A Gratifying Challenge

Since starting this blog in January, I’ve written about optimism, introversion, flexibility, and reading for relaxation – so this time, how about gratitude?  Did you know there is actually an entire science behind gratitude?? Promoting gratitude is part of the “positive psychology” movement, which seeks to promote a more fulfilling life by nurturing talent and potential, rather than focusing on shortcomings and deficits as the field of psychology is often criticized for doing.

I stumbled across the science of gratitude because this is a scholarly interest of a UC Davis faculty colleague, Robert Emmons, PhD, who is a professor of psychology.  He wrote a book, which I recently read, “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”  I’ve always felt strongly about the power of a thank you and yet, I don’t think thank yous happen often enough.  I’ll never forget a phone call that I received when I was a brand new pathologist – the morning after my on-call evening, a senior surgical oncologist called me simply to say thank you for staying to do a frozen section after hours.  This amazed me – I didn’t stay particularly late, I was simply doing my duty as the on-call pathologist, and additionally, no one had ever said thank you to me for doing this before!!!  I have never forgotten how good that thank you made me feel, and how every other late night frozen seemed less burdensome ever after.  The admiration that I have for that surgeon’s thoughtfulness and for his demonstration of respect for our discipline also lives on today.  Since then, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to say thank you to others as much as possible, too – though I readily admit I should probably do this much more than I actually do.

The power of gratitude, however, goes far beyond those on the receiving end of a thank you.  According to Dr. Emmons and others, if you regularly recognize gratitude in your life, you will experience greater happiness and well-being.  Gratitude is considered one of “the classical sources of human strength” and its power is acknowledged in many religions and spiritual traditions as well.  Dr. Emmons recommends keeping a gratitude journal to record the gifts, grace and benefits that you enjoy – this affirms that a source of goodness exists in your life, enhancing your own sense of well-being.  He also recommends remembering the bad, too, to show how far you have come and that adversity can be a source of strength.  Even if you don’t feel grateful, try going through the motions – this has been shown to trigger positive consequences and good habits that can ultimately lead to a better appreciation of gratitude in your life.

The ASC 60th Anniversary and my service as President this year have me thinking a lot about gratitude.  I’m grateful for the challenging and fulfilling career that I have had in the wonderful field of cytology, which has been possible via the many mentors I have had at every step of my career from residency, fellowship and throughout the different phases of my faculty career.   I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have had to take on different roles and grow into leadership positions at UC Davis.  And I’m particularly grateful to have been part of the ASC for the past 30 years – our outstanding Society has provided me with the opportunity to network and develop friendships with colleagues nationally, stay at the leading edge of what’s happening in our field, develop new skills, showcase my work, and influence the future of our discipline. It has been an honor and a source of happiness to be able to give back to the ASC as president this year.

Because I want to demonstrate my gratitude, I’m making a special donation to the ASC Foundation this year.  But I’m making my donation in the form of a challenge – if our members donate to the Foundation, I will make a matching gift up to $10,000.  I’m even hoping that other members might be interested in making a matching gift similar to mine to spur further giving.    Our fundraising goal for the 60th Anniversary is to raise as much as we did for our 50th Anniversary year when the Foundation was established — $160,000!  This is a big goal, but this is a special year.  We all have a lot to be grateful for, including the opportunity to remember the gifts and benefits we have received from the ASC over the years, and to shape a bright future going forward, including the start of our new journal and projects in our new strategic plan.  Your donations – large and small, in honor of mentors, mentees or just because you care – can help us get to our goal and support the ASC’s mission to save lives one cell at a time.  I hope that you will join me in this heartfelt expression of thanks – your fellow members and I will truly be thankful.

Lydia Pleotis Howell, MD, ASC President