Increasingly many years back, some very good friends of mine discovered a hidden gem of a vacation-getaway. Far enough from home to give a sense of away-from-it-allness, yet close enough that traveling there or back didn’t kill an entire day. It was the sort of place where accustomed visitors would rent a house for a week at a time.
Like clockwork, they made it out there at least once per year. My hectic healthcare schedule didn’t let me accompany most times, but I joined when I could. By the time I made it out there for our first shared week, they had already been visiting the place for years, and had developed a certain repertoire of “must do” things—activities which had been so enjoyable in previous outings they felt a given visit just wouldn’t be complete without doing them again.
I noticed a couple of things about that must-do list. It got a little longer with each visit, as the stockpile of fond memories grew. However, there’s only so much time in a week, and getting to everything on the list started becoming its own stressor. Further, there seemed to be a certain effect of “chasing the dragon.” Even if an item on the must-do list was successfully checked off in a given year, it was all too easy to be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as in previous iterations.
Not enjoying something, as result of worrying about whether one is enjoying it enough, is the most ironic way I can think of to diminish one’s pleasure from life. We come up with plenty of other ways, however, to rob ourselves of satisfaction.
Stepping back and considering my own teleradiological situation, for instance, it’s hard to imagine how I could be anything but ecstatic. I work from the comfort of a pretty nice home, without need to dress up or commute. I have every other week off. I’m as industrious or as lazy as I feel like at any given moment—take breaks as I want them, but have more available cases than I could possibly read if I choose to put the pedal to the metal. I see all imaging-modalities, pretty much every type of pathology, and have plenty of opportunity to broaden my horizons with stuff that’s not in the dead center of my “comfort zone.”
Maybe it’s just that prolonged acclimation to such enjoyable things gets them taken for granted, and the mind is freed up to focus on the negatives since they are the exception to the rule. I might, for example, grow stir-crazy and resent being a shut-in who works from home (hasn’t happened yet, though). The every-other-week-off schedule does come with full Saturdays and Sundays, and each of my days is a 10-hour affair, so you can imagine how I might not always be cheery about that. Fretting/aggravating about QA and buggy software can detract from the intellectual satisfaction of solving diagnostic riddles and being part of excellent patient care.
Pausing for a moment to reflect on what’s enjoyable, yet what you’re not sufficiently enjoying, can be a worthwhile mental reboot. Clear away all the negative dross, and chances are you’ll see that your metaphorical balance-sheet is operating well in the black.