And yet, within this financial turmoil, there remains a subset of patients who seem to be tolerated this economic storm quite well--Yes, they've lost money just like everyone else. No, they're not among the super wealthy. What's their secret for remaining calm?
The secret, quite simply, is that they've chosen NOT to jump on what's been referred to as the hedonic treadmill. Briefly, hedonic treadmill hypothesis compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill who has to keep working just to stay in the same place. The hedonic treadmill hypothesis comes from field of positive psychology. It refers to the observation that people tend to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune.
Patients in distress have little interest in hearing the hedonic treadmill hypothesis of positive psychology. Instead, I've learned to use the power of story to convey the essence of this concept. Here's one version of the story that I keep in my library of healing stories:
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."
"And after that?" asked the Mexican.
"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City. From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."
"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.
"And after that?"
"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.
"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."
Take a close look at your current economic situation. Is your mindset more like the Mexican fisherman or the Harvard MBA? What, if anything, needs to change? Michael Lara, MD practices near San Francisco, California. He writes on the interplay between culture and medicine.
Take a close look at your current economic situation. Is your mindset more like the Mexican fisherman or the Harvard MBA? What, if anything, needs to change?
Michael Lara, MD practices near San Francisco, California. He writes on the interplay between culture and medicine.