Several months ago, Gary came to my hospital complaining of weakness. Gary was 72 years old, so weakness was a pretty common complaint in his age population. While lying in bed, Gary told me that this morning he could not move his feet. Since then, the weakness has gotten progressively worse and traveled up both his legs. At presentation, Gary said that he could not even lift either of his arms or legs. I lifted up one of his legs, and let it go. The leg dropped like a dead weight. In addition, Gary said he recently got over a cold. Gary also told me he had a similar illness over ten years ago. He said at the time he was hospitalized for 3 weeks with over 10 days connected to a breathing machine. Essentially, what he had ten years ago was the same as what he had at presentation.
Gary had Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects the motor neurons in your body. Like I mentioned here, an autoimmune disease is a malfunction of your body’s defense mechanism. In GBS, your body’s defense system attacks only the nerves that control your muscles. It classically presents as a progressive paralysis starting at your feet and works its way up to your head. If left untreated, GBS kills you by paralyzing your breathing muscles – essentially choking you to death.
Gary was quickly admitted, and I transferred him to the intensive care unit. He eventually had to be connected to a breathing machine for 7 days. Luckily, he survived thanks to the prompt care he received. Just imagine if all of a sudden you lost your ability to breathe. What a scary thing, indeed.
Taking breathing for granted.
I feel that most people, including myself, take the act of breathing for granted. Breathing is so automatic. Most of the time we don’t even know we are breathing. Even when we sleep, we don’t have to actively think about breathing. It’s a natural reflex for us to breathe. Neurologists even consider that losing the ability to breathe as one of the criteria for brain death.
Every morning, we wake up breathing. We have a new 24 hours to live our lives. We have the choice to get up out of bed to start our day. Or we can choose to lie in bed those 5 extra minutes embraced by the warmth of our blanket. We don’t even have to think about breathing. Air naturally flows in and out of our bodies.
Where is happiness?
Today, people seem to always be doing something. Searching for the next big project. Working at our routine jobs. Surfing the Internet. Scrolling through Facebook. Watching silly puppy YouTube videos. We mindlessly do all these tasks. Consuming information and media without ever putting thought into our actions. We are unhappy, and are in the constant pursuit of happiness.
Happiness is now. It’s this present moment. It’s you as you read these words on this blog post. There’s no need to search for it. Happiness is right now.
I’m not saying we should all just drop what we’re doing and do nothing. Having goals and objectives is what makes us great. What I mean is that if your specific goal is to find happiness, you can stop the search. Happiness is right now. By realizing that fact, I think it offloads a huge unnecessary burden in our lives. We can use all that extra energy on what we want to do.
How to find happiness now!
An easy exercise that you can do is to consciously breathe. Choose to breathe. By making that choice, we can come back to the present moment. Wash away the regret of the past and quell the anxiety of the future. Just for now, choose to be happy. Choose to breathe.
How to do it:
- While breathing in, think to yourself “In”
- While breathing out, think to yourself “Out”
That’s it. It’s really simple. It’s so easy yet it yields such a profound effect. You can do it anytime, day or night. In fact, the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll reap. For example, this study shows that training in mindfulness meditation reduces distress and improves positive mood states.
Do you want to take it a step further?
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote an elegant poem which can be used along with the In/Out strategy:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment!
Breathing in should feel like drinking a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. It should soothe and ease the soul. By smiling, we use less muscles of our face. We become relaxed. Instead of dwelling in the past or the future, we can dwell in the right here and now. We know where we are. Once we understand that, we see the wonders all around us. Life really is wonderful.
For me, I shorten the poem. When I breathe in, I think “calming.” When I breathe out I think “smile.” When I breathe in the second time, I think “present.” When I breathe out the second time I think “wonderful.” Rinse and repeat.
Not too hard huh? Well it shouldn’t be. Being happy should be easy. Like breathing, it should be automatic. Gary was fortunate and regained his ability to breathe. Others with Guillain-Barré Syndrome were not so fortunate. So for now, while we still have the power to breathe on our own, let’s use that power. Choose to breathe. Choose to be happy.
Breathe in… Breathe out… Now leave a comment below!