Choosing Happiness

Colleen O'Leary

Happiness. It's something that we all seem to be chasing from time to time. I think we concentrate on it often for others.

Happiness. It’s something that we all seem to be chasing from time to time. I think we concentrate on it often for others. We do all we can to assure that our family, our friends, our patients even our pets are happy. We would go out of our way to do whatever we can to assure it. How many times have you stayed late at work to make sure a patient is comfortable, their issues are resolved or that they just have an extra shoulder to lean on? At most facilities there are even awards for nurses who go above and beyond the “call of duty” to assure their patients’ comfort and yes, happiness. Then we go home to our families and friends and we stay up late, run extra errands, help listen to problems and concerns when all we would really like to do is soak in a hot tub. But it’s for their happiness and we want to assure that. I know I’m often in that mode. If I have friends over for a party or dinner I will make several different meals basically because I know what the special thing that each of them likes and I want them to be happy.

I read an article recently, in Cooking Light of all things, that dealt with how we choose, or don’t choose our own happiness. It talked about the search for happiness we seem to always be on. Just look at all the self help books and materials that are abounding, but it also said that many people, especially women, tend to be more focused and driven to assure other people’s happiness than our own. I would contend that women who are also nurses are even more prone to that. It’s something in why we do what we do. But as the article pointed out, we have to be just as driven to create our own happiness if we really want to be successful at bringing happiness to others. Isn’t it easy to get all wrapped up in other people and other things and simply forget ourselves? How often do you find yourself a little down or blue and you can’t quite put your finger on it? Perhaps you’re not focusing on what it is that brings you happiness. As humans we tend to focus on the glass half empty most of the time. We don’t get enough time off, we work too hard, we don’t get paid what we’re worth, we don’t have the perfect family, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect body. And then we start dwelling on what we don’t have all together and forget about what we do have. But, again, we have the power to change that.

One women talked about how she sang a song every morning when she was getting ready for work to “set the mood” for the day. Set a joyous mood. Other suggestions were to start and end each day making a list of the things that are good in your life. At the beginning of the day it can set you on the right track and at the end of the day it can help you to be grateful for the blessings that you do have. Maybe your way is to pick a slogan or saying or prayer and repeat it several times throughout the day. Or maybe it’s to do some positive self talk in the mirror every morning and every night. Whatever it takes, do it. Choose to focus on the good. Choose happiness.

Psychologist Dan Baker suggests that we make appreciation a habit. He suggests that three times a day, morning, mid-day, and evening, we conduct an Appreciation Audit. This is when you think about a person, an event, or something in your life that you deeply appreciate. If you can continue to do that on a routine basis it will become a habit for sure. Then, when you come to difficult times in your day, you still have a fulfilling day that is streaked with gratitude. Another point that Baker makes is that our brains are hard-wired to face the world with fear and trepidation. We all know about fight or flight. It’s wired into our brains. The part of the brain that deals with fear (the amygdala) can overwhelm the part of the brain that reasons things out (the neocortex). That’s why it’s so much easier to fear the worst rather than expect the best. But with practice and work we can make it more of a habit for our neocortex to grow stronger and beat out the amygdala.

So in our world of busy shifts filled with very ill patients experiencing physical, emotional, and often spiritual suffering that we are helping them to make their way through, we can choose to allow our fear to win out. We can go home overwhelmed, exhausted, spent. Or we can choose to face it with gratitude, appreciation and happiness. So as we enter the beautiful season of Autumn, what will you do? What little song will you sing, list will you make, change will you practice in order to make happiness a habit?