. Not that I’m particularly arrogant, negative, selfish, or prone to anger … though I’ve had my moments of all of the above. I’ve got lots of impulses that I don’t like, but the main thing I’ve wished I could change is the lens through which I perceive my life.

So this is very scary and even embarrassing to admit, but … I think I’ve done it. It’s only been a month or so, but it feels real. However, it feels too soon to write about, which is why I’ve been quiet here. Another month, maybe, and I think I’ll be able to describe it more. (No, I haven’t discovered religion.)

In the meantime! Would you like to hear about the time I was attacked by a patient? My college boyfriend dealing serious drugs out of his dorm room? (Did I already write about those?) Other? None?


EJW said...

We have a friend like this. He was a college buddy and I never really liked him. He was quite arrogant and very negative about other people, I think to boost his own esteem.

But at about 30 or 35, I think he realized that he was losing his friends and that he'd never find a good girlfriend this way.

So he changed it. He took up a bunch of hobbies that he knew nothing about and met a ton of new people and now has an awesome fiancee and is one of my favorite people.

It's quite impressive that he had the ability to realize the situation and the courage to change it. Good for you!

bisb said...

I'm tickled for you. However,......I worry. There are underlying philosphical concepts that allow one to stop seeing the ugly and stupid around oneself and in life as ugly and stupid. Without an understanding of those concepts, I fear that it's very difficult to keep the good feelings going. My opinion is that it's more than just a self imposed habit. I'm not implying that is the case for you.
One very pertinent piece of information is that I've read that the largest demographic for the rental of the the movie Groundhod Day is Buddists. You may want to look into that.
I would be even more tickled if I heard that you've decided to find out what is the cause and effect of your your new found life view.
I wish you only the the best. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm a big believer in "habits" of mind having a significant effect on how we perceive things. Those habits tend to be associated with personalities, but I love your evidence that people can change them, too.

Wish you much success in being "Shiny-Happy"

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to your explanation of what happened, and what you did. Am especially curious as to whether your lucky stone/revelation/lens could have wider applications--does it apply to other habits one might want to break or instill?

Orange said...

Fascinatind, DM! I look forward to hearing more deep stuff from you soon.

And in the meantime, by all means, bring on the good stories!

Sue said...

Congrats on the shiny happy. I made a choice to reframe my thinking several years ago and I've been much happier since. Can't wait to hear about your transformation.

Blue said...

when i was teen, a friend and teacher of mine pulled me aside one day after class and we chatted for a bit. he told me something that literally changed my life: "one of the biggest lies people perpetuate is that if you want to know what a girl is going to be like when she grows up, then look at her mother (or boy/father). that simply isn't true! you are free to choose how you will be and what course you'll follow in life, and you can look around you and find people who have qualities and traits you admire that you'd like to have, and just quietly watch them and see how they operate, then incorporate their example into your life".

i'd been raised in a dysfunctional and strange family, and don't think it had ever occurred to me that this wasn't "as good as it gets".

my teacher's little talk with me turned the course of my life. i started looking around and watching people and seeing other ways of being/living. i still do that today. i have heroes in every stage of life that i admire, and allow myself to be inspired by them to continually grow, to never plateau out.

change isn't only possible, it's the essence of a life well lived. even though everything about our lives seems to resist change. systems love the status quo, which is why we make the same resolutions every year, and people talk about change but it doesn't happen often. it takes energy, awareness and action. it's work and effort. but the results are a life well-lived and becoming a better person is it's own reward. i try to make sure i allow and create space for for myself and those around me to evolve and grow.

proud of you Doc! ♥

Ozzie said...

Definitely wish to hear of personal change. Until you wish to write of it, however, please please please tell of patient assault and drug dealing ex-dude! Or anything else you wish to write. Your blog is one of my happy places and I will not be picky.

Anonymous said...

I very very much want to hear about the violent patient and the drug dealing boyfriend, but please, please post about how you're managing your moods/attitude. I am very "arrogant, negative, selfish, and prone to anger," and I am really, really working on it. There are a lot of advice books and I am trying to implement the advice, I really am, but just this morning I gave my husband an irrational tongue-lashing.

"What do you accomplish by these rants?" he asked, calmly.

I looked at him, and replied, "Nothing."

I'm doing the mood hygiene stuff: I have joy, playfulness, exercise, social contact, meditation, and gratitude in my life every day. I work at it. I put my mood hygiene at the top of my list.

And yet I still am consumed by petty resentments and the powerful urge to punish others -- who really don't deserve it!

I really, really want to be a kind, serene, tolerant person, but wow, is it ever hard.

Dr. Mama, you know I love your "how to" posts. I love it when you just list pieces of advice; you have a problem solving nature.

Please, please, if you've found things that work, list them

Remember, your online writing eventually persauded me to disregard my ortho's command to stop running and now I do it every other day.

