There is a common phrase that goes:

“Your happiness will not come to you….it can only come from you.”

It turns out there is a quantifiable truth in this simple proverb. In her seminal work, The How of Happiness, professor of psychology Sonja Lyubormirsky proved that genetics determines 50% of our happiness. The following 40% depends on our actions and intentions, and only 10% depends on life circumstances such as income, occupation, and where we live. 

Let’s face it: Working in health care is stressful. Even a medically uncomplicated patient can bring up emotional stressors like personal hardships, broken relationships, or even a diagnosis they can’t get a handle on. With a non-exhaustive list of reasons to be unhappy, this knowledge that 40% of our happiness can be determined simply by our actions should come as a promising opportunity for all of us in health care. Finally! There is something we can influence to better our situation.

So what are some things that increase happiness? Lyubomrisky’s findings were that gratitude, finding meaning in our work, belonging, and personal achievements can all boost satisfaction. Although the conditions we work under are strong predictors and drivers of our well-being, the steps we take can go a long way to enrich the experience of our clinical lives. Here are three actions I take to increase happiness in my life.

  1. Commit to expressing gratitude. Expressing gratitude can come in the form of a journal entry, a kind word or two on the whiteboard at your station, or sharing thankfulness for people on your team and the work they are doing. Despite the intensity of our days, there are unique patients, friends, colleagues, children, and moments that provide a chance to feel and express gratitude for the people and opportunities we have. 
  2. Seek out others. We are not designed to be alone. Being a part of a network or tribe of friends, family, or workmates that look out for each other, care about one another, encourage each other, and laugh together is an essential part of sustainable happiness. My team is important to me, and spending time with them each day, even for a few minutes, fills my cup, increasing my own happiness.
  3. Take inventory of a small thing you can do at work to shift your mindset. What are the things that you need to reset your emotional well-being so that you can keep pushing through a stressful day?  Some people go for a walk or some dedicated time to talk with a trusted friend. My personal happy moment at work is the simple act of walking down to the cafeteria to get a Dr. Pepper. Sometimes doing a small thing that makes you happy can reset your mind, mood, or attitude. Even the seemingly “ordinary” act of taking five minutes for a soda can give you a pause for gratitude. 

Working in health care isn’t going to get easier any time soon. To provide empathy and compassion to our patients, we must first have the emotional fuel to care for others. That is why I encourage you to find ways to choose responses to challenging conditions that fuel gratitude, belonging, and taking a moment for the things you enjoy.  Do you have a practice that improves your happiness that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments below or on Linkedin or Twitter.