My Happiness Project

Some of the best books I have read have been purchased in airport convenience stores prior to taking a flight (my favorite of these: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). Three days ago, I came back from a trip to Puerto Rico with my husband and bought The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin about the author spending a year working on little goals each month to have an overall more happy life. It truly resonates with me, as a person who feels like I have a wonderful life on paper and wants to enjoy it more. It inspired me to get back into writing, something I actually love to do and should carve out time for.

Since my last major blog post, a lot has happened. I matched to my #1 Family Medicine residency pick at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. I bought my first home. I got married. I graduated medical school and have finished the majority of intern year. With my Step 3 board exam behind me and three rotations ahead of