By Barbara Reiss, OD
Here’s what I was told when I was growing up: If I work hard, I’ll be successful, and once I’m successful, I’ll be happy. I remember pretty early on feeling cheated by that bargain. I worked hard in high school in order to get good grades to go to college. I worked hard in college in order to go to optometry school. I worked hard as an optometrist. I was by all definitions “successful,” but it seemed that success was a moving target—each achievement caused me to redefine success and set bigger and better goals for myself. Which got me to thinking, when did I get to be happy?
It turns out that I wasn’t the only one thinking about this. Around the turn of the 21st century, a new movement in psychology (“positive psychology”) began to explore the relationship between success and happiness, and here’s what they found: The key to success is happiness. Research in psychology and neuroscience demonstrate that we are more engaged, motivated, creative, resilient and productive when we approach our work and our life with a positive mindset.
Shawn Achor, former Harvard researcher and professor, and author of The Happiness Advantage, writes extensively about changing the way we think about happiness and success. (See his inspiring TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work )
He advises us to stop equating future success with happiness. (If we’re single, we think we’ll be happy when we’re married, but is every married person happy? If we’re just starting out working in someone else’s practice, we think once we have our own practice we’ll be happy, but is every private practice OD happy?) He tells us that the external world (our life circumstances, career, family, health) minimally affect our happiness; it’s how we process that world that causes us to be happy or unhappy. And perhaps most important, he says that we can cultivate happiness by engaging in practices that are shown to increase happiness, and therefore productivity and success.
What are those practices? Exercise (It seems to be good for everything, right?), meditation, gratitude, focusing on positive experiences, and building our social networks are all highly effective in increasing happiness.
In December 2008, just before the worst tax season in decades, Achor worked with tax managers at KPMG in New York and New Jersey to see if he could help them become happier. He asked them to choose one of five activities every day for a three week period that correlate with positive change.
So, as success seekers, let’s take on that challenge. Every day for the next 3 weeks, let’s all do one of the following:
- Write down three things we’re grateful for
- Write a positive note to someone in our support network or office
- Meditate for two minutes
- Exercise for 10 minutes
- Take two minutes to write in a journal the most meaningful positive experience of the past 24 hours
At the end of three weeks, email me at email@example.com, and I’ll write about everyone’s experiences (including mine–I already exercise and meditate nearly every day, so I’m going to take on the other three) for a future issue of ODSuccess.
What about those KPMG managers? After the training concluded, Achor and his team evaluated both the participants and a control group to determine their general sense of well-being. How engaged were they? Were they depressed? On every metric, the experimental group’s scores were significantly higher than the control group’s. When they tested both groups again, four months later, the experimental group still showed significantly higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction.
Sounds like a great goal to me.
Photo: Copyright: maridav / 123RF Stock Photo
Dr. Reiss retired from private practice in 2013 after working for many years in an ophthalmology practice in Huntington, NY, where she specialized in contact lenses. She spent the early part of her career working in the contact lens industry in clinical research and professional relations. Dr. Reiss has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry since 1980. She has served as national chair of its Admittance Committee, and has been a member of its Membership Committee and President’s Task Force. She currently serves on the Communications Committee and helps edit the weekly Eye-Mail News Brief. She has been a member of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Optometry since 2011. Dr. Reiss lives in Austin, TX where she enjoys yoga, cooking, making new friends and exploring Texas hill country.