The Purposeful Doctor

Today’s doctors certainly have a right to be a little resentful about the way they’re treated in our current healthcare environment. But based on the sheer record, no one can deny them their genuine claim to a purposeful life. Now more than ever, doctors must celebrate the great purpose of their work.

“To forget one's purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

If America’s oldest and most famous university says so, it must be true?

Harvard University has opened its new Center for Health and Happiness with a mission “to identify the psychological, social, and emotional strengths and assets that may protect people against some diseases and enable them to enjoy longer, happier, and healthier lives.” No small task.

In seeking to discover and promote “Positive Psychological Wellbeing,” the Harvard Happiness team says it will develop a “happiness index—that can assess psychological well-being in a systematic and scientifically sound manner.” The center was established through a $21 million gift from the Lee Kum Kee family, owners of a multi-national food company headquartered in Hong Kong which invented oyster-flavored sauce in 1888.

Laura Kubzansky, PhD, the center’s co-director and a Harvard professor, says that although “there's no single discipline that’s going to answer the big questions” about happiness, “people who have an elevated senses of purpose in life” tend to enjoy better emotional and physical health.

And who has a clearer and richer sense of purpose than physicians? Where would we be without the iconic healing skills of medical doctors? Sure, there are plenty of people who have “no regard for the medical profession” (my physician-father’s words), but to say that doctors don’t serve a unique purpose is ridiculous. The profession is the personification of purpose.

More than a few of my father’s patients and their family members have told me through the years that he saved their life or improved and/or added years to their life. And they meant it literally.

Today’s doctors certainly have a right to be a little resentful about the way they’re treated in our current healthcare environment. But based on the sheer record, no one can deny them their genuine claim to a purposeful life. Now more than ever, doctors must celebrate the great purpose of their work.

To help reinforce the meaning of purpose for anxious doctors, here are some quotes on the matter:

• “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

—Albert Schweitzer

• “Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

• “Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.”

—Leonardo da Vinci

• “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.”

—Buddha

• “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

—John F. Kennedy

• “Your purpose is your why.”

—Deborah Day

• “My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?”

—Charles Schulz

• “Great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them.”

—Washington Irving

• “You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.”

—Abraham Lincoln

• “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

—Robert Byyne

• “Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.”

—Helen Keller

• “There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.”

—Napoleon Hill

• “The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness.”

—Deepak Chopra

• “We make our purpose.”

—Carl Sagan

• “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning.”

—Rick Warren