How many of you have been waiting for joy to arrive? When do you think it will appear?
Many professions and individuals slip into the mentality that they will finally find their joy when they get through the current stage or stressor. It’s incredibly prevalent among physicians, given the nature of our delayed gratification in training. It’s common to think joy will arrive or be delivered after an accomplishment.
“I finished med school and matched into residency” (peeks outside front door looking for the joy package). “Oh, it must be after I get this tough intern year out of the way.”
“I finished internship.” (looks out front hoping to see the FedEx delivery person with Joy in hand) “Hmmm, not yet. Likely after my tough ICU rotation where I will learn a ton.”
“I survived ICU!” (checks phone for “Joy package out for delivery” message) “No notification yet, maybe as I get to 3rdyear.”
“I’m well into my last year!” (looks through old emails for a tracking number). “I don’t see it here.”
Spoiler alert: It won’t be airdropped to you, arrive by UPS truck, or appear by clicking your heels together. It won’t happen after graduating, getting established in the new practice, getting married, starting a family, getting a dog, paying off student loans, or buying a dream home.
It turns out that waiting for your circumstances to create joy is a trap. So, wherever you are on the journey, continue, but stop waiting for your delivery man, fairy godmother, or conveyer belt to bring it to you. By focusing on the next set of circumstances for wholeness and joy, you will end up with disillusionment and miss the joy along the way. But GOOD NEWS: by choosing to find joy, you’re sure to find it.
Let me offer an Alaskan weather application for reference. As a lifelong Floridian, I moved to Alaska over 13 years ago and decided to enjoy it. To do so, I had to look for and find beauty, contentment, and joy despite the weather on many occasions.
Fall is an abridged season, so I soak in the beautiful colors, campfires, and outdoor activities requiring only thin layers. Winter arrives with its shortened daylight, and I make sure to stare out over the mountains and the inlet as often as the light allows. Christmas lights go up early around town, and we enjoy them for months. When it snows, the fresh flakes make everything so bright and beautiful. The pastel sunrises and sunsets are indescribable.
Night is then more like twilight with all the reflection, and sometimes, the snow actually sparkles like little diamonds. Warm indoor fireplace chats with my husband and hot coffee make wonderful memories. (Winter is really long here, so I have a long list – this is the abridged version).
In the spring, the days start to lengthen, as do our activities. Fewer layers mean I can move more freely. We get to take off the loud snow-tires. Then come those long summer days, where we soak up any and all sun, hike, camp, and fish (well, some people fish, I just enjoy eating all the salmon and halibut).
Notice, I learned to choose my thoughts and my focus intentionally. Not “Oh no, leaves are falling, summer is ending too soon, and the long dark winter is looming.” My thoughts and focus are in my control – the weather is not. I do my best to choose the perspective and thoughts that serve me best.
I know, you may be thinking, okay, great – that’s outside in Alaska. But how does that apply to my 24-hour call shift where a patient died? Interestingly, it can translate. One of my clients had a similar situation – During her inpatient medicine week, her continuity patient passed after a long admission. Nothing else could have been done. That’s never a pleasant experience, and sadness and grief are normal and need to be experienced and processed. She was able to discover a different perspective, however, when the family arrived. They found solace in seeing her trusted and familiar face. She found a different form of joy in the midst of sad circumstances -- knowing she was a comforting presence to a grieving family. Joy may be found observing a CNA taking the time to gently brush an ill woman’s hair while talking to her or looking at the proud grandpa’s face as he shows off a photo of his first grandson to your medical assistant in a busy office day.
Cultivating joy can be a matter of slowing down when we can, being present in each and every moment, and knowing it’s there somewhere. Sometimes, the large gold bricks of joy are in the middle of our paths to be noticed as long as we’re not focused too far ahead on the horizon. Other times, we have to look for the hidden nuggets of various forms of joy along the side of the path. But mostly, it’s found when you choose to find it. Circumstances can offer fleeting happiness, but sustained joy is found hanging out with contentment, acceptance, mindfulness, and gratefulness – none of which seem particularly concerned with the circumstance.
As a coach, I help my clients shift perspective, improve self-care, tend to their mindset, set goals, and work on acceptance which all help cultivate joy. Surrounding yourself with happy people is another great tip.
However, for the sake of this blog – I want to zero in on the gratefulness piece. Many of you know it, or maybe even tried it; but, consider embracing it as a dedicated practice. For a minimum of 14 days in a row – let the last thoughts you have each night be three things that went well that day and what role you played in them. It may take a few days to get it down pat. It’ll require you to start looking for those nuggets on the sides of the path as you go about your day. It may look a bit different than you are expecting. Consider helping each other – when you see something that your colleague could use – point it out to them. “Hey, that’s a good one for your Three Good Things tonight.” Gratefulness decreases burnout, decreases all levels of depression, improves work-life balance, and increases happiness. Best of all – it’s free! Let all of us stop waiting and choose joy and fulfillment now.
Have a joy-filled day! Tonya
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