The happiness equation
Wednesday, 19 April 2017
The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.
I was thinking about happiness in primary care and why it seems that so many GPs seem to be dissatisfied with their jobs and are planning on leaving to take on different careers or opting for early retirement (very early in many cases).
It seems that I am not the only one trying to achieve an understanding of happiness. An executive at Google has considered whether it is possible to develop an equation for happiness. Mo Gawdat has stated that we are happy when life seems to be going our way. He surmises that happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be. The theory is that you are born happy and the more you engage in life, the unhappier you become. In addition, part of his reasoning that so many people are unhappy, is that we are just too hung up with what will happen in the future.
Other people seem to not quite understand why GPs are not happy. Anne Diamond has recently been quoted saying the following on Sky News:
Clearly, this comment angered GPs with many turning to the Twitter-sphere to vent their anger on this faux-pas. But, she has hit the nub of the problem with part of her comment on pay and why it doesn’t make people happy.
In the workplace, it is well known that simply paying people more does not equate to increased happiness. We also know that employees who are valued and listened to in their working life feel happier in their jobs. Applying this to the GP workforce, maybe many are leaving because they feel undervalued, unlistened to and constantly denigrated in media within an environment of limited resources, rising expectations and workload.
So, maybe at the outset of their careers, GPs are enthusiastic and happy with their lot, but as time goes on, events in their working life slowly wear them down, thereby reducing this initial optimism. Increasing expectation by patients, workload demands, negative media coverage on GPs, all relentlessly erode positivity away. Furthermore, the constant threat of change within the NHS, that is out of our control for many, means that GPs get hung up with this view of a future they find even more intolerable than their current work environment.
What can be done to increase happiness in practice?
OK, here are some simple solutions to try to stem the current tide of unhappiness in general practice:
- Focus on taking control of the day to day work to make it more tolerable.
- Create a team around you that fosters positivity and tries to avoid negative discussions at all cost.
- Make your workplace a great environment to work in – have coffee, lunch together, provide mentoring.
- Concentrate on the here and now and not what might happen in the future.
- Avoid reading or reacting to negative news stories about general practice.
- Concentrate on doing the best you can for each patient you see.
- Acknowledge when another team member is struggling and aim to support them to improve their resilience.
- Fostering an environment where junior doctors enjoy their time with a practice and feel well supported.
There is clearly no easily formula to sum up happiness, and there are multiple reasons why people are unhappy, but focussing on small changes in life as a GP may help protect against the current exodus primary care is experiencing.
Please post your ideas for improving happiness below…