How Can One Find Happiness? A Retired Physician’s Experience Tells You
By Tian Tian, China
Editors’ Note: What is true happiness? Many people might think, “Success and making a name for yourself, and being looked up to and admired by others is happiness.” Here, a relatively well-known physician realizes in her waning years that despite having high status and being looked up to by many people, she wasn’t happy. Having gained these things held no significance at all for her. Why did this famous doctor reach this conclusion? And what new understanding of real happiness did she gain? Read on to find out her experience …
At the close of every night, month, and year, careful people will sum up their experience, plan, and set goals for the results in their study and work, so that they can improve in the future. Even more careful people will sum up their experience in their own life, “How did I come pass through at every stage of my life? Does the life I lead now have any significance? Am I truly happy? What should I pursue to find real significance and gain true happiness?” I am a retired physician who previously worked in a hospital, and recently I also summed up my own experience in life. My conclusion: Whether or not a person is happy in life has nothing to do with whether he is successful and famous.
My Adoration for the Respect Earned by Fame and Success
One spring, years ago, I went out for a picnic with Doctor Wang from my hospital. Along the way, the local villagers recognized him at a glance. They affectionately shouted “Dr. Wang” as we passed. During our picnic, they were more enthusiastic, and when they saw we lacked certain tools, they voluntarily gave us use of their own. In those days, material conditions were not ideal, and milk was in very short supply, but when people from the milk factory learned that Dr. Wang had come, they rushed out to bring us milk. When I saw the enthusiasm with which the villagers welcomed Dr. Wang, I couldn’t help but be amazed: These villagers really liked Dr. Wang! Wherever he went, he was respected, to the point that people came to help him on the news that he was there for a picnic. But what about me? I was just a clinician, languishing in obscurity, who could do nothing but ride on Dr. Wang’s coattails. It made me sigh. But then, in my disappointment, I looked at Dr. Wang’s silver hair and thought: Am I not still young? If I study medicine and work hard, one day, sooner or later, I would be just as successful and famous as Dr. Wang, and gain the same level of respect and support from others! This is true happiness!
Fighting With All My Strength for My Goals
After that, I ceaselessly studied medical theories from every discipline. In addition to my work, I also participated in various skill tests and supplementary classes. To gain opportunities for more practical experience and improve my medical skills more quickly, whether at work or not, I never missed a chance to practice at the operating table. At work, sometimes my stomach would hurt, but I forced myself to bear it and work hard. Sometimes I worked 24 continuous hours in a day, and my head felt heavy and faint, but I bore the discomfort. Sometimes, when I knew there was an elective surgery the next day, I forced myself to work overtime. No matter how late I would get home or how tired I would be, I repeatedly reviewed the techniques required by the surgery to ensure that I made no errors the next day. When I finally dragged my exhausted body home, I laid my heavy head down on the pillow, and all I wanted to do was sleep, but when I closed my eyes, every detail of the operations began to surface in my mind. I remembered a colleague who had lost his qualification to conduct surgeries because he made a mistake at work, so I was especially worried that I would make a mistake, which would end my career as a surgeon. I lived under the bondage of stress, fatigue, and worry. They kept me awake for far too long, and my body and mind were tired and exhausted …
I yearned to put aside all my anxieties, stress, and exhaustion and take a rest, even just for a day, but when I remembered the idea that “Those who work hardest go furthest,” and that only people who succeed and become famous ever find true happiness, I picked myself up and kept going, and constantly told myself: Work hard! You’ll only be satisfied if you do your best! Otherwise you’ll never make others look up to you and admire you.
Delight at the First Taste of Success and Steps Toward Higher Goals
After seven years of hard work, I finally reached the level of physician! At that moment, the most common sentiment in my mind was that all my efforts were worthwhile! After I was promoted, my salary and status went up as well, and it even cost more to register an appointment with me than with a general doctor. When I saw the fruit of my efforts, words were insufficient for the happiness I felt, and all the pressure and exhaustion I felt in the past seemed to vanish.
As I walked along busy streets, other people recognized me. Some patients reminded me that I had seen them, saying, “In such and such a month, I went to your hospital to be treated for my illness, and it didn’t cost me much, thank you!” Some people, accompanied by a patient, said, “I’ve heard you’re a very skilled doctor, and I finally find you….” Their admiration and praise delighted me, as if I was tasting honey in my heart. I felt my self-image immediately ballooned, and I experienced what it means to have a sense of accomplishment. But after that happiness passed, I realized that if I could become an attending physician, there would be even more people who sought me out, and my colleagues and patients would admire me more. So, I secretly cheered myself on in my heart: Keep going, with just a little more work, you’ll be an attending physician, you’ll have an even better reputation, you’ll receive even more admiration and compliments, and then you’ll have true happiness.
Reaching a Higher Place in Life—Sweet or Bitter?
After that, to achieve the breakthrough in my medical skills necessary to become an attending physician, I ignored my husband’s complaints that I didn’t have enough time for my family and applied for a very rare opportunity to go to a municipal medical office for further study. I relished the chance. During my training, I suddenly found myself pregnant. I was both excited and frustrated, excited because I was about to become a mother, but frustrated because it had been difficult to earn this chance at sabbatical, and if I gave it up, I might never become an attending physician…. I went back and forth, hesitating, and was very distressed. Finally, for my future, I decided to keep working and studying. I never imagined that overwork would cause my pregnancy to be aborted! After surgery to repair my uterus, I lay in bed thinking about not the child I had lost or how to adjust my body, but I was afraid that if I didn’t finish my studies and graduate, all the effort I had made would be in vain …
After another seven years of hard work, I finally achieved my dream and became an attending physician, which came with further praise and admiration from my patients. Some patients came to visit with gifts of all kinds of local products, some gave gifts and shopping cards to show their gratitude, and others saw me eating at restaurants and secretly paid my bill …
Faced with my hard-won success, I was very happy, but although fame and success brought me respect and admiration from others, it also gave me immense pressure and made me physically and mentally exhausted. After I gained the title of attending physician, I even more felt like I was spending every day walking on the knife’s edge. I had to be especially cautious and careful, because I was always afraid that a medical accident would ruin me. Because of the pressure on my body and mind for so a long time, and because work was so stressful, I only weighed a little over 40 kilograms. I simultaneously suffered from stomach pain, cholecystitis, and other conditions, making it so that I couldn’t eat at all. During the day, I was dizzy, and my body was weak. My feet were as heavy as lead, and at night, even with sleeping pills, I couldn’t sleep. When I suffered insomnia, I often turned on the light and leaned against the headboard as I repeatedly asked myself: I thought having high status and being looked up to by people would make me happy and make my life feel significant, and I have sacrificed so much for so many years, and now I have money, status, and many people who look up to and admire me, but what a normal person ought to have is the ability to eat dinner and go to sleep, things which have become luxuries for me. Why, now that I have everything I wanted, do I feel no happiness at all, but instead feel especially anxious and miserable? After spending a lifetime working so hard, is my reward to be endless illness, pain, and sadness? Why is my life so hard? How should a person live to have a meaningful and valuable life? What is true happiness?