Twilight Reminiscences 17- Happiness is….by Sanjiva Wijesinha

Twilight Reminiscences 17- Happiness is….by Sanjiva Wijesinha



“You know, Sanjo” said my friend Devendra as we sat on the balcony recently enjoying a drink and the evening sunset, “If you had to define Happiness, it is simply being content with where one is – and being content  with what one is doing at that particular moment in time”.

Now Deve has been my friend for many years (a friendship spanning several decades in fact, commencing from the year we first entered the Colombo Medial School together!) and I have always been impressed by his ability to express profound thoughts in such simple words.

And having over the years seen so many patients, acquaintances and friends chasing wealth, fame and position, ever looking before and after and hankering for what is not, I have realised that Deve’s observation makes perfect sense. Contentment is having the grace to accept that where one is and with whom one is happens to be the best place to be. It is having the trust to believe that where you are is exactly where you are meant to be. It is being aware of the present moment – and enjoying the present.

Perhaps this is easier to accept when we are at this period in our lives where we both are today, having worked in rewarding and satisfying professions for many years and now being able to enjoy well earned retirement. But even when one is younger and working full time, is it not possible to train oneself to live in the moment, to be thankful for what one has achieved so far instead of looking ahead to what one does not have and then scheming and plotting how to achieve it?

I remember once asking a patient – someone who was neither rolling in money nor flush with material possessions – whether he was happy. He smiled.

“I am not only happy, Doctor,” he replied “I am content. Every night before I go to sleep, I recall to myself three things that happened during the day for which I am grateful. I am not a believer in any formal religion nor in any gods or creators to whom I am required to specifically say “Thank you” for this. I simply recall to myself the good things which I was fortunate to experience that day – and this makes the unfortunate events that may have taken place not so bad after all.”

That gentleman lived to a ripe old age – and up to the time he passéd away in his late eighties he was taking no regular medications nor was he suffering from the common ailments like diabetes or high blood pressure that affected so many of my patients. The result of the regular blood tests that I would order for him in the month of his birthday each year were almost as good when he was 85 as they were at 55!

I believe that a very important factor in his good health was his healthy attitude to life. Having a grateful outlook to life – being thankful for the positive things that happened during the day in spite of what may have gone wrong that day- would certainly have benefited his body’s physiology.

Research has shown that expressing gratitude is associated with a whole lot of mental and physical benefits. Feeling grateful helps to improve sleep and mood, reduces stress and anxiety – and also boosts your immune system. Our human brain is designed to solve problems rather than appreciate what we have – so one needs to re-programne one’s brain (“over-ride the default option” in modern parlance) to reap the benefits of gratitude. Our lives (even though we certainly can have bad days) are full of reasons for being thankful if we only actively look for them. We just need to remember to notice them.

Expressing gratitude has been shown to positively influence our brains because it reduces the level of the Stress Hormone cortisol. It also boosts the production of chemical neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that improve our mood and give rise to positive feelings of well being and happiness. When one feels grateful, the brain releases the hormone oxytocin which helps to dilate blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure and so having a protective effect on one’s heart. Moreover, if one cultivates a more positive attitude, one is less likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Actively looking for reasons for which to be thankful and then making it a point to express within oneself this feeling of gratitude is not a difficult habit to cultivate.

And I will follow my patient’s advice tonight and feel thankful – not only to my friend Deve for his wise observation but also to all of you gentle folk you who read my writings! 

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