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What gives you life?

By: Dr. Leah Curtin, RN, ScD (h), FAAN

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes into the wilderness with a few friends. Together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. Every soul, they recognize, has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at the birth, and sing the person to the next life.

Among this tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the person. If at any time the person becomes despondent, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around that person. Then they sing their song to him or her. When you recognize your own song, you come alive again.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life reminds you that you are, or are not, in tune with yourself. When you are doing what “matches” your song—what gives you life—you are happy. And when you are not, nothing is quite right. In the end, unless you recognize your song and sing it well, you are unlikely to be a happy person.

Such simple advice is the ultimate conclusion of Harvard’s amazing 72-year study of what makes a person happy. Friends and family matter. So does adaptability—and not much else. Researchers who observed study participants as they aged concluded, “It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or social class, that leads to successful aging.” Relationships, it seems, matter more than anything else! Why am I focusing on happiness when there is so much stress and distress in the general economy today, especially in the healthcare sector?

Trust me, I am no Pollyanna. But I am a firm believer in the absolute importance of loving your work—and the impact this has on your personal competence and happiness. Fortunately, another recent study indicates most nurses are happy with their work (if not their workplaces). A survey of more than 1,300 nurses conducted last fall by Nursing Times found that nurses “are happy in their jobs even though many have experienced work-related stress…Nearly half of those who responded had suffered stress because of their work, which has resulted in physical and mental health problems…Yet despite continuing stress, more than three-quarters said they were happy with their job.”

Given the state of the economy (and your 401K) and the pressure on hospitals to initiate rapid and difficult changes, you may feel a little “warbly” at the moment—but so have all the great singers. Just allow the happiness found in patient care to “give you life” and keep singing—and together we’ll find our way through healthcare reform.

Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN
Executive Editor, Professional Outreach
American Nurse Today

Visit www.AmericanNurseToday.com/Archives.aspx for a list of selected references.

Dr. Leah Curtin, RN, ScD (h), FAAN, is Executive Editor, Professional Outreach, American Nurse Today. An internationally recognized nurse leader, ethicist, speaker, and consultant, she is a strong advocate for both the nursing profession and high-quality patient care. Currently she is Clinical Professor of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing and Health. For over 20 years, she was the Editor-in-Chief of Nursing Management. In 2007, she was appointed to the Standards and Appeals Board of DNV Healthcare, a new Medicare accrediting authority. Dr. Curtin can be reached at LCurtin@healthcommedia.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the ANA or the staff or Editorial Advisory Board of American Nurse Today. Visit myamericannurse.com/SendLetterstoEditor.aspx to comment on this article.

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