Sometimes, maybe even often, the idea of being happy seems contradictive in the healthcare space. As healthcare professionals, most of you deal with the impact of life-altering, life-threatening, and life-ending situations daily.
Often these events occur in people’s lives without warning, hurdling them head-on into an overwhelming experience. One moment they are living their normal and the next they find themselves navigating the complexities of treatment, healthcare systems, and insurance. Lives are more than disrupted; they are torn apart. So saying, “just be happy” can sound trite.
Meanwhile, there is a fast-growing body of evidence that supports the important role happiness plays in our well-being. It’s too common, with all the demands of life these days, to put a pin in happiness as if it can wait for a more convenient, less busy time. “I’ll be happy when…” thinking sets us up to continually push happiness out into the future—a future no one is guaranteed. The ideal is to be happy now.
Define happiness. It is different for each person. Also, happy is an overused term; therefore, it helps to take a moment and ask yourself what it means to you. You may find there is a term like “joyful”, “peaceful”, or “blessed” that is a better fit. Use what works for you.
Once you define your meaning of happy, the question then becomes how. How can you create happiness when your feet ache, you’ve been working so many hours you can’t see straight, and you are stretched beyond capacity?
Choose it before you lose it. Every moment in every day, we have a choice. Let the challenges of the day drag you down or simply choose to be happy. Humans tend to complicate things. We get sold on peace being something that requires a trek to a mountaintop or training with the top guru in India. Although you may find peace if you take that kind of journey, not everyone will have the luxury of doing so. Instead, think about standing in front of two boxes.
1. On your left, the box is marked with words like “anger”, “upset”, “sadness”, and “darkness”. On your right, the box is marked with words like “happiness”, “joy”, and “lightness”.
2. Look at the box on the left and ask yourself, what kind of experience will I have in this moment if I step into this box? What will I generate for myself, and others, if I stand in this box? Now, do the same for the right.
3. Choose which experience you’d prefer and step into that box knowing the outcomes will be impacted 100% by the choice you make. So many circumstances and situations are things we cannot change. Where we have the most control is in choosing who we will be in every moment. So, when you can, choose happy.
Be grateful. Take an inventory of all the ways you are thriving in life and all the gifts and blessings you have currently.
Be playful. While many situations in healthcare require high degrees of focus or are not the right time for being playful, look for the windows of opportunity. There are slivers of time where bringing appropriate humor or a bit of fun can lighten the moment for everyone, raise energy levels, and reduce stress. Use your professional discretion but keep in mind that most of us spend a large percentage of time at work where we completely eliminate fun and humor, and that isn’t healthy.
If happiness feels a little out of reach, swap it out for contentment at first. Look for times and ways to feel content where you are in every given moment. Contentment embodies a feeling of ease and peace. It is a good place to rest and recharge. It also helps us move into a space of non-judgment, accepting things as they are in this moment, knowing nothing stays the same. Both good times and bad times will eventually come to an end.