12 Personal Commandments for Happiness

December 9, 2015
Greg Kelly

Physician burnout and financial stress have the potential to wreck the medical profession. That's why it's more important than ever to find ways to make your own happiness.

“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

—Gretchen Rubin

Two very troubling stats, from two very sturdy institutions, came to light this past week:

• More than half of US physicians (54%) say they are experiencing professional burnout, according to a Mayo Clinic Proceedings report.

• Nearly half of US physicians (42%) admit to worries about not having enough money to last through retirement, according to Fidelity Investments report.

Those facts, left unaltered, have the potential to wreck the medical profession. You see, there’s little or no shot at having a happy post-doctor retirement life, if you hate your job.

Absent a knight on a white horse in Washington, DC come to save us, it looks like America’s physicians must endure and adapt. Doctors certainly have the training and intelligence to persevere and if my physician-dad did it well enough, others can too. So trying to make happiness a habit would seem to be vital to contented living in today’s medical world.

One person who offers much wisdom on these matters is Gretchen Rubin. One of the nation’s most thoughtful experts on happiness, she has useful thoughts on a condition afflicting so many practicing doctors. Her Happiness Project work has helped me and members of my family to seek and find much happiness.

A Yale-trained attorney and New York Times best-selling author (Better than Before), Gretchen has developed her own 12 Personal Commandments for Happiness. She suggests others craft their own list. Most good things begin with a plan. Have a look at her commandments:

1. Be yourself. Accept your true likes and dislikes—you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.

2. Let it go. Keep things in perspective. Remember how little most things matter in the long run.

3. Act the way I want to feel. Action and feeling go together and by regulating the action we can indirectly regulate the feeling.

4. Do it now. Studies show that hitting a goal releases chemicals in the brain that give you pleasure.

5. Be polite and be fair. Life is short and we never have enough time for gladdening the hearts of those who travel the way with us.

6. Enjoy the process. I’ll be happier if I find happiness along the way instead of expecting to be happy when I reach a certain goal.

7. Spend out. I find myself saving things, even when it makes no sense. Stop hoarding—trust in abundance.

8. Identify the problem. So much of happiness, in the end, boils down to mindfulness. Have the discipline to ask, “What’s really bugging me?”

9. Lighten up. Develop a sense of lightness. It’s less about being funny and more about being able to have fun.

10. Do what ought to be done. On matters difficult and ordinary get a grip on yourself. Pick up the phone, get in the car, do it—address the subject and execute.

11. No calculation. Avoid score-keeping in life. We unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills relative to other people.

12. There is only love. The less people turn toward each other, the less satisfying their relationship. An easy and obvious way to prove love is to pay attention.