The Power of Meaning

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“Life is inherently meaningless.”

What is your reaction to that statement? Or I should say, what did your mind do with that statement? Agree? Or emphatically disagree? Make you confused? Or give you clarity? Or perhaps you responded with wonder as to why I would even say such a thing? Let me explain.

A beautiful blue-sky day! This is clearly a wonderful event loved by all, right? To many, a blue-sky day means joy, energy, beauty, and brings out enthusiasm. But think about someone who suffers with migraines initiated by bright light? To them, a blue-sky day means the probability of a debilitating headache.

A rare and poisonous snake found while hiking in the woods. This is not a fun situation for anyone, right? To most, this means fear and danger. However, suppose the woman who encountered the snake had dedicated her entire life to finding this very rare species. To her, this snake means the fruition of a dream of a lifetime.

Being given the diagnosis of bronchitis. To a busy mom, this is a dreaded diagnosis that means she will be unable to perform her daily duties. To a child who would rather endure anything than to have to go to school, this is a welcomed invitation that means he gets to stay home.

Do you see my point? Nothing in life inherently has its own meaning. Life only has the meaning that we choose to give it. Think about what Jesus means to the world. Even amongst devout Christians, there will be a vast array of descriptions of what Jesus means to them, and then consider the even more varied opinions that exist amongst non-Christians.

Chocolate: A lover’s delight or a dieter’s nightmare?

Family: the joy of one’s life or the bane of one’s existence?

Sunset: a romantic setting or death to someone stranded out in the cold?

 

Stop and think about this for a moment: There is nothing in life that inherently contains its own meaning. No matter how horrific or joyful a situation may seem, things only have significance once we ourselves apply meaning to them.

I use this powerful tool with all of my patients. A diagnosis of diabetes: a death sentence or the very motivation one finally needs to make life saving dietary changes? I love this concept. It embraces the truth that one can always choose to respond to even the most challenging health issue with either a victim mentality, or the willingness to see it as an opportunity for personal growth and change. Any diagnosis itself has no meaning except that which we choose to give it.

When talking with others, it is important to grasp this concept because the way you deliver information to others can either be pitiful or empowering; depressing or encouraging. When patients come to me in pain and desperation, I see my role as their physician to not only give them therapies in the classic sense, but to also make sure I deliver my treatment plan to them in way that conveys empowerment, opportunity, and positivity. This optimistic meaning I choose to put onto their treatment plan can itself often be more powerful ‘medicine’ than the very therapies I prescribe.

I walk my talk and have applied this to my own life. For example, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of seven and spent a week at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. I was so touched by the physicians who taught my family and I how to live with this new condition, that it was from that day I decided to become a physician. Furthermore, it launched me on a trajectory of healthy eating and regular exercise that makes me believe, even as a diabetic, I am likely healthier than most Americans my age.

Patients that come to me initially for their chief complaint often continue with regular visits for counseling. The mental transformation that occurs during these sessions is often the most potent ‘medicine’ I could ever prescribe.

The meaning we all put on every aspect of our lives can have a tremendous impact on our overall health and longevity. Empowering others to free themselves from the tunnel vision views that all of us often apply to the events in our lives can be life changing. You have the power to choose the meaning applied to any event in your life…Choose wisely.

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