“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” –Unknown
I was having lunch at a cafe last week, when I overheard another table discussing the importance of moderation—specifically as a way to balance the happiness of indulging in dessert with the guilt of eating sugar and fat. It was a pretty philosophical conversation to be having about tiramisu, but it got me thinking: Do we moderate our lives much like we moderate our diets? Do we reign in our happiness because guilt and worry are always lurking nearby? When was the last time you let yourself be immoderately happy? When was the last time you cultivated happiness in your own life?
There are people who believe that happiness is a silly goal. There are even some who believe that happiness is itself an indulgence and that the pursuit of it may actually lead to its opposite. However, with scientific evidence supporting the fact that happiness helps us lead better, healthier lives—both personally and professionally—it’s hard to see it as anything less than a worthwhile endeavor. Plus, being happy feels good and—as if that weren’t enough—it’s contagious, which is especially important in health care because positive thinking plays a big role in the recovery and healing process. So, not only will increasing your own happiness lead to a better, healthier you, but it also will lead to better, healthier patients—and that is great for business.
Here are some more benefits of being happy:
- Improved engagement, creativity, motivation, energy, health, and resiliency. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Harvard University’s Shawn Achor writes, “happiness fuels success, not the other way around.” Additionally, Achor found that doctors who are in a positive mindspace are 19% faster and more accurate at diagnosing patients than doctors in either a neutral or a negative mindspace. (You can watch his very entertaining Tedx talk here.)
- Increased productivity. Professor of economics at Warwick Business School and a leading authority on the relationship between economics and mental health, Andrew Oswald and his team found that “human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity.” In fact, “positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. After reviewing ten years of data on about 1,700 people in Nova Scotia, a Columbia University research team led by Karina Davidson found that people who are “generally upbeat, enthusiastic, and content” have a lower risk of heart disease than people who are not.
- Longer life expectancy. As part of a longitudinal study on aging and Alzheimer’s disease with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Dr. David Snowdon found that sisters who expressed more positive emotions lived significantly longer lives—some lived ten years longer—than those who expressed less positive emotions.
And if you’re still not convinced that happiness matters, here’s a bit of perspective: In 2011, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a book titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” In it, she recounts the most common things her patients wished they had done differently before it was too late:
- Lived a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them
- Not worked so hard
- Expressed their feelings
- Stayed in touch with friends
- Let themselves be happier
On their deathbeds—at a time when people are at their most honest—no one wished for more success. No one wished for more money or more stuff. Instead, people wished they had allowed themselves to be happier.
I don’t want that regret. Do you?
This is the first article in a series on happiness. Each month, I’ll address scientifically proven methods for cultivating happiness—simple things you can do daily to improve your mood and your overall sense of wellbeing. Try what interests you—ignore what doesn’t—and share your results in the comments section. Hopefully, we can get a good dialogue going about each topic.