Have you ever experienced a moment where you’ve been completely drawn to something and knew that inviting it into your world would ultimately change your life? I felt this way the day I met my husband, as well as the day our son was born. Those are big life changers. Sometimes, however, this feeling comes about in smaller waves. Formulating a new idea. Planning for something or working toward a goal. Finding a good book. For me, in this reference, the latter was the case . It’s precisely what happened to me the day I saw When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi at my local bookstore. I wasn’t there for any purpose other than to purchase a JoJo Moyes book (which was sold out, by the way), and saw this on the shelf. I had no knowledge of it prior to that day. It wasn’t on my To Read list. That day, standing in the aisle, it called to me, and I answered. I knew that somewhere in its pages, it held a message that I subconsciously needed to read.
For those unfamiliar, When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir about the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed in his 30’s with stage four lung cancer. As a hospice consultant and nurse, I was curious to read about death from his perspective – it becomes so easy for those on the other side of healthcare to determine what’s important vs. what isn’t during the end of life process. I thought it might better help me connect with those in which we serve on a daily basis. What I didn’t expect was it to open up many doors within myself.
I won’t provide a complete book report, sorry, fellow bookworms. But I will say this book is both absolutely beautiful and heart wrenching. I shed many tears while reading it, and my main regret at the end was knowing I will never again be able to read anything he would have written. Dr. Kalanithi taught me so much during our short time together. The main theme throughout this book is that of finding meaning in life. What makes it worth living? Kalanithi eloquently struggled with that concept, as he faced his own calculated unknown. He knew that death was imminent, but struggled with when, and what to do during his time left on earth. What made him the happiest that he wanted to devote the time he had left, to doing that very thing?
“Because I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living” (Kalanithi, pg. 149-150).
Go ahead, read it again. I lost track of how many times I went back and re-read that very sentence. How powerful is that statement? Until I actually die, I am still living. This was mind blowing. It really got me thinking. Can I say that I am truly living? Furthermore, how many of you can say that you are actually living? Sure, for many of us, we live normal, typical, healthy lifestyles. We are breathing, moving, feeling creatures. We get up, we go to work, we provide for our families. We have our hobbies and we work for the weekend. We are technically alive, hence we are living, but can we really say that we are experiencing life the way it was intended? If I had an estimate for how much time I had left on this Earth, what would I choose to do during that time? What would I want to be remembered for? I don’t mean to come across so dark, but I also think it’s incredibly sad that sometimes it takes the subject of death for us to have these thoughts and conversations. Death shouldn’t be the deciding factor for wanting to live. We should be living a purposeful life regardless.
I’m not saying that we should all quit our jobs and pursue our passions with reckless abandon. We can’t necessarily ignore our responsibilities or obligations, and sometimes the mundane is unavoidable. But how amazing would it be to live with passion? To put down our cell phones and really be in the moment? Make more time for those we love. Do the things we love to do. Visit the places we always talk about wanting to see. Stop living with so many regrets. Quit wasting time. Being truly happy. That idea in itself is freeing, for me.
Personally, I spend a lot of time reading books about personal growth and finding happiness. Please don’t mistake this for me being an unhappy person, as that is something I am not. Instead, I think of myself as more or less infatuated with what it means to truly be happy. What is happiness? It is not a physical object that you can touch, and it’s different for everyone. I have googled the definition of happiness and some of the most commonly associated buzzwords are pleasure, joy, delight, exhilaration, bliss. Wikipedia, although not always reliable, provides the following definition of “..a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy..” (Wikipedia.org). What do you think your life could be like if you allowed yourself to really, truly, Be Happy? What does that look like to you?
I think this is either a very simple, or a very difficult question to answer, with really no in between. And honestly, that’s okay. For me, happiness comes in many forms. I’m happy when I write. I’m happy when I can open the windows and listen to nothing but the breeze. I’m happy when my dog Gracie cuddles up next to me at night. I’m happy when I make my mom laugh. I’m happy when my grandma reads my blog and tells me time and time again that I should be a writer (thanks, grandma!) I’m happy every single time I hug my son; it is probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m happy when I get to see new places and experience new things with my husband. The point is that I have a lot of “happies.” I also have a lot of “unhappies,” but why waste the energy focusing on those?
If I could challenge you all to do one thing, it would be to find your big Happy. What is it that makes you You? Figure out what your “happies” are and do them. Every day, do something that brings you joy, and spread your joy with those around you. I may not have all my “happies” figured out, or know what it is exactly that I want my legacy to be. But I do know I want to show my son what it means to live a happy life. To show those I love just how much they mean to me. To find a passion and work hard at that passion every single day, and not to live with regrets.
*Disclaimer One: No, “happies” and “unhappies” are not real words, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. If you spend time Googling, “happies” can refer to diapers (who knew??), subscription boxes, a cartoon, a Malaysian store, and slang for cocaine (thanks, Urban Dictionary). I would like you to know that I am in no way affiliated with any of those “happies.”
*Disclaimer Two: I am in no way affiliated with any part of the publication or release of When Breath Becomes Air. I am only an avid reader, who absolutely fell in love with this book and the message it shared.
**Something fun! This book affected me so much that I really want to share its story with you! From now until 8 pm Monday, February 22nd, CST – you have a chance to win a copy of this book, from yours truly. All you have to do is Subscribe to my blog (by entering your email toward the bottom of this page – don’t forget to confirm once the initial email comes through!), and comment below: what are some of your “happies?” Have you read this book, what were your thoughts? What do you want your mark to be? Any of the above or anything different is fine, I just want to hear from you! One lucky winner will be picked at random Monday evening, so be sure to check your email! Happy blogging 🙂
Kalanithi, Paul. (2016). When breath becomes air. New York, NY. Random House.