How Veterinarians Can Take Charge of Their Own Happiness
Veterinary medicine is a rewarding career, full of positive outcomes and appreciative clients. That’s why you chose it, right? But it also comes with its share of stress, which sometimes can feel overwhelming. The hours can be long, client interactions aren’t always positive, and some patients cannot be cured despite your best efforts.
Can you relate?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand to make your stress disappear. Long hours are sometimes unavoidable, you can’t make every client happy all the time, and you won’t always experience positive patient outcomes.
So, are you simply destined to feel stressed out and unhappy?
While you cannot control every situation, you can control your own actions and thoughts. And that can make a huge difference in how happy you feel.
What Determines Your Happiness?
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph. D. from the University of California Riverside, only 10 percent of your happiness depends on external circumstances like disgruntled clients and poor patient outcomes.
Genetics accounts for another 50 percent of your happiness. So if you have happy parents, you’re likely to be pretty happy, too.
The good news is that you have complete control over the last 40 percent of your happiness. By implementing specific, science-backed strategies, you can improve your outlook on life.
1. Strengthen Your Relationships
A 75-year Harvard study of 268 men found that good relationships are key to long-term happiness. In fact, when the study’s director, George Valliant, was asked what he learned from the study, he answered, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
In another study, psychologists Ed Diener and Marty Seligman found that people who scored in the highest tenth percentile on happiness surveys were significantly more social than the rest of the individuals surveyed.
So if you want to feel happier, prioritize connecting with those you care about. Your schedule is likely hectic as a veterinarian, so it’s important to block out time on your calendar for socializing.
Schedule a weekly date night with your spouse. Get together with your closest friends at least once a month. Find a way to see out-of-town relatives once a year. And make use of tools like Zoom, FaceTime, email, and text messaging. Even for a busy veterinarian, social connection is possible if you put in the work and get a little creative.
2. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude
According to Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University, grateful people tend to be happier and show lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Healthcare workers who keep a gratitude journal show reductions in stress and depression. And people with chronic pain show improvements in sleep quality and mood when they practice thankfulness.
Even something as simple as a five-minute daily gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than ten percent.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. So grab a notebook and jot down just a few things you’re thankful for each day—it might make a bigger difference than you think.
3. Be in the Moment
Ever notice how much time you spend dwelling on the past or stressing about the future? It happens so naturally that it’s almost second nature, but focusing your attention on what can’t be changed (the past) or what hasn’t happened yet (the future) is a surefire way to diminish your happiness.
Whenever you catch your mind drifting, do your best to bring it back to what’s right in front of you. Being mentally present for your own life is one of the best ways to appreciate what you experience throughout the day.
Meditation is effective training for being mentally present. Studies have shown the impact of meditation on improving both immediate and long-term happiness. Think of it like a gym for your brain; just as it’s important to take care of your physical body through exercise, it’s equally important to strengthen your mind through meditation.
4. A Little Exercise Goes a Long Way
Speaking of exercise, even a little can go a long way. In addition to the many physical benefits it provides, working out also gives a whole host of mood boosts.
The mood-boosting quality of exercise is primarily due to how our brains process the type of physical stress our bodies go through when exercising. In addition to endorphins, a specific protein called BDNF is also released into our bodies while working out. This protein can reset our mood, which is a big part of why moving makes us feel good.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to get these benefits, either. In fact, it may take as little as 20 minutes of exercise a day to reap the rewards. That’s less than the amount of time it takes to watch a single episode of a TV show!
Being a veterinarian can come with a lot of stress, so it’s important to recognize you have the power to control your mood instead of letting it control you. Try implementing these four simple steps over the next month and see the difference it can make. And look for more tips and strategies from the AVMA Trust for reducing stress and enhancing wellbeing in the coming months.