A Good Day

Earlier this year, I listened to a 2017 episode of the On Being podcast in which Krista Tippett interviews Dr. Atul Gawande, a practicing physcian, Harvard professor, and writer. The title of the episode, “What Matters in the End,” indicates why I might be drawn to a conversation with a doctor. In my quest to live intentionally, I find myself obsessed with reading and listening to how others make the most of their “one wild and precious” lives (“The Summer Day, Oliver, 1990).

Today, Gawande’s medical practice and writings are based on the question, “What does a good day look like?” – a question he now asks both terminally-ill and healthy people. This important question allows him to treat the whole person, and it makes a difference to his patients. Good days, after all, are moments we seek.

In the interview, Gawande recalls the pivotal moment when his philosophy of healthcare shifted. A patient, who would die less than 48 hours later, told him she was going to take her family to Disney Land. In that moment, he realized as a care giver, he had missed a critical moment. He realized the importance of asking earlier, “What does a good day look like?” With that important information, he could have helped her achieve that wish a month earlier.

This conversation reminded me of the quip I often say or post on Facebook: Today is a good day for a good day. While I often tweak the statement to reflect my own spirit with “today is a great day for an excellent day,” the message is important. Live the day you have in front of you. Don’t wait to live.

Dr. Gawande’s question is one we can, and should, each ask ourselves. If we start our days with “What does a good day look like,” we remind ourselves of how fleeting time is, and how important it is to fill our days with things that make us happy – people and events that fill us with joy.

Too often, the narratives that run through our heads or the messages society offers us force us to feel obligated stay in relationships or positions we don’t enjoy. We stay in social circles that don’t excite us, we continue to work in unfulfilling jobs, or we continue in unsatisfying marriages without fixing or ending them. Days slip by, and we crawl into bed unhappy, or worse, without emotion.

I am not advocating we bail on our friendships, quit our job, or end our marriages. Each of us has our own journeys and way of approaching things that do not fill us with joy. What I am urging us to do, however, is really rather simple. Before we get out of bed in the morning, we should consider envisioning what a good day looks like. What is on our agenda for the day that will make it a good day or even an excellent one? If there is something on the day’s schedule that doesn’t serve a specfiic purpose or will not contribute to our overall happiness, can it be removed or modified?

If we take a few minutes to ask these questions and monitor our progress towards creating a “good day,” we will experience a shift in the way we think about our lives, about the people with whom we interact, and about the world around us. The time to ask ourselves “What does a good day look like?” is now, while we still have time to make all of our days good ones. #MakeRoomForJoy

Readers can find the podcast on which this post is based at the On Being web site: https://onbeing.org/programs/atul-gawande-what-matters-in-the-end/

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

9 thoughts on “A Good Day

  1. Heather,
    I liked the cadence of this essay. Lovely writing, my friend. As to the content, it soothed my soul. Part of living each moment fully is to consider what are good moments. What makes a good day? I’ll be thinking about this throughout the holiday.
    Merry Christmas,
    Ruth

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  2. Love this line “Live the day you have in front of you. Don’t wait to live.”
    I have a friend who instead of saying, “Have a great day,” says “Make your day great.” I love that we can choose. XO

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  3. Thank you for this thought provoking writing. I have some important reflection to do! I’m tucking the words “Live the day you have in front of you. Don’t wait to live” into my heart.

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  4. I want to use that question, “What does a good day look like?” in my end-of-year reflection. This was such a thoughtful and important topic. I love this: “Live the day you have in front of you. Don’t wait to live.”

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  5. I just learned that a friend I have been close to is stricken with cancer. I’ve hesitated to do something. This is the day I will call her. I will write her a note. It’s a good day. Thanks for your wisdom. I love On Being and listened more often pre-pandemic. I am reminded to pull it up again.

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  6. Such a great question. You have a wonderful ritual to start your day with this question. This question sets a positive intention. At the end of a day asking “What made this day good?” helps to build gratitude.

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