Near the end of his life, my Dad endured many of the maladies of old age — and steadily progressing Multiple Sclerosis. He didn't talk much about it, except when someone said, "Hi, how are you?" which was pretty often, because that's how we say hello around here.
He had many stock answers for "Hi, how are you." One was, "Some days good, other days (pause) better!" He would deliver this line with perfect timing and an infectious smile, and when the laugh came, he'd join in.
Another favorite answer of his for "Hi how are you" was, "Well, that depends…how much time do you have?" Always with the infectious smile.
He never kept track of who'd heard which line before. But even if you'd heard a line dozens of times, his smile made it impossible not to laugh.
He had a name for his afflictions — the debilitating arthritis, the muscles that no longer worked, the phantom pains, and so on. He called them "bonuses." When I first heard him describe his arthritis as a "bonus," I got curious.
Me: Dad. Why do you call the arthritis a 'bonus?' What do you mean by 'bonus?'
Dad: Well, son, I'm glad you asked…
Me (not aloud, of course): Uh-oh.
Dad (continuing): A bonus is something you didn't ask for, something extra, something you can live without. (pause)
Dad: And this arthritis, I can definitely live without.
part of LifeBonuses are part of Life. How we deal with them makes the difference between a happy life and something else. Here are some thoughts about dealing with bonuses.
- Humor helps
- I don't think my Dad was "naturally" funny. He led a difficult life, filled with bonuses, and he learned somehow along the way that humor helped. He learned how to be funny.
- You can be funny, too. It's a skill, like jumping rope, or adding numbers, or burning toast. I'm really great at burning toast.
- Happiness is an often-overlooked choice
- Whenever you receive a bonus, you can think about it in different ways. The choice you make affects your happiness.
- Choosing a perspective that makes you even a little bit happy might be difficult — it might require a bit of creativity. Fortunately creativity comes with being Human.
- Your choices affect the people around you
- When you choose how to deal with a bonus, your choice affects the people around you, especially the people you love.
- Hiding your suffering doesn't work — the misery leaks out eventually. Wallowing in it doesn't work either. Choosing to be as happy as you can be is a good middle path.
Whenever I receive a bonus, I eventually remember that it's an opportunity to practice dealing with bonuses. Even though I still have a lot to learn, I'm getting better at it, because long ago I received a bonus in the more conventional sense — in the form of my Dad. Maybe you received a bonus too. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
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- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.