October 19, 2015

Expecting Dandelions & Discovering Daisies: Happiness in Hospice Volunteering.


Joy, Inspiration and Awe—these are a trio of powerful, positive emotion words.

According to happiness researcher, Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD—professor and “Director of Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology” at UNC, Chapel Hill—these words have the ability to broaden our perspective, create possibilities and offer a thriving future.

These three words describe some of the happiness that I often feel during my volunteer experiences at hospice.

However, when most people think of hospice volunteers, they often correlate great sadness with the service. Yes, end of life can be a time of sadness and loss for many, but it is also is a time of awe–inspiring moments. Moments of connection and a sacred time of living each day to its fullest—for both volunteer and patient.

Hospice volunteers, on the contrary, often experience great love and connection—rather than sadness—in the work they do.

I recently made a visit to a centenarian, and on that day, our time together proved to elicit 10 positive emotion words—those with unlimited broadening potential to nurture lifelong happiness. Our time together unfolded in slow and subtle ways, as described in the following interaction.

It was a young, spring day when I went to visit my elderly patient. There was a crisp coolness in the gentle breeze, yet the warmth from the sun prevailed. As I entered the nursing home, I met her in the dimly-lit, windowless dining hall and watched her eyes light up as she spotted the chocolate Easter truffles I’d brought for dessert.

Her eyes sparkled as she reached into the box to select one shiny purple-wrapped chocolate, and her lips welcomed the first delicious bite.

“This feels so good in my mouth,” she said. “You have one too!”

While the chocolates melted in our mouths, we noticed a beautiful bouquet of yellow daisies on the table, and she cleverly combined the essence of both the truffles and flowers by saying, “It’s so beautiful the combination of yellow and chocolate in my mouth!”

Joy, Awe, Amusement and Hope. Four words—limitless positive emotions experienced.

Wanting to build upon this happiness, I wheeled her outside to sit amongst the trees and early-budding tulips. We sat together in silence, noticing the many natural wonders.

I reached down to take my boots off and settled down in a comfortable place, on the ground beside her wheelchair. Noticing every detail, she was amused by my sock feet and complimentary of my choice of shoes. Then, we both pivoted back to nature.

“Ah,” she said. “Do you feel that? It’s the back and forth of the wind and the sun on my face, and the combination feels beautiful.”

The birds agreed, as they chirped and made their way in and out of the fully-blossomed cherry tree near us. My patient noticed the way the trunk separated into four unusual sections and how the blossoms floated above the trunk, like fluffy pink clouds.

“The kind you could sit on in your pajamas!” she said.

Interest, Inspiration and Gratitude—more positive emotion words, leading to happiness experienced.

The satisfaction of truffles, sunshine, birds and blossoms soon caught up to my patient, and her eyes began to droop, as she gently drifted off to a slumber in her wheelchair. I wheeled her back to her room, set the remaining chocolates by her bedside and whispered a soft goodbye.

Serenity and Love—the conclusion of positive emotion words experienced.

I left with a full and warm heart, feeling a combination of Gratitude and Joy-–and then Pride, the last of the words to round out the list of 10 positive emotions.

One visit, and 10 positive emotions—exponential happiness. The real hospice volunteer experience.



In Praise of Hospice.


Author: Mary York

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/DncnH

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