Preference Cards for Life

Preference Card for LifeI love The Happiness Project, a book I think everyone should read. Even more, I love it that author Gretchen Rubin continues to blog on the subject. What an affirming avocation that must be … to always delve into and practice behaviors and attitudes that contribute to happiness.

That’s why, on a recent rainy, dreary, hanging-on-to-winter kind of day, I was trudging – yes, trudging – through my Facebook feed when I spied a bright spot: a posting from Gretchen about preference cards.

Huh! I know preference cards. My husband has to keep them up to date for the orthopaedic surgeons he works with. I never actually considered their value in upping my happiness quotient though. A preference card is pretty straight forward. All it does is clearly state what each surgeon wants – from instruments to procedures and environment to suture – whatever it takes to make her or him happy. Ooooo, there it is. The link to happiness!

I perused Gretchen’s post and discovered that she finds preference cards engaging because they give authority to personal preferences. That, in turn, causes her to be more mindful of those preferences and to make changes accordingly.

Preference cards are lifesavers for the professionals who work in surgery. Charlie works with six different surgeons – each of whom will do the exact same procedure but not in the exact same way. One may use a 5-0 nylon suture while another uses a 4-0 nylon (that’s diameter). One prefers size 8.5 brown gloves, but another may want size 9 white gloves. One likes to use a small Weitlaner retractor, but another prefers a pair of Senn retractors. One cuts down the shoulder lengthwise (mine did!), while another prefers to cut from side to side. The point is: they have preferences for how they like to work and for the kinds of tools and procedures they use. They work best when that happens (and, let’s face it, we all want our surgeons to do their very best work when we’re on the table).

But why let surgeons have all the fun? Like Gretchen, I wonder what might happen if we all filled out personal preference cards. What preferences do we have that might help make us happier and more fulfilled? It’s easy to say things like: “I prefer to be rich” or “I prefer to be popular.” Sure, those are values of a sort. But I’m talking about a different set of preferences that sit at the core of our being, preferences that we absolutely cannot live without (because we CAN live without being rich or being popular).

As a coach, I help clients dig into their values and figure out what ones deserve to be front and center. Ultimately, I think, acknowledging and honoring those values mean we’re likely to make better, more conscious decisions. And that, in turn, means we live a more purposeful life. Our pathway is smoother, so we can actually look around us and check out the scenery. We pay attention to the moments and learn to experience and hold them sacred.

So, a purposeful life = better decisions = smoother journey = more time to look around and experience life = happiness, or at the very least a more defined path toward greater happiness.

I like that. But something’s still knocking on the back door here; for me there’s another step to preference cards – and I think what’s missing is the need to keep them updated.

Charlie’s constantly checking the surgeons’ preference cards because, even for surgeons, life is changeable. They learn new techniques, discover new instruments, figure out a better way. I think preference cards are by no means hard and fast; they are, instead, fluid and changeable. They are “in the moment.”

Hmmm. Trickier, because values and what’s important are very serious affairs that deserve stability and constancy. But sometimes, as you grow and develop and learn and become, revisiting helps you reaffirm or adjust those values so they develop along with you. With thanks to Gretchen for putting the concept in front of me in the first place, here’s what bubbles up:

My preference card is a great way for me to keep my values and sense of what’s important in front of my eyes — like a filter through which I view my world. That way,  I make decisions, navigate, and live with them in mind. With a preference card (and I plan to print this out and keep it on my desk), I believe I will come closer to my goal of living authentically. So here’s my card (for now). After all, life is a work in progress:

Jennifer’s Preference Card for Life

  • I prefer to infuse my life with humor. If it’s not fun, I’m not sure it’s worth doing.
  • I prefer to be authentic, with a WYSIWYG sensibility (What You See Is What You Get).
  • I prefer to tell and hear the honest truth. Even if it’s hard.
  • I prefer to live with integrity. I must sometimes say no.
  • I prefer to be flexible. I welcome new directions and living fluidly.
  • I prefer to collaborate in life and in community. The journey, for me, is best when shared.
  • I prefer to clarify. Assumptions are hurtful.
  • I prefer to be responsible for my reactions. I can’t control what others do or say, but I can control how I let their words or actions affect me.
  • I prefer to be a creator, in love with creativity and the blossoming of ideas.
  • I prefer to be accountable. I won’t look outside myself to blame.

There it is! You now know what I value. Now it’s your turn. What’s on your preference card?

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