One of the all-time favorite stories my father told while I was growing up involved an experience he had as a young physician. During residency, he and a classmate were assigned to do autopsies for the local coroner of those who had died without a physician in attendance or in the case of a violent death. These examinations were done at local funeral homes.
At one venue there was a mortician’s assistant who was always unpleasant, complaining, and grumbling about the world. Nothing could be done to satisfy him, and they dreaded meeting this man each time they went to his facility. Between themselves, they gave him the nickname “Peptic Ulcer.”
One afternoon, my father was called to perform an autopsy at the funeral home where this man worked. He approached the door with a sense of dread. Yet, to his surprise, a most pleasant and helpful assistant was there instead. Hesitating to inquire about Mr. Peptic Ulcer lest he show up, he did his work and left. On the third such visit, his curiosity got the better of him and he asked about “Peptic Ulcer” without using his nickname. The new helper replied the man had not been feeling well, went to his physician, and was found to have a peptic ulcer!
We laugh at the coincidence of this anecdote! Yet, we rarely realize that the biting words and acrid disposition were no more acid than the secretions that eroded his stomach wall. In your ministry, you meet many people who go through life carrying resentment, jealousy, anger, hate, and discontent—all emotional disorders that may significantly contribute to physiological problems.
Solomon declared, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Prov. 17:22).1 A cheerful heart promotes feelings of inner peace, joy, happiness, and contentment—all of which promote good physical and mental health.
Several decades ago, a county health officer and his colleagues conducted a now famous study. They inquired about the health habits of thousands living in their jurisdiction. One of the questions asked whether respondents were “very happy,” “pretty happy,” or “unhappy.” After a follow-up of nine years, in the “pretty happy” group, 15 percent more men and 10 percent more women had died compared to those who responded they were “very happy.” But of those who rated themselves as “unhappy,” 55 percent more men and 56 percent more women had died when compared to the “very happy” group. These findings embraced all causes of death and ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic differences.2
A contented mind and serene spirit do wonders to prolong life. The attitudes of the mind profoundly influence conditions in the body. The tone of muscles, the rhythm of the heart, the regularity of respiration, the wavelike contractions and secretions of the digestive system—all these and more are modified for better or for worse by the attitude of our minds, either happy or unhappy.
Today, science recognizes the importance of laughter as a therapeutic agent in recovery from a variety of diseases. A trend in modern hospital design is for rooms to provide a pleasant, informal home environment to encourage more rapid recovery of the sick and suffering. Inspired counsel has long supported this kind of setting: “To afford the patient the most favorable conditions for recovery, the room he occupies should be large, light, and cheerful.”3 And “all who have to do with the sickroom, should be cheerful, calm, and self-possessed.”4
In the now classic book The Stress of Life, Dr. Hans Selye said, “It seems to me that, among all the emotions, there is one which, more than any other, accounts for the absence or presence of stress in human relations; that is the feeling of gratitude—with its negative counterpart—the feeling of revenge.”5
Ellen G. White states, “Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death.”6 “Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise. It is a positive duty to resist melancholy, discontented thoughts and feelings—as much a duty as it is to pray.”7 “Courage, hope, faith, sympathy, love, promote health and prolong life. A contented mind, a cheerful spirit, is health to the body and strength to the soul.”8
Are you a happy person? Is that happiness contagious to others in your ministry? “Joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, and whose hope is in the Lord their God” (Ps. 146:5).
1 All Scripture is taken from the New Living Translation.
2 Nedra B. Belloc and Lester Breslow, “Relationship of Physical Health Status and Health Practices,” Preventive Medicine 1, no. 3 (August 1972): 409–421.
3 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 220.
4 Ibid., 221.
5 Hans Selye, The Stress of Life (New York: McGraw Hill, 1956), 284.
6 White, The Ministry of Healing, 241.
7 Ibid., 251.
8 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1957), 344.