Where do you find joy and fulfillment?
You’d expect to hear this question on your therapist’s couch, but probably not in your physician’s office.
This is actually one of the first things I ask when I’m getting to know new members here at Brentwood MD. It’s more than curiosity or a pleasant conversation starter.
A patient’s answer gives me a peek into their priorities. I get to know what’s top of mind for them and what interests them, especially when it comes to their health. And I gain insight into the relationship between their health and happiness.
Happiness Isn’t the Same as Contentment
Though I’m looking for what makes my patients happy, I don’t use that word. There’s a lot of pressure to be “happy” in our society, and people can feel like they need to present a happy front.
Furthermore, the word “happy” doesn’t hold the same meaning for every person. Someone may say they’re happy when what they mean is they’re content.
Happiness and contentment fall under the same mood umbrella, but they aren’t synonymous. I differentiate them like this:
- Happiness is the presence of positivity.
- Contentment is the absence of negativity.
We can be content without being happy. Contentment means being comfortable with the way things are. You can be content with anything, from the cleanliness of your house to your relationship with your in-laws. But by definition, being content means there is room for improvement — room to add positivity to the experience.
The same is true for your health. You may be content with your health if you don’t have chronic illness or pain, but is your health optimal?
By asking people where they find joy and fulfillment, I discover where they find positivity in their lives — what motivates them and lights them up.
Happiness as a Choice
Many view happiness as a result of things that happen to you, but I have a different take. Much of your day is determined for you — the weather, traffic, and possibly your work schedule. If, by default, you believe external factors determine your happiness, then all you can do is pass through each day, reacting to its whims.
If, however, you believe you have the power to choose your response to external circumstances, your thinking shifts. You regain your agency, and happiness becomes something that comes from you vs. something that happens to you.
If you go back to the definition of happiness as the presence of positivity, you realize that you have the power to bring happiness into your life. You can focus on cultivating positivity instead of living as a moving target for what’s thrown your way.
A Symbiotic Relationship
There is a relationship between health and happiness. How exactly that relationship operates is difficult to say. But we know that — generally speaking — health encourages happiness, and happiness encourages health. It’s a symbiosis we can all benefit from.
Does this mean happy people don’t get sick? Of course not. Can sick people feel happy? Absolutely. Happiness isn’t a bulletproof vest for health, but it does have some positive effects, and vice versa.
I’ve noticed that people who cultivate healthy habits tend to be happier. This includes:
- Stress reduction
- Healthy eating
- Adequate sleep
Like optimal health, happiness doesn’t just happen. Contentment may, but happiness requires intentionality. You choose to bring it into your life.
Helping Members Cultivate Happiness and Health
We train our bodies and minds into certain habits, and we cultivate certain environments. Changing existing habits and environments takes time and effort, even in the context of happiness.
But if you surround yourself with positivity, whether emotional or physical, the dominoes are going to fall in a positive direction.
My colleague Dr. Wenzel is passionate about the concept of stacking positive momentum. The motivation you get from seeing results from a single change creates positive momentum. Those results compound to give you more oomph on your health journey.
Here are my top three tips for generating positivity in your life:
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Studies show that neurologically, stress and gratitude can’t coexist. Identifying and affirming things you’re grateful for has a positive effect on your mental and physical health. Combating stress with gratitude is an appropriate and proven treatment.
Journaling in the morning and/or evening is a wonderful way to express gratitude. Or, you may choose to verbalize your thanks as part of a formal meditative practice, or when you wake up or go to sleep. The method is up to you; the important thing is consistency.
Beat the Clock
I cannot overstate the benefit of getting ahead of your day through intentional behaviors. First, ditch the snooze button. I know this is so much easier said than done, but the payoff is huge.
Turn your alarm off the first time, and take advantage of having a peaceful, controlled start to the day. You might use this extra time to meditate, exercise, journal, or savor your morning coffee or tea. The restful pace of your morning sets you up to infuse positivity into your day.
Consider Happiness an Investment
The concept of investment is incredibly important for both health and happiness. Your currency can be money, time, attention, etc.
You might invest in higher-quality food or a gym membership. Perhaps you set aside time each day for mindful movement. Maybe you commit to reading about health-related topics to become a more informed healthcare consumer. Whatever it is, it’s something that gives you a sense of pride and confidence, and it improves both your health and happiness.
When you recognize the relationship between health and happiness, it’s all the more motivation to prioritize bringing joy and fulfillment into your life. When you take ownership and realize you are in control, that feeling of control fosters positivity. It’s a win-win for your overall well-being.
Dr. Wright joined Brentwood MD in 2022 as the model allows him to spend more time connecting with patients and build a foundation of exceptional care. He is a Nashville native and completed his family medicine residency at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he also served as Chief Resident. He believes that your health deserves a prominent position on your priority list, and would be honored to serve you and your family.