“What Makes You Happy?”

My friend Kimbirli Macchiaverna has been a nurse for 20 years, and was a certified nursing assistant for a decade before that. Even though she works in an extremely challenging occupation – one with difficult demands and tasks that change every day – she has a great sense of humour and an unfailingly positive attitude toward life that I really admire.

A few weeks ago, Kimbirli wrote a Facebook post on the advice she gave to another nurse about “liking” her job even when it was tough. With Kimbirli’s permission, I’m reproducing her post here. Although her comments are in the context of nursing,  anyone in any kind of job can find something to think about in what she has to say.

At one point last night, I was asked by a nurse who was rather frustrated with her situation for the shift how I can “still like nursing” after all of this time; at first I was my usual smart-alecky self and said I still love it because I didn’t realize there was an expiration date on enjoying my career! But then I shared with her three things that, no matter what kind of night I’m having with what kind of patients I have, are truisms and things that make my shift go better.

1) Treat all patients with the same intelligence, dignity, compassion, humor, strength of advocacy, honesty, etc. that you would your own friends and family. No matter who someone is, what they’ve done, what their station in life is, why they’re in the hospital, or even how they treat me, all patients deserve my respect and integrity, and that they will receive. It is not up to me or to anyone else in that job to judge others, because boy, could we all have things someone might find worth judging, and worth judging harshly!

2) Spend the shift deciding on which of your patients you really want to give a goodbye hug to in the morning. It may be one, it may be all. But focusing on that forces you to focus on each person’s more positive attributes, and less on their annoying ones (and trust me, as a very un-social person, people in general annoy me probably more than they should! I’m a work in progress and that’s something I’m still working on!)

3) Ask your patient what makes them happy. Not just “what can I do to make you comfortable right now, in this situation”; of course, that is a question to be asked routinely as well. But ask each person, personally, “what makes you happy?”, and indulge in the time to allow them to answer. I don’t think that there is anything more powerfully healing, and giving the person some control in a chaotic situation, than allowing them the opportunity to reveal themselves and who they are away from the chaos. Because I guarantee, 95% of the time, they are someone entirely different.

There you go little grasshopper nurses! Someday you also may be old, decrepit, and still having a passion for your job!

So: treating people with respect and integrity, focusing on their positive attributes, and giving them an opportunity to let you know who they really are. Our workplaces would be much more humane places  if all our interactions with others were guided by those principles. Thanks, Kimbirli!


  1. I think I will adopt the “what makes you happy” question on my next round at the hospital, for my volunteering shift. In situations where people are scared, worried and at the mercy of others, being able to talk about themselves, about their “healthy” life can make such a difference. Thanks for sharing this post.

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