Talking About Happiness in Veterinary Practice

Jeff Thoren, DVM, ACC, BCC, Gifted Leaders, LLC, Phoenix, Arizona

Sally Starbuck Stamp, MC, BCC, Gifted Leaders, LLC, Phoenix, Arizona

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Talking About Happiness in Veterinary Practice

What do you find when you Google the word happiness? More than 23 million results, already ahead of the millions of results for global warming (12), ObamaCare (16.5), and government shutdown (14). And although happiness has not yet caught up with Tea Party (61), Lady Gaga (42), or world peace (57), the results are one measure of how much talk is focused on the topic.

So, who’s talking? Neuroscientists, career consultants, human resource professionals, and even business leaders whose favorite subject has historically been the bottom line. No longer are happiness, positivity, and optimism discussed primarily among philosophers and social scientists.

Because we typically spend more hours at work than anywhere else, our happiness and positivity there can impact other areas of our life.

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

Why all the interest, especially in workplace happiness? Because we typically spend more hours at work than anywhere else, our happiness and positivity there can impact other areas of our life. It’s no longer surprising to read or hear about businesses, including veterinary practices, that invest significant time, attention, and resources into their team members’ well-being, because it positively correlates with individual and organizational performance (more to come on that in a future article).

A 2013 survey1 revealed some interesting findings about happiness and positivity in the workplace. Researchers invited more than 65,000 participants to rank their level of job happiness considering a number of factors that included relationships with bosses and team members, environment, resources, compensation, and control over the work they performed. The five happiest jobs:

  • Realtor
  • Senior quality assurance engineer
  • Senior sales representative
  • Construction superintendent
  • Senior application developer.

The five unhappiest jobs:

  • Associate attorney
  • Customer service associate
  • Clerk
  • Registered nurse
  • Teacher.

Although this is a single study that cannot be viewed definitively, the results may surprise those who believe that happiness is an inherent part of certain roles or jobs. In fact, researchers now know that we can control much of our happiness and positivity level (again, more to follow in a future article).

Related Article: Don't Worry, Be Happy!

The study’s findings regarding happiness and positivity are not limited to the United States. The authors of The State of Happiness,2 an article with a Time magazine cover story, The Happiness of Pursuit,3 discovered other surprising information:

  • Panama reported the highest levels of happiness in the study, despite the fact that a third of the population live below the poverty line.
  • Eighty percent of Somali youth who have grown up in an environment of conflict and war said they are happy.
  • Canadians scored significantly higher than Americans in estimates of work–life balance and life satisfaction, despite earning considerably lower wages.

In addition to cross-cultural examination of this subject, comparative studies have looked at a variety of factors, including:

  • Gender: Women generally report that they are happier than men, although less so in underdeveloped countries.4
  • Age: People seem to follow a U-bend of happiness that increases until around age 30, decreases in the 40s and 50s, and then increases again past middle age.5
  • State of mind: People who live in the past or the future are less likely to be happy than those who concentrate on the present.6

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert believes that our brains function much like a flight simulator, where we can have virtual experiences before they actually happen.7 This innate ability allows us to create synthetic happiness that can be as enduring as the real thing. Gilbert conducted a series of experiments and discovered that individuals can create happiness by reframing situations and events that help them more readily deal with adversity or displeasure. Some may call this rationalization, but Gilbert says it is, in fact, part of what he calls our psychological immune system, which can help us achieve higher levels of positivity under the most adverse or traumatic conditions.

This subject now seems to be receiving much-deserved attention, and the research can help all of us make informed decisions about our own happiness and positivity levels.


1. The happiest and unhappiest jobs in America. Smith J. Forbes;; accessed Jan 2014.
2. The state of happiness. Gibson M, Parmaguru K. Time Mag, p 36, July 2013.
3. The happiness of pursuit. Kluger J. Time Mag 182:24, 2013.
4. The happiness of pursuit. Kluger J. Time Mag 182:32, 2013.
5. The relationship of age and happiness: A surprising finding. Phillips S. This Emotional Life;; accessed Jan 2014.
6. The happiness of pursuit. Kluger J. Time Mag 182:27, 2013.
7. Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness. Gilbert D. TED;; accessed Jan 2014.

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