Bernie Siegel's Soul Prescriptions
Five ways to live a happier life.
BY: Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.
Prescription #1: Gratitude
A gentleman I was talking to on the phone related that his doctor and the EMR team had told him his heart stopped beating and he had died at least ﬁve times during surgery. He concluded our conversation by saying, “I used to have troubles, but now I have only blessings.” His outlook clearly had been turned around by this experience.
I meditate each day, and one portion of the meditation consists of my thinking about what I am grateful for. Most of us never stop to consider our blessings; rather, we spend the day only thinking about our problems. But since you have to be alive to have problems, be grateful for the opportunity to have them. Some people use their problems to get attention and are afraid to give them up and be blessed. I prefer to appreciate life and accept my problems as a part of my life.
When my body gets to the point where I can no longer function or feel gratitude, then I’ll leave it and become grateful again. But until then, I will appreciate what I have and not whine about what I don’t have. I will feel blessed by life and the opportunity to help others see that they are blessed too. Blessings come in many shapes and sizes. Be prepared, as my gentleman caller was.
Prescription #2: Hope
Hope restores us. What each of us hopes for will differ and change with time. I believe we need hope to go on living. Hope inspires us to reach for the future. It gives us something to look forward to and strive for on our path.
If we had no hope—for a cure, for winning the lottery, for falling in love, for the end of war, for being free of abuse, or for having food, warmth, clothing, and shelter—we would have no reason to go on. What you hope for doesn’t matter, but rather the essence of hope itself.
I see people who die a few minutes after a doctor tells them there is no hope of a cure. They give up and go. Others get angry and ﬁnd joy in proving the doctor wrong. Something within them is challenged and hopeful. Hope is the divine motivator.
Prescription #3: Guidance
One day Marilyn, one of our support group members, sent me an email with the subject line “guidance.” In her email, she told me that the word “dance” being a part of the word guidance made her think about how dancing is like doing God’s will. Two people dancing are not struggling with each other; one leads and the other willingly follows. When the two become a team, their movements flow in harmony with each other. When she looked back at the word she saw the G as representing God and then U and I. So guidance is about God, you, and I dancing together.
When you are willing to trust and believe, guidance comes. I believe the rhythm we should all be dancing to comes from our Creator. It allows us to move as a team while creating our unique dance of life.
Prescription #4: New Year’s Resolutions
It is not a bad thing to make a New Year’s resolution, but you can also continuously set yourself up to fail. Be realistic and forgiving. The best resolution is to accept your limitations and start from there. Resolve not to give up on yourself, and to love yourself, even when you don’t like your behavior. So resolve to practice doing what you have resolved, rather than achieving sainthood tomorrow.
As you write down your resolutions, remember these things: Be kind; do not set yourself up for failure by creating multiple resolutions that involve too much self-denial. Keep your goals manageable and realistic. The best resolutions leave one day of the week to enjoy being human and not living by any rules or expectations you have created.
Prescription #5: Every Day Is New Year's
A “new year” — I think the term is an oxymoron. How can you have a new year? You are the same person, and the world doesn’t start again with a clean slate. Your troubles don’t disappear. People don’t forgive you for what you did the year before. Unless you have amnesia, your life is anything but new when you awaken on the ﬁrst day of the year. It is simply a way of measuring the passage of time. Why make such a fuss over it?
The truth lies in our desire to be reborn, to start again, to make resolutions and changes we can live up to. Then why wait for a certain date to start a new year? Why can’t tomorrow be New Year’s Day? Maybe it is!
I see it every day in my role as a physician: People learn they have a limited time to live, and they start their New Year behavior. They move, change jobs, spend more time with those they love, stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of them, and start to celebrate their life. They are grateful for the time they have to enjoy life and they stop whining about what they wish had happened during the past year.
When every evening is New Year’s Eve and every day you awaken is New Year’s Day, you are living life as it was intended.