Here are 11 powerful quotes from Dr. Dan Gottlieb on love, loss and recovery after a spinal cord injury. Dr. Gottlieb became paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident in 1979. Having survived years of struggle and personal loss, today, Dr. Gottlieb maintains a private psychology practice, lectures and trains health care professionals, and hosts WHYY Philadelphia’s Voices in the Family broadcast.
All content provided courtesy of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation via the Foundation-hosted webinar “Dr. Dan on Finding Joy,” August 5, 2015.
On Redefining Joy After Injury:
The definition of joy can change based on an individual’s abilities and circumstances. With a broken neck, I could no longer be the person I thought I should be or the person I would have been or wanted to be. I had no choice but to be the person I am today. When you give up the battle to be someone or something else, you start to look at the world differently. You can lower the bar to what gives you joy; you lower that bar low enough and pure joy is easy to find.
When you’re no longer pursuing an artificial definition of happiness, all of a sudden, the air smells cleaner. At this moment, perhaps you can breathe without coughing. Joy is right there, in that moment.
On Finding Joy By Helping Others:
Joy happens most often when we’re not thinking about ourselves. We are hardwired to help each other. That’s why when someone suffers or is crying, our hearts open. When you want joy and want to feel good, help another feel good, whether that being is a child, an adult, or an animal. The act of expressing care and compassion brings joy. If you don’t feel it, help someone else feel it, and then you will feel it yourself.
On Finding Joy Through Gratitude:
I find joy whenever I: realize that this day is precious; appreciate the fragility of life, knowing deep down that this might be our last day, our last year or our last summer.
On Accepting Love:
Fear and resentment interfere with our ability to experience love. Let love contribute to the healing in [your] heart. Love is the only vehicle that can help us find peace. On my deathbed, I want to be surrounded with love and be able to love until my last minute. I want to feel that love until my last breath.
The most difficult and the most generous part of love comes when someone you love suffers. Be with them. When I find myself in a deep, dark place, I want to be with someone who loves me enough to sit there with me, not a cheerleader to tell me there’s light at the other end. Sit with me in my helplessness and then I will feel your love.
On Overcoming Judgment From Others:
Too many of us see ourselves based on our wheelchairs. We have to see ourselves as complete people. All of us have been [judged] based on the color of our skin, or what we believe, or where we pray, or what we’ve done. Very few people are able to look into our eyes and see our heart and soul. Make a heartfelt commitment to never place that kind of judgment on someone else. When you encounter another, look into their eyes, acknowledge their humanity. That alone will make you feel better.
On Discovering Self-Love:
There’s an old Sufi saying: ‘When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has found.’ Put your hand over your heart and see if you can find kindness, compassion and even love for this [person] whose life has been torn apart.
No one is going to understand your suffering as well as you do. Take a half hour a day to connect with [yourself].
On Pushing Through Pain:
Pain is a demanding companion. You try to look outside, and the pain says, NO – you’re paying attention to ME. If we can sit with that pain and have a heartfelt wish for compassion and kindness for everybody in the world who feels more pain than we do in that moment, it helps us get out of our heads. It changes the story, and that is everything.
If I were asked to consult on the second edition of the Ten Commandments, one of my commandments would be, ‘Thou shalt not take thyself too seriously.’