The Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow

Episode #11: Joy in Medicine

Show Notes:

Welcome back all my WIMBAs to the Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow with me, Dr. Sharon Grossman. I am excited to be here today to talk to you about joy in medicine. Now joy in general is something that I love to talk about and how to create more joy is always something that is important to talk about. But today we’re going to talk about more than just joy in general. We’re going to talk about joy in your work and particularly in medicine because that’s what you do.

To start us off, I have consulted my friend Merriam-Webster to really distinguish between two definitions. The first is joy and the second is happiness and this is what Merriam Webster says:

“Joy is the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” It’s an attitude, in other words.

Happiness, on the other hand, is “a state of well-being or contentment.” 

And so another way of thinking about happiness is that it’s a destination. So joy is something that you experience in the moment and one of the things that’s really interesting about joy, as opposed to happiness, is that you can experience joy even when you are living without happiness in your life. 

So think for a moment of a funeral, you know. You’ve just lost somebody very dear to you and a family member comes over and gives you a hug or comes up and makes a speech and you feel a sense of joy about being with that person, connecting to that person, even though in that moment you’re not necessarily feeling happy because you’ve just experienced the loss. I’m not sure if that’s the best example in the world but what I want you to think about is that joy is something that can shift from moment to moment and that is something that’s very powerful to know because you have control over the fleeting emotions that you experience in your life. Because so much of that is determined by the way that you think. And so when it comes to your job, if you’re not experiencing joy then you want to identify what are some of the thoughts that you’re having about your job as you go through your day that zap you  of that joy. When you can shift your thinking, you can actually return that joy to your work. 

So that’s something to consider when it comes to joy versus happiness. Now you may not experience joy maybe in certain moments of the day, but overall feel really happy in your profession. You might love working in medicine but not love doing your documentation for example, which I hear a lot of people complaining about, right? So maybe the documentation is the thing that you attribute to not experiencing more joy but overall because you love practicing medicine then you feel happy. So that’s an important distinction and something for you to consider. 

And then if you are in that camp then you’re better off, I would say, than most people because if you have happiness, if you’ve checked the happiness box but you’re just not experiencing joy, then we can talk about how to shift your thinking, experience more joyful moments all throughout your day, and then everything is going to feel a lot better. On the other hand if you aren’t happy, you could still experience moments of joy, as we said, but ultimately something big has to shift. Something big has to shift because, as we said, joy is kind of the attitude that you have for moment-to-moment but happiness is that destination. 

So let’s say you’re really unhappy working in medicine. Maybe the reason that you became a physician was because somebody in your family had some sort of illness and you decided you were going to go into medicine to help other people in that condition. And once you got in there, even though you had good intentions, you realize “This is not a good fit for who I am and what I like to do or for the lifestyle that I want to create.” Or maybe you got into medicine because that’s what was expected of you from your parents and even though you want to please people, you find that this isn’t the best place for you, right? So you might not be happy doing this work and so then it’s not a question of “how can I have more joy in medicine?” but really “what can I do that’s more aligned with my needs?” 

Getting back to the idea of more joy in your work, I’m going to assume that at least for this episode that you are happy but maybe you’re just not experiencing as much joy as you could. And so there are practices that can help you to increase the amount of joy that you experience. 

One of them is gratitude and again gratitude is, you know…there’s an expression that says “an attitude of gratitude.” And since we’re on the topic of attitudes which joy is, then the more you practice being grateful for things that are happening moment-to-moment, the more joy you’re going to experience. So even though you are expected, for example, to do that documentation if that’s the big thorn in your side, then you can tell yourself that you’re grateful for the opportunity to practice medicine and that documenting accurately is going to ensure that your patient gets the care that they need. So sometimes just reframing things in that way from that place of “I have to do this thing” to “I get to do this and it’s such a great thing that I get to do it because there’s a great thing on the other side of it”– that can shift your entire frame of reference and how you feel.

David Brooke, a New York Times writer and columnist recently shared his perspectives on the differences between joy and happiness. Here’s what he said in 2019: 

“Happiness involves a victory for self. Joy involves the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. True joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.”

Now obviously, this a very different definition and distinction between the two terms and I thought it’s an interesting new perspective that we should look at. If you look at his definition, he’s saying that joy is when you are focused on other people and happiness is when you focus on yourself. And how does that pertain to medicine? Well, in medicine you are working to help other people. You have patients and you’re there to help them heal or help them increase their overall health. And so if you are tuned in to the act that is your job, then you can feel joy in all those little moments. Happiness is more about like the accomplishments that you make and how you feel about yourself as a result of having accomplished those things, according to David Brook,s and therefore you can feel a sense of pride or you feel that even the sense of joy in having completed the thing which is leading to your happiness. 

So according to him it’s about where you focus. Are you focusing inward or outward? And a word of caution about this because I’ve worked with a lot of physicians and nurses, people in healthcare who tend to be givers and even overgivers and sometimes even people-pleasers. And so I want to just caution against this idea of just giving it all away and not focusing on yourself. Even if we’re going to use David Brooks’ definition, I want to just emphasize that happiness is not selfish even though it is focused on yourself and that you can give an experience joy by doing so but also that if you give to yourself, that is important. It’s so incredibly important and people often skip the step because they think, “I should give all of it away. I should do more for others. It’s selfish for me to focus on myself” and it’s NOT! 

And, in fact, it is so essential because that’s the only way you’re going to last in this game. So if you truly want to experience not just joy in medicine, but joy your work in every moment and happiness overall, it’s about that balance between giving and taking, and it’s the difference between focusing short-term and long-term. 

I’ll leave you with that, something to consider. And of course, if you’d like to learn a little bit more about different kinds of mindset hacks that can help you to get the results that you want in your life and avoid burnout, I invite you to a webinar that I have on my website called the “3 Mindset Hacks to Avoid Burnout.” You can go to to check it out. And I’ll talk to you next week. Take care.

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