Toothaches and Gratitude

by | Oct 28, 2022


Yesterday I had a root canal. The first question the endodontist asked me was, “what caused your toothache?” My response was, “well, I think my body is falling apart, and this is just the latest thing to go wrong.” LOL. The whole experience (including the weeks of pain leading up to the procedure) reminded me of this quote from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:

When I have a toothache, I discover that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing.  I had to have a toothache in order to be enlightened, to know that not having one is wonderful.  My non-toothache is peace, is joy.  But when I do not have a toothache, I do not seem to be happy.  Therefore, I look deeply in the present moment and see that I have a non-toothache, that can make me very happy already.” 

Today, I am fully appreciating my non-toothache. But Thich Nhat Hanh’s reference to a toothache is merely a metaphor for any pain we feel, whether physical, emotional, or mental. For example, today, I’m also reflecting on the joy of not having blood clots.

Last October, I developed pain in my calf. I work out a lot, so I thought I had pulled a muscle. A week later (which was a year ago today), when my entire leg swelled up and became painful, I knew it wasn’t just a pulled muscle. It turns out I had two blood clots in my calf and two more in my lungs. I was put on blood thinners which cleared the clots up within weeks.

Tests revealed that I had a congenital defect related to how an artery and vein are arranged in my abdomen called May-Thurner Syndrome that caused the clots. In April, the problem was fixed via surgery, and I stopped taking blood thinners a few weeks ago. So, I’m fine. Just a crazy experience and I’m none the worse for wear.

Today, on the one-year anniversary of that scary situation, I am grateful that everything turned out fine — things could have been much worse. The lesson for me is summarized by a phrase made popular in the 1980s: “shit happens” which means that things happen to people out of the blue: toothaches, traffic accidents, injuries, and medical situations about which we have no advance warning. Each day without a toothache (literal or figurative) is to be celebrated. I’m going to redouble my efforts to practice gratitude daily for all the days that are just normal — those days where shit doesn’t happen.

Here’s a related IFOD on practicing gratitude: A Simple Habit That Increases Happiness


  1. I am sorry that I did not know of your tooth pain which probably was more than your May Thurber syndrome. Both required exacting treatment with apparent success. Truly good fortune & gratitude for you. God bless

  2. This IFOD really resonated with me John. First of all, I’m so glad your issue didn’t escalate and it was resolved relatively easily. I lost my wife 3 1/2 years ago to cancer and while I and my kids think and talk about her daily I find myself less gracious about the “non-toothache” days as time goes by. This is a great reminder to me of the miracle of being alive and, while I think I’m somewhat good at it, the additional reminder that I need to present and be present with my kids because of the gratitude I have for my two blessings.

  3. Oh I love that reminder so much .
    We seldom appreciate our “ non toothache” and lack the mindfulness of all that is “ right” in our existence.

    All the many gifts we take granted. Thanks to the wonderful teaching The Art of Mindfulness Living ,
    The practice of gratitude, for my eyes , for my beloveds ,has been the start of each day for many years. 🙏 for another reminder .

    So glad they found your issue and corrected it .
    To be alive is truly miraculous .


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