How to Choose Happy In & Out of the Practice

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This article is part of the ongoing column 12 Steps to Success

“Too often we postpone our happiness, convinced that tomorrow will be better than today. But it is only by truly relishing the present that we find happiness. Sometimes it is the bittersweet moments where happiness and sadness are mixed together―such as a holiday, a friendship, or a phase of life that soon will end―which force us to seize the moment. Focus each day on at least 2 fleeting pleasurable moments and try to make those moments last as long as possible.”*

Would you be happier if you made more money? When you finally finish veterinary school or get licensed as a veterinary technician? When you retire? Is some elusive milestone standing in the way of your true joy? The answer, psychologists say, is probably not.

Feelings of satisfaction and happiness may improve more than just our mood. They may also bolster our energy level, creativity, and immune system—which may translate into better relationships, increased productivity at work, and a longer life span.1 Sustained happiness has also been shown to make people more sociable, charitable, and cooperative. Those who consider themselves happy are more likely to get and stay married, earn more money, and be physically fit. They may also become better networkers, leaders, and negotiators.2

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, happiness may elude us if we search in the wrong places. We may think happiness will come from external sources, including wealth, vacation, weight loss, or professional advancement. However, Dr. Lyubomirsky says the moments of happiness from such events are short-lived.

Related Article: Secrets to Self-Awareness

We’ve all experienced happiness from external sources: the thrill of a gift, the completion of a degree, or a raise at work. The immediate boost in contentment may be substantial, but before long, life with the new perk is the norm. This acceptance of positive change and ultimate return to the usual “happiness baseline,” known as hedonic adaptation, largely explains why things like money can’t bring long-term happiness.2

What does make us happy? Why are some people happy even though they are overwhelmed with work or broke? Research from the National Institute on Aging indicates that people actually have great control over their own happiness, and regardless of external factors, may make choices that directly affect their happiness levels.3
 
Although techniques to develop true, long-term happiness vary according to the individual, Dr. Lyubomirsky makes these 3 recommendations:

1. Express gratitude: Gratitude is more than saying “Thank you,” although that’s a great start. It’s thinking about the positive aspects of our lives that we take for granted. By reflecting daily on what we are grateful for and focusing on those things, we develop a more positive outlook, which may create feelings of happiness.

2. Cultivate optimism: It takes practice and exercise to be optimistic. Replacing pessimistic thoughts with optimistic ones helps us look at the bright side of a situation. One helpful question to ask after facing a negative experience is “What did I learn from this?”

3. Avoid social comparison: It’s impossible not to notice that others may be richer, more attractive, or more talented. It’s also impossible to be envious and happy at the same time. Putting these comparisons out of our minds and focusing on the bigger picture will help us appreciate what we do have.

View the attached handout for a weekly tracking sheet to help you choose happy.

*Weekly goal provided by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky.

Finding Happiness in Veterinary Medicine
I asked Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky about finding happiness in the veterinary profession. Following are her thoughts:

  • Although healthcare professionals face very different stresses than those in other fields, the same approaches to finding happiness appear to work for everyone.
  • Once someone commits to becoming a happier person, lack of motivation is the most common barrier to success. It’s easy to get “excited, inspired, and motivated,” Dr. Lyubomirsky said, “but then you get busy and motivation fails.” Instead, remind yourself daily to focus on becoming happier. Consider having a motivation partner— similar to an exercise buddy— or using a mobile phone app as a daily reminder.
  • Veterinary medicine can take us quickly from emotional highs to lows, but many things can help us recover from a negative external event. Dr. Lyubomirsky recommends reaching out to colleagues, family, or online support networks for emotional support. Turn negative events into positive ones by concentrating on the good and learning how negative events can make us better caregivers. Traumatic events can be great sources of growth and increased personal strength.

 

References Show
References

1. The benefits of frequent positive effect: Does happiness lead to success? Lyubomirsky S, King L, Diener E. Psychological Bulletin 131:803-855, 2005.


2. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Lyubomirsky S―New York: Penguin Press, 2007.

3. The secrets of happiness. Myers DG.  Psychology Today, July/August: 38-45, 1992.

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