Let's not choose happiness, ok?
Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you don’t want to feel happy at work?
Your first response may be, “that’s crazy, of course I want to feel happy at work! Who wouldn’t?”
I think by the time you are done reading this however, you may see that feeling happy ISN’T what you want.
Let’s start with the definition and synonyms of happy:
Characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy
Glad, delighted, pleased
Does this sound like your work day?
It’s totally fine- nothing has gone wrong if your experience of work is NOT one of those definitions.
Let me tell you why I don’t want to always feel pleased or content at work.
I am not pleased that patients suffer with chronic pain.
I am not content when they had an intervention and it didn’t help.
I am not delighted when their medications are giving them side effects that are intolerable.
I am not glad that they are reliant on medications to get through the most basic activities of life.
And I don’t WANT to feel happy about these things.
If we hold on to this ideal of happiness at work, the ideal of feeling pleased or glad all the time, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment because it’s not possible. It’s in our core to want to be UNHAPPY about certain parts of the job. We aren’t happy OR unhappy at work, it’s not an either/or, it’s BOTH.
This is important to note because if we feel that the 2 are mutually exclusive then we can never actually feel satisfied, we are left with an uneasy feeling that something is wrong.
Feeling uneasy is not fun so what can we do about it?
Once we acknowledge that maybe “happiness” isn’t the be-all and end-all, it is helpful to look at other available emotions and strive for those instead. Choosing a different, more expansive feeling as a goal can bring us contentment.
Here’s a list to get you started. Think about how you feel, what your experience is, with each of these emotions.
These emotions are not as polarizing as happy vs unhappy and each of them encompass a positive experience, even in situations where happiness is not appropriate. I can feel dedicated when my patient is having an adverse drug effect, a positive emotion in a negative experience.
So if happiness isn’t necessarily the goal, how do we experience one of these other emotions? Can we just DECIDE to be calm or dedicated or optimistic?
It is almost that simple, almost.
It takes one step beyond a decision. First, pick an emotion you want to feel today. Calm is one of the ones I frequently pick but choose whichever feels best to you.
Now, to actually feel that way, ask yourself this question,
What do people who are calm think during the day? Why are they calm? (Insert whatever emotion you picked.)
Here’s what I imagine calm people think.
I can handle anything that comes up today.
I can figure things out.
I always get the things done that need to get done.
Ironically, even though these aren’t my default thoughts, I do believe these things to be true.
Maybe you picked compassion. What do people who feel compassionate think?
There is always some way to help people.
I know that this person is doing the best they can.
I can be strong for people when they can’t be strong for themselves.
Are you catching on? This is the secret sauce to having a fulfilling experience at work: literally picking how you want to feel ahead of time, finding what you need to think during the day to bring that experience to life, and then reminding yourself to think it.
It takes 2 minutes. Write the feeling on a post-it and then the thought that supports it. Put it somewhere you can see it. When something comes up that promotes some negative feeling like aggravation, intolerance, overwhelm etc., look at your post-it and practice the supporting thought.
Try this for one day or even just one situation. Then try it again.
The more you do it, the better you feel and the easier it gets to recover from the negative emotions quickly.
The feeling buffet is open, don’t pick the crappy ones that won't actually get you what you want.
If you feel like crappy feelings are all you can come up with, schedule a time to have a conversation with me. We can work together to help you finally feel the way you want to.