My dear friend Daphne and her daughter, Gabrielle, stayed over at our house a few weeks ago. Gabrielle just graduated from medical school and is about to begin her residency. Over pizza and wine, we talked about the overwhelming pressure, stress, and exhaustion residents endure, especially in their first year.
"I so admire what you're doing," I said to Gabrielle.
"It's brutal," she said, "But I'm grateful that my job has a lot of meaning and is something I'm so passionate about."
She told us a story about a patient she met recently, who was complaining of horrible pain and wasn't responding to various treatments the doctors had been trying.
"The thigh! Check her thighs!" Gabrielle told the doctors on the team. From her studies she had remembered that in some cases, blood gathering in the thigh can lead to the symptoms this patient was experiencing.
She turned out to be right and the doctors were able to treat the patient and alleviate her symptoms over the next few days.
"That was one of the most meaningful moments of my entire life!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she told the story, her entire face lighting up with the deepest most joyful kind of pride.
Having this deep sense of meaning in her work isn't going to add more hours to Gabrielle's day so she can catch up on sleep, the most precious commodity among medical residents, as far as I can tell. But it will make her more resilient and help her deal with the stress and exhaustion of her work a bit better.
I read about an amazing research study recently that showed a connection between eudaemonic happiness, which is happiness we derive from living with a sense of meaning and purpose, and health. People high in eudaemonic happiness have lower inflammation and increased anti-viral production. (Inflammation has been linked to many health risks, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke.)
Living with a sense of meaning doesn't just help you get through stressful or challenging situations, but it also makes you healthier. And there isn't one narrow way to define meaning. It can come from knowing that you're helping others, serving a greater purpose, or excelling at a skill or craft that is meaningful to you.
It's been a brutal couple of weeks editing my book manuscript and Gabrielle's story was an awesome reminder to focus on the Bigger Why, the reason I am working my butt off so hard to bring this book to the world. It's still a difficult process that is making my brain hurt and asking my heart to remain open and share painful things that I have never shared before, but connecting to the purpose of why I'm doing it helps me feel lighter, less overwhelmed, and exhausted by the work.
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