It’s no secret that working within any patient-facing job in the healthcare industry can have a negative impact on anyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing. And as a clinician, this impact can be amplified as oftentimes these individuals are sought out by people in pain and are often helping their patients through some of the most challenging moments of life. Dealing with this day-in and day-out can be brutal and doesn’t exactly create an environment for “happiness.”
So is it really possible then, for healthcare providers to truly harness emotional self-management and attain happiness?
I would venture to guess that this question is not often one that is posed out loud–it’s certainly not talked about in-between rounds in hospitals and not even in the moments of downtime in private practices. And if you’re a healthcare provider reading this, you may not have even had this question cross your mind in any organized fashion.
But all of us, in one form or another have struggled with feelings of unhappiness, dissatisfaction or dealt with the rollercoaster of emotions that can come from outside circumstances affecting our inner thoughts.
So what do you do? How do you keep yourself from being controlled by your emotions and find inner peace while dealing with the harsh reality of your daily encounters? This isn’t something that I personally have spent a great deal of time thinking on. But–much like many other people who have a great deal of curiosity, I consider myself a perpetual student and a lifelong learner. So when I ran across this episode of the Peter Attia podcast, I had to give it a listen to see what I could learn and apply in my own life.
The complex and demanding nature of being a “healer” often requires providers to manage not only their patients’ health but also their own emotional wellbeing. The content expert for this episode is Arthur Brooks, Ph.D., is a Harvard professor, PhD social scientist, #1 bestselling author, and columnist at The Atlantic who specializes in using the highest levels of science and philosophy to provide people with actionable strategies to live their best lives. He is considered one of the foremost experts on the topic of happiness in the United States today.
As Brooks discusses in this episode, one of the best ways to fuel your own happiness is to teach others when you learn something of value. So by drafting this article, I have attempted to condense the key points of this incredibly insightful long-form episode for other high achieving, overly busy professionals like me.
In this article, we delve into key strategies that not only challenge the conventional narrative but also offer a beacon of hope for those immersed in the emotionally charged world of healthcare. I’ve attempted to break them down into key points in the sections below and provide some action items you can take to work towards improving your own emotional regulation and happiness.
Key Point 1. Balancing Willpower and Discipline in the Pursuit of Happiness
Cultivating Happiness as a Way of Life
The conversation kicked off with an exploration of the significance of discipline and willpower in maintaining daily routines aimed at cultivating happiness. Brooks shared his specific routine, emphasizing the importance of discipline even when not feeling inclined, and the notable impact such practices had on his overall wellbeing. He emphasizes the importance of intentional routines and practices, such as waking up early, engaging in physical activity, and spiritual nourishment, as contributors to his personal framework for happiness.
Key Point #2. Cultivating Joy and Purpose Amid Complex Challenges
The Deliberate Nature of Happiness
The discussion navigated through the complexities of human emotions, highlighting the importance of intentional decision-making and the pursuit of balance across the three “happiness macronutrients” – enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning. Emphasizing the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment, Brooks articulated the value of engaging the prefrontal cortex and experiencing joy through meaningful interactions and memories. By choosing to love and focus on the good of others, individuals can cultivate a sense of purpose and fulfillment beyond transient emotions.
Key Point #3. Navigating the Impact of External Factors on Happiness
Balancing Enjoyment, Satisfaction and Meaning
The dialogue touched on various external influences, notably the role of social media, political polarization, and societal changes in affecting individual happiness. From the advent of social media contributing to a decline in happiness among younger generations to the impact of global events such as 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation shed light on the profound impact of external factors on emotional wellbeing. Brooks also places significant emphasis on finding inherent meaning and coherence in one’s life as a core component of sustained happiness.
Key Point #4. Metacognition and Emotional Self-Management
Adapting to Evolving Challenges
A core theme throughout the podcast was the significance of metacognition – the ability to consciously reflect on and manage one’s emotions. Both Brooks and Dr. Attia took a deep-dive into the neuroscience behind negative emotions such as sadness, anger and fear. They emphasized the need to manage emotions with conscious executive decisions rather than letting the limbic system dictate reactions. Through metacognition and deliberate emotional management, individuals can exercise control over their reactions and make empowered choices. Embracing a balanced approach, Brooks advocates for journaling to process negative experiences and transform them into learning opportunities.
Key Point #5. It’s not as Simple as Nature vs. Nurture
Genetic, Environmental and Behavioral Influences on Happiness
The discussion navigates the intricate interplay of genetic predispositions, environmental influences, and individual behaviors in shaping happiness. By acknowledging the heritability of baseline well-being and other traits, the conversation sheds light on the need for self-awareness and personal agency in managing predispositions while fostering complementarity in relationships for a holistic approach to well-being.
Key Point #6. Embrace the Complexity of Your Definition of Happiness and Self-Reflection
The Quest for Lasting Fulfillment
The discussion culminated in a reflection on the multifaceted nature of happiness and the necessity of self-reflection. Both speakers discussed the importance of embracing complex emotions, understanding one’s genetic predispositions, and identifying the different facets of happiness that contribute to overall wellbeing. Brooks urges a reevaluation of the pursuit of happiness, distinguishing between transient feelings and enduring fulfillment. By advocating for a multidimensional approach to assessing happiness and detaching from pervasive societal pressures, the discussion encourages a shift from seeking perpetual satisfaction to prioritizing enduring contentment rooted in purpose and meaningful connections.
The Bottom Line:
Action Steps for Healthcare Providers
1. Implement a daily routine that includes exercise, introspection, and positive habits to optimize dopamine levels for creativity. Create a personal method to process and respond constructively to feedback, focusing on growth and improvement.
2. Emphasize discipline and willpower to maintain routines even when it feels challenging.
3. Make deliberate decisions to pursue happiness, recognizing it as a result of balanced macronutrients: enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning.
4. Engage in metacognition to consciously process emotions and make executive decisions. Regularly assess your thought processes, especially in stressful situations, to better understand and manage your reactions.
5. Balance seeking pleasure with deriving enjoyment from shared experiences and memories.
6. Foster meaningful connections and purpose, and assess happiness through subjective and objective metrics. Shift your focus from personal recognition to the impact your work has on patients’ lives.
7. Acknowledge negative emotions as evolutionary signals and manage them through metacognition. Actively work on reducing the time spent on negative self-thoughts, and instead focus on positive aspects and successes.
8. Utilize tools such as journaling and self-reflection to understand and navigate emotional patterns. Regularly jot down challenging or significant events at work. After a period, review these entries to gain insights and lessons learned.
9. Consider the impact of genetics on happiness and develop complementary relationships.
You can listen to the full podcast here or on your favorite podcast player.