Being happy

Every week in the FT weekend magazine there is a feature (the inventory) where somebody famous, fabulous and financially secure is asked the same questions. A few weeks past it was Michael Palin who comes across much as he does on TV, funny, intelligent and quite level headed.

The questions are about your upbringing and views: what matters more luck or talent? Private school or state school? What would your twenty year old self think if they could see you now? And how satisfied are you, out of 10, with your life so far?

This weekend it is jazz musician Gregory Porter who rates his life as an 8 and a half.

KBW was at a retiral dinner recently of a much admired and respected colleague, one of the greatest of my great leaders. The last speaker was the retiree himself and he spoke eloquently and from the heart about his surgical life and career. One of the things he said was that if he could go back to the start,he would do it all over again, he would want to be exactly where he was standing at that moment having lived the life he has lived.

How many people feel that about their job? Certainly most of these incredibly successful and wealthy people that feature in the FT magazine don’t seem as contented by their work as my colleague. Most of these famous people rate their life as an 8 out of 10.

Another great leader of mine likes to give me marks out of 10 for cakes I bake. Over the course of the last year I worked for him I made several different cake recipes with variations on icing and cake ingredients which I would bring in when we had a Whipples operation to do. The highest mark he gave any cake was an 8 out of 10. (This of course irritated me immensely as I felt my cake was more of a 9 out of 10)

The operation would progress with me being slightly huffy about the 7 or 8 out of 10 cake, after a few hours I would have forgotten about it as all the nurses and anaesthetists involved would eat some cake and then say it was very nice. Finally I asked him, after several attempts at improving and refining the carrot cake what cake had he ever eaten that was a 10 out of 10. He thought about this and then said “I’ve never rated anything 10 out of 10 in my life.”

I can list hundreds of 10 out of 10 experiences I have had in my life, from the simplest of things (a perfect peach purchased from a road side Greek granny selling sun warmed, juicy, amazing fruit) to the most elaborate (seeing La Traviata at Covent Garden Opera House with the man who I would marry). I take great joy and pleasure in the sunrise over Bighospitalburgh as I head to work, or in a funny joke, in the fact I’ve got on some lovely shoes, in seeing friends and looking at the pretty autumn leaves. My glass is almost always half full and even when I’m down I can find something to be pleased about and I can always find something to take pleasure in.

It doesn’t matter how much money and success you have, as the dissatisfied FT interviewees attest, or how good a surgeon you are, happiness comes from inside you and finding joy in the small things.

I didn’t bother telling his wife when I next saw her that he has never rated anything 10 out of 10.


7 thoughts on “Being happy

  1. This was eye-opening. I don’t think I’ve consciously given anything 10 out of 10 either, but I’m sure I have had very happy/perfect moments that were beyond scoring, so maybe that plays a role? I certainly don’t aspire to be like that guy. Definitely something to think about.

  2. What a timely post. I am generally a glass-half-empty person anyway and very much so at the moment (the transition to CST has been much more difficult than anticipated). Taking pleasure in the small things in life can make a bad day a better one. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Sorry to hear that, doing an impromptu solo ward round usually makes me feel better at work, it reminds you why you are there and connects you with the people that matter most, the patients.

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