I hope you can write on this topic helpfully, as well.

Jul said...

BOTH stories, por favor.

Revelations and changes are why I like getting older. Even the nature of the changes, changes. I feel less jagged and splintery now than when I was 20... and also like I'm being refined via chisel, not chainsaw. Maybe in another decade I'll work my way up to sandpaper. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm always willing to read anything you write Dr. M. So just keep writing, please.

Denise said...

Please tell us more about changing your attitude! I was thinking about that just today, how I'm so stressed out about everything all the time, but when I look at my life, there's really nothing that needs to be changed except how I react to it. It just seems...beyond me at this point.

L. said...

I have long harbored the secret belief that, for a lot of us who are dysthymic/negative (not severely depressed, though, of course), the cure isn't in medication but in reframing your thinking, paired with lifestyle changes. But both of the latter are challenging. Still, I'm much happier than I was ten years ago, and a much better person too. I still have a lot of work left to do, though, and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

I love the little story you told just here because I love hearing that people do change, and radically. Sometimes on my worse days I do worry that it's not possible to truly change on a deep level.

I would also like to hear your others stories, just because they sound like good ones@

Unknown said...

I'm working on this too. Trying to be less of a bitter, burned-out cynic and more of the kind of person who does not let wanting to set her desk on fire keep her from having the life she wants (and being the person I want).

Mine started when I turned 40, looked at how little my life resembed what I'd want (so I got that law degree and am in a firm? bigfuckingdealonlymyparentscare) and how I'd turned into The Ghost of Personality Past.

Anonymous said...


I concur w/ most of the comment so far. If you've cracked the code, found the holy grail, please share with us. The other stories your propose to share are *dramatic*, but I personally have had and seen a lot of that in my life (my Mom's an OB nurse, nuff said, right?).

The unexamined life is definitely NOT worth living, but I've been forcefully wedging apart my psyche to see why I am who I am and how to make that person better since, well, I was a teenager. I know my weak points like I know my body, but making changes long term is so, so hard.

I have a feeling that the revelation that you had is highly personal and meaningful to you. I may not be able to replicate your results, but I love good examples for inspiration.

Pretty is as pretty does and getting gorgeous on the inside is a lot of upkeep and work. But I believe in it, must keep trying.

Unknown said...

Yes please! Would love to hear the stories and anything you feel you can share about your shift in perspective. Myself, I'd like to go from someone who does nothing - as in, literally nothing - outside of work to the person I used to be. I used to have hobbies and interests... now I'm lucky if I watch a few TV shows and eat something that didn't start the day in my freezer. (Okay, yeah, I'm in the middle of residency. So?)

OMDG said...

Your change is so exciting! I see the negativity in my own family, and I am also trying not to be that way. It's difficult, well, a lot of the time. I have a tendency to fall back into old habits about talking about others, and processing things that happen in my life. What helps me is talking: a) to my positive friends, and b) seeing patients -- they make me realize what a whiny baby I am sometimes.

Let's hear about the bf dealing drugs out of his room. That sounds exciting!

Jennifer said...

While I am a huge fan of kindness, consideration and tolerance, I have mixed feelings about the cult of "positive thinking". It's important to be good to the people around us but let's not lose our grip on reality. Lately all this talk of "not dwelling on the negative" and "positive thinking" has become a religion of its own, one in which reality is rejected on the grounds that it is down putting. That just seems dangerous to me, something out of an Orwell novel.

And yes I would like to read about when you were attacked by a patient. And the drug-dealing boyfriend. Like the others, I'll read pretty much anything you write.

Unknown said...

GOOD FOR YOU! I grew up in a home with a father who rejected every effort I made to interact with him, and a mother who made it clear that everything she did was her "duty" and she didn't enjoy it a bit.

During college something a roommate sad to me made me think about how negative I was in my comments. I decided that negative comments would no longer be my "default" value - that I would think carefully before saying something negative. I'm 47 and still hanging in there.

I've also trained myself to tell friends and family members what I LIKE about them.

ozma said...

Oh, I desperately want to hear how you changed.

That's a freaking amazing story about Groundhog Day.

I hate to be sexist but for some reason, the only people I know who do things like this are men. It's horrible to say but it's true. However, it's also meaningless that I say this because it is dumb anecdotal evidence and I only know about 4 people who ever made complete about face turnarounds of that kind.

So tell me how you did!

I'm actually negative, selfish and prone to anger. I used to just be negative. And then recently I became selfish and prone to anger. I want to be glad I'm not arrogant but heck, that could happen. I never thought I'd be prone to anger and look at me. (Well, you can't, so take my word for it.)

Yes, I want to hear about the time you were attacked by a patient and your college boyfriend dealing serious drugs out of his dorm room.

DoctorMama said...

Ideas are gelling on this, and hopefully I'll be able to describe it in a way that may be of some use.

As for the "cult of positive thinking," well, yeah, I know what you mean. But shouldn't we -- and by "we" I mean anyone who has the means to access the internet and the leisure to poke around on blogs -- be able be positive and appreciative? Including appreciating the importance of sadness and the existence of suffering. It's the whining I have a problem with, not the acceptance of reality. Especially when one's own reality is very, very good.

Anonymous said...

I am so embarrassed to admit this - but I had that moment when I was ~20. I used to let people walk all over me, was afraid to say no lest someone wouldn't like me, tried to please all, etc etc. Then, I read the fountainhead (see, this IS SO embarrassing), but I decided to try to be like Dominique for a few days. Then a few months. Now over a decade. I am not exactly like her, but I did learn to not give a $%^% what other people think - and in the end, I am a happier person and have true friends and a great husband, and nobody walks all over me.

I know - attributing life changing moments to Ayn Rand is so cliche'. I think I will sign this anonymously just so it is not down for posterity - but I am a frequent poster on MiM. (This is my first time on your blog, but I like it!)

DoctorMama said...

Anonymous -- I think that's awesome. And I understand about the embarrassment factor.

Anonymous said...


It's anonymous poster from 6:11 PM, March 09, 2010 (the 5th anonymous person from top).

I had a few other thoughts since this post.

One of my dad's favorite expressions (and he's an old socialist hippie) is petit bourgeois. It strikes me, upon reading many blogs (moms and other), that most of the bitching and moaning is about modern decadent *problems* that could be labeled petit bourgeois whining.

However, to be fair, people complain and are unhappy in the context in which they live--and you can't really blame them for that. For instance, I don't live in Haiti or Congo or even Eastern Europe. I'm not a person of color in a predominantly white world. My baby didn't die of dehydration. I live here, in the U.S. in this context. Where I have the luxury of complaining about my husband, the schools, my car, my house, my clothes, my crazy family members.

In other words, what I'm unhappy about most of the time are the issues that I perceive to affect my quality of life directly.

What I DO think can be expected of such privilege is to maintain perspective about other folks' realities. Especially in this digital hyperconnected social reporting age. We people who have it good need to remember those who don't, regardless of how happy we are or aren't.

But I don't think that's enough. I think that helping folks in worse shape than us provides longer lasting, deeper happiness and satisfaction. All the psych studies out there have shown time and time again that volunteers and people who *help*, provided their own needs are met, are extremely satisfied and content compared w/ peers. I believe that humans are fundamentally altruistic and good (unlike the bible), but we abuse and neglect this gift. We take it for granted. All of us.

Church and religion can be great places to regain perspective, lend a helping hand, and be reminded of our altruistic natures. Some go a step further and make helping others a duty. [This religious focus is one of the reasons I'm considering becoming a churchgoer although I'm agnostic].

But the question remains--how do we translate our intellectual knowledge about our innate goodness and our comparatively lux living conditions to happiness and better behavior to those we love? I have it relatively great and yet I can be all the negative adjectives in the comments above.

I suspect the answer lies in mindfulness. Or frequent mindfulness. To that end, we don't watch T.V., we don't have cable, my husband and I share a cell phone (but yet are able to be remarkably constantly connected to the world--sigh). We share one PC computer. We read. We take walks. We eat meals together. This helps, but we still get forgetful of our altruistic natures.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and discoveries and how you practice what you have learned. Again, if only for inspiration.

E. said...

DoctorMama, I totally want to hear about whatever this epiphany is. I'm a die-hard optimist and believe that people can and do change. (Though I'm also a realist and understand that it's rare that they really change zap-like-that-for-good.) I even personally know a couple of people who've done it.

So, whenever you're ready, I'm waiting (along with all your other fans...)

winecat said...

Good for you. I'm anxious to hear about your change. I've been struggling with intolerance, impatience and lack of humility for years now. With the help of a most amazing therapist I am oh so slowly making a change. It's such a nice feeling.

I vote for the time a patient attacked you story.

DrSpouse said...

My parents separated when I was 23 and it had been pretty hellish before that; they also took forEVER to divorce, get on with it already.

But when I was about 26 or 27 I had a revelation (indeed, a biblical revelation) that I don't have to go down that road. And so far, I am boringly, straightforwardly happy with Mr Spouse. 6 years of marriage in May.

DoctorMama said...

Anonymous poster #5 and again (first an aside -- Anonymouses, just give yourself a fake tag, or sign off with one, so that I can reference you guys when I need to, okay? Even an initial?)

Anyway, Anonymous x 2: yes yes yes yes. Also yes.

Except the church part, for me. (Quakers seem pretty reasonable -- I bet you're looking into that.)

I'm going on vacation in four days and have been crazy busy the last ten days including call/rounding this past weekend, so not much time for writing. Maybe can do it on vacation ... another petit bourgeois activity, non?