Happiness and healthy boundaries

“The Giving Tree” has been on my mind the past few days.

Last weekend, I attended AHEC’s virtual 2020 Hawaii Health Workforce Summit, and psychologist Dr. Nicole Eull gave a wonderful plenary talk about “Telling Tales: Stories That Can Improve Your Work Life.” One of the books she read was “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, a book about a selfless tree and a… needy… boy.

I remember reading it when I was young, and feeling very uncomfortable at the end. I put it away and never read it again, not even to my son when he was young.

Dr. Eull touched upon what made me so uneasy about the book: the lack of boundaries, and how a healthy tree became just a stump. She asked, “How do we create a life where we don’t feel like the used-up, tired old giving tree at the end of the day every day?”

Many of us are working harder than ever, especially health care workers and first responders. But the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders also touch people who are working from home, where the boundaries between work and home are blurring.

Through stories, Dr. Eull shares three pillars to help you create a happier and healthier life:

  1. Autonomy and support. You can mitigate stress and burnout when you have a sense of control or autonomy over your work and work environment, and feel supported.
  2. Meaning and purpose. You can increase your sense of well-being and happiness by making meaningful connections with something outside yourself – a social group, a cause, nature, or a spiritual community.
  3. Emotional intelligence and communication. You can decrease burnout and increase professional satisfaction showing your appreciation for others and assuming that people are acting out of good intentions, instead of assuming that they have bad intentions.

Meanwhile, one of the attendees posted a link to Topher Payne’s parody alternate ending “The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries.” I highly recommend it! Payne’s version starts at the point when the boy asks for a house, and the tree says, “Okay, hold up. This is already getting out of hand… First it’s the apples, then branches, then the trunk, and before you know it that mighty beautiful tree is just a sad little stump. Boy, I love you like family, but I am not going down like that.”

PS This alternate ending was created to help The Atlanta Artist Relief Fund. Payne says that it’s available to print for free, and asks you to consider a donation to support artists during COVID-19.

“The medical field will be a wonderful, magical place where people can thrive,” Dr. Eull encourages. “We can all spread positivity and good intent, and extend grace to other people… We have the power to transform our own world and own career and all the people around you.”

What boundaries have become blurred during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders? What boundaries do you need to re-establish in your own life?

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