I began participating in Professor Rao’s three-month Creativity and Personal Mastery program last weekend and, even now, I find my mind drifting back to the deep, insightful conversations our small group engaged in. Our focus was happiness – what is it? Where does it come from? And how can we create it for ourselves? The underlying question we were grappling with is “How can we live a life of joy in the face of all the stresses of our everyday existences?” Pretty heavy stuff – hey?
Since I derived so much value from the discussion, I decided to share some of our insights with you.
If you think about it, virtually everything we do in life is a quest directed at being happy, and yet we have little or no idea of how to actually find happiness. The world of advertising messages that surround us informs us that the secret to a happy life is to purchase the material “thing” or experience that is being promoted. In fact, most advertising strives to create our dream life and shape our desires, like a Fantasy Factory! And, gullible as we are, most of us buy into this in some form or another, even if we consider ourselves sophisticated consumers. Yet most happiness research to date has uncovered only a weak link between our satisfaction with life and either our financial condition or our accumulated possessions, beyond surprisingly low income and asset levels.
So what then do we need to know in order to increase our daily joy or satisfaction, in both our personal and professional lives?
There is no money you need to spend on the following 5 secrets. The resources you will need to tap into include mental energy, discipline, effort, self-reflection, and openness to possibility.
- Become aware of the conversation in your head. The mental chatter in our head is all pervasive. It’s that internal “monkey mind” monologue that is part of the background. In fact, we actually construct our lives guided by this monologue, accept this as our reality and run our lives from this place.
Occasionally, the ongoing chatter takes us to a place of hope, self-sufficiency, confidence and optimism. More typically, we find ourselves headed down the dark path to anxiety, frustration, depression, self-hatred and insecurity.
Our job is to become aware of how we talk to ourselves internally, and to begin to change the nature of the conversation. We have an opportunity to construct a new reality – one that serves us infinitely better!
- Be present. Our mental chatter is often preoccupied with the future and all its uncertainty. What if we have another battle with Medicare this month? What’s my call going to be like next weekend? What if I get sued? We fail to notice what is good and safe about the present. By developing this muscle, through constant but gentle exercise, we can learn to bring ourselves back to the present moment, and acknowledge the fullness of our experience whatever that may be in the moment.
- Know where you want to go. As intelligent medical professionals, we have a hard time when we feel we’re drifting or aimless. On the other hand, some of us are so goal-driven and ambitious — How soon can I get that academic title or tenure? How quickly am I going to be able to make enough money to buy a bigger house? What do I have to do to grow my practice and bring on another couple of physicians? — that we’ve lost sight of other priorities in our efforts to claim success. The secret seems to lie somewhere in the middle. Having a sense of direction that has been selected in accordance with our values, our passions and our interest provides us with a satisfying kind of grounding.
- Forget about the destination and focus on the process. Once the direction has been chosen and the compass set, it’s time to stop obsessing about the destination and focus instead on the smaller tasks and steps that lead you in that general direction. Find a way to hitch yourself to a larger cause, belief or idea to lend meaning to every effort you make. Ask yourself, “What do I passionately believe in that makes this work worthwhile? Is it contributing to society’s health, adding to medical knowledge, being a teacher, being a healer, being an expert, mastering a skill, experiencing flow on the job, or something else?
- Experience deep gratitude. I bet you have plenty in your life for which you are thankful if you stop and think about it. All the research indicates that experiencing gratitude is one of the shortest paths to combating depression and experiencing happiness. The real trick is to be grateful and feel it as a genuine emotion welling up inside – don’t just intellectualize it or think it.
I have my work cut out for me (this course provides homework!) – please would you join me?