Don't Worry, Be Happy!

Jeff Thoren, DVM, ACC, BCC, & Sally Starbuck Stamp, MC, BCC, Gifted Leaders, LLC, Phoenix, Arizona

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Don't Worry, Be Happy!

What comes to mind when hearing Bobby McFerrin’s popular refrain from the 1980s? Great words of wisdom? It sounds so simple. Easier said than done!

Related Article: How to Choose Happy In & Out of the Practice

Happiness is back in the forefront. More than 650 books with “happiness” in the title were published in 2009,1 and it is difficult to pick up a magazine or journal, including Harvard Business Review, that doesn’t suggest that happiness is something we all want, need, and deserve.2

What about the concept of positivity? Although positivity is sometimes seen as synonymous with happiness, researcher Barbara Fredrickson claims the concepts are more like cousins—related, but not the same.3 For our discussions, we submit that cultivating positive emotions can lead to increased happiness.

This year, we will explore happiness and positivity, focusing on their impact on individuals and organizations, particularly in veterinary medicine. Everyone can recount happy or positive experiences in their life, but it is not always obvious how to intentionally create those experiences.

Related Article: The Road to Optimism

So, What Is Happiness?

Definitions of happiness include:

  • An emotion (I’m happiest when I’m in love)
  • A personality trait (She seems to be such a happy person)
  • A state of mind (I have a basically happy outlook on life)
  • An isolated feeling that is the outcome of a specific experience (That raise made me happy).

Interestingly, society suggests events are sources of happiness, but the happiness is typically short-lived. Researchers recently have determined that happiness is not:

  • A promotion
  • A favorite team’s win
  • A new car
  • A bigger home
  • An extravagant vacation
  • Marriage
  • A new baby
  • A favorable health report

Think about it. How long did you enjoy the new-car fragrance? How many weeks, or even days, went by before you could barely remember your vacation? When did the honeymoon end? What did you think a month after you learned about your benign diagnosis?

Related Article: Emotional Intelligence

Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky explains that the pursuit of money and what it can provide buys only short-lived happiness. She quotes Harvard University professor Dan Gilbert: “We think money will bring lots of happiness for a long time, and actually it brings a little happiness for a short time.”4

Happiness may not have a single definition, but the consensus is that individuals create happiness—it is not something that can be found.

What Makes You Happy?

Invite a colleague or friend to consider the following questions, and compare your responses with his or hers:
  • What things (eg, people, activities, belongings) make me happy?
  • When something makes me really happy, how long does the happiness last? (Be as specific
  • as possible.)
  • How would I define positivity in my life right now?
  • Is it easy for me to maintain a positive outlook, especially after a setback?
  • If I increased my overall happiness and positivity levels, what might be different?
This is a way to learn more about yourself, which will help you make choices about how you want to lead your life.

What Is Positivity?

Positivity is likewise difficult to define. Fredrickson believes that positivity includes a range of emotions including appreciation, love, amusement, joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, pride, inspiration, and awe.3 In a future article, we will examine how these forms of positive emotions impact our lives.

Martin Seligman, leader of the Positive Psychology movement, also provides valuable insight into how a positive mindset can improve happiness, health, and success in every aspect of life.5 In his research and work at University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Seligman discovered that individuals and organizations can create positive change with a simple shift to imagining desired solutions rather than dwelling on problems. He has applied this process in creating a new nomenclature and mindset that focuses on positive emotions, individual strengths, and healthy institutions to shed the negative bias of psychological diagnosis and treatment that focuses on labeling and fixing what is wrong.

Happiness may not have a single definition, but the consensus is that individuals create happiness—it is not something that can be found.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Compelling evidence now exists that happiness and positivity are worth interest and pursuit, yet most will agree this is nothing new. This mindset begins in very young children whose parents do everything they can to keep their baby happy and continues in adults who seek more happiness in their work world.

As with every goal or intention, obstacles can get in the way. The United States was founded in part on Puritan beliefs of hard work, little or no play, and no abundance of positivity or happiness, and social systems perpetuate this mindset by rewarding competition, independence, and success at all costs. These rewards, however, often come at a high cost because we set aside basic elements of happiness and positivity such as collaboration, connection, and caring.

Join us in the pursuit of happiness. In upcoming articles, we will review the studies that support the happiness movement and the premise that positivity helps create possibility, which can increase our ability to manage less-favorable events. We also will teach new ways to incorporate the information into your personal and work lives.

Let’s get started!


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