The Power of Meaning: Meaning is What We Choose

Jody Stanislaw, ND

Life is inherently meaningless.

What was your reaction to that statement? Or, I should say, what did your mind do with that statement? Agree? Or emphatically disagree? Make you confused? Or give you clarity? Or perhaps you responded with wonder as to why I would even say such a thing? Let me explain…

A beautiful blue-sky day! This is clearly a wonderful event loved by all, right? To many, a blue-sky day means joy, energy, and beauty and brings out enthusiasm. But think about someone who experiences migraines initiated by bright light? To him or her, a blue-sky day means the probability of a debilitating headache.

Consider a rare and poisonous snake found while hiking in the woods. This is not a fun situation for anyone, right? To most, this means fear and danger. However, suppose the woman who encountered the snake had dedicated her entire life to finding this very rare species. To her, this snake means the fruition of a dream of a lifetime.

Think about being given the diagnosis of bronchitis. To a busy mom, this is a dreaded development that means she will be unable to perform her daily duties. To a child, who would rather endure anything than have to go to school, this is a welcomed invitation that means she gets to stay home.

Do you see my point? Nothing in life inherently has its own meaning. Life only has the meaning that we choose to give it. Think about what Jesus means to the world. Even among devout Christians, there will be a vast array of descriptions about what Jesus means to them. Then consider the even more varied opinions that exist among non-Christians. Chocolate: a lover’s delight or a dieter’s nightmare? Family: the joy of one’s life or the bane of one’s existence? Sunset: a romantic setting or death to someone stranded out in the cold?

Stop and think about this for a moment. There is nothing in life that inherently contains its own meaning. No matter how horrific or joyful a situation may seem, things only have significance once we ourselves apply meaning to them.

I use this powerful tool with all of my patients. Is a diagnosis of diabetes a death sentence or the very motivation one finally needs to make life-saving dietary changes? I love this concept. It embraces the truth that one can always choose to respond to even the most challenging health issue with either a victim mentality or the willingness to see it as an opportunity for personal growth and change. Any diagnosis itself has no meaning except that which we choose to give it.

As physicians, it is important that we grasp this concept because the way we deliver information to our patients can be pitiful or empowering or may be depressing or encouraging. When patients come to me in pain and desperation, I see my role as their physician not only to give them therapies in the classic sense but also to make sure I deliver my treatment plan to them in way that conveys empowerment, opportunity, and positivity. This optimistic meaning that I choose to put onto their treatment plan can itself often be more powerful “medicine” than the very therapies I prescribe.

I walk my talk and have applied this to my own life. For example, I was diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes mellitus at the age of 7 years and spent a week at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. I was so touched by the physicians who taught my family and me how to live with this new condition that from that day I decided to become a physician. Furthermore, it launched me on a trajectory of healthy eating and regular exercise that makes me believe, even with diabetes, that I am likely healthier than most Americans my age.

Patients who come to me initially for their chief problem often continue with regular visits for counseling. The mental transformation that occurs during these sessions is often the most potent medicine I could ever prescribe.

The meaning that our patients put on every aspect of their life can have a tremendous influence on their overall health and longevity. Empowering patients to free themselves from the tunnel vision views that all of us often apply to the events in our lives can be life changing. As a physician, you have the power to choose the meaning that is applied to any diagnosis or treatment plan. Please choose wisely.


stanislawDr. Jody Stanislaw, N.D., graduated from Bastyr University in 2007. She works with patients located anywhere around the country over phone/Skype, using natural means to treat today’s most common ailments.  Her focus on the mind-body connection, as well as the importance of lifestyle as medicine, is present in every appointment. In her very popular Lifestyle Transformation program, patients receive private weekly calls over a 3-month period, resulting in dramatic improvements in overall health and well-being. Living with type 1 diabetes since the age of 7, she also specializes in treating diabetes. To learn more about working with her to co-manage any of your patients, please send an email to DrJody@DrJodyND.com or via the ‘contact’ tab on www.DrJodyND.com

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