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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Cup Runneth Over


It has come to my attention more so lately than before that people indeed “keep score”.  I suspect that evolution or survival has really made us this way. There is indeed a force around us as a species that makes us want to take stock in what we are and where we should be…. Relative to the person or even species next to us. Let’s face it people (brothers and sisters alike) we really are a bottom line kind of species.

I grew up in the North end of Winnipeg (insert shout out here). In the winters (and there were many) we played hockey in the streets. In fact I would argue that in cities across the great nation of Canada, street hockey was (and still is) somewhat of a religious practice. You bundled up, kept you jacket unzipped (zipped up jackets are for sissies) and you hit a puck around and ice covered street for God and country.

Sure there were those among us who indeed were pretty good at this game. There was even the group of kids who would graduate from street hockey to pond hockey. We never really kept score. We pushed a puck around a street or a pond and we played. Win, lose or draw when it was all said and done we were just happy to be able to feel our feet again once we came inside.

In those moments it was not so much about the game as it was about the moments. Make no mistake- I’m not one of those people who believes every kid should get a trophy just for playing. I believe in wins and losses in games and in life. But I think somewhere along the way we went to far.

Back in those winter streets there was inevitably one or two kids who were pretty good at the game. Inevitably at one time or another one of us would dream of growing up and playing for the NHL. Most of us however just grew up. We dropped the stick long ago and picked up a remote or a set of car keys that would take us to a game to see our favourite team. And then it became all about the score. If our favourite team won the world was good; if they lost…. Well I live in Vancouver, we riot in the streets.

Never mind the hockey analogy. I’m not even a hockey fan (yah, pass the judgment please). Sorry- but I grew up in a football family and well sports are like religions…. You are usually born into one.

Here’s my point. That one kid on the pond who grew up to play for the NHL? This was his lifelong dream. And now he’s playing in the “greatest game on earth” and it’s all about the score- who won and who lost and not about the game.

I can’t help but wonder if that indeed is a metaphor for life?

I’m a doctor. I work in a profession where a good majority of my peers were conditioned to believe that this was what they were going to do since birth. At cocktail parties someone inevitably asks me

“Did you always want to be a doctor?”
I watch the disappointment wash over their face when I laughingly answer,
“no” and take another sip of my drink.

But here I am, living the dream. The men and women I work with? They are living the dream. We have a job we can indeed be proud of. We get up every morning and we make a contribution to the world. And yet, even in medicine we keep score. We count treatment failures and side effects of drugs. We focus on the ones we leave behind more than the ones whose lives we change. We have become a culture that emphasizes our failures repeatedly and without any lesson learned.

I think that is what I mean by “keeping score”. Somewhere in the game of life, we have begun to take the “wins” for granted and count the losses with a ferocity.

I can’t help but marvel at how this has happened. Have we as a generation descended into cynicism?

It’s not just in sports and medicine where this is rampant. Pick a profession, a politic or even a theoretical concept and you’ll see that as a society we are focusing on the LOSERS more than anything. We’re keeping score everywhere; we emphasize the loses in every day activities and we celebrate the mediocrity around us.

Even this blog has become a bit of a bitch fest into that which sucks in the world. Is this a learned behaviour? Are we preconditioned to see the world as a win or a loss? Is a glass half full or half empty?

A recent study has shown that cynicism may be a bit of a birth right and less of a learned behaviour. A “glass half empty” attitude or a set of rose coloured glasses  may indeed be genetically predetermined… in part. Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Cornell University and Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health report in the journal Psychological Science that a gene variant may be the link in people who perceive the negative side of every situation.

It turns out that a deletion of the ADRA2B gene influences emotional memory and people perceptions of real time events- or whether or not we see the good or the bad in a situation.

It’s not surprising that your genetic code would indeed determine how you perceive the world around you.

In the study, 200 participants with and without the gene variant were shown a series of words in rapid succession. The words were preclassified as either positive, negative or neutral.

All participants tended to perceive the positive words better than the neutral words, but individuals with the gene variant tended to perceive the negative words better than those without the gene variant.

In other words, if you had the deletion- you were more likely to perceive the negative in a situation…. A glass was indeed half empty.

When I told my beloved about this discovery, the conversation went something like this:

ME: “They discovered the gene that makes people think the glass is half full.”
HIM: “Is that even possible?”
ME: “Clearly you don’t have it.

I should say that overall I am indeed an optimist. I suspect that I was in part baby, born this way. But I do think that optimism, like any skill is something that needs to be practiced in order to be mastered.

It is my concern that the world’s ever growing cynicism may be emptying my “half full” attitude. And so here and now, I am taking a stand. Genetics are not destiny. Every day we fight for or against what we are given in life in order to make the best of it.

And so I leave you this week my dear sweet sisters with a challenge to indeed stop keeping score…. Not everywhere… but in certain places. In a world where all too often it has become more about the win and lose and less about the play I wonder if we might stop once in a while and return to the days when it was all about the moment and less about the win.

Try it my girlfriends… for just 7 seven days and get back to me. After all in life, in medicine and in fashion we take what we are given and we make the best of it. 

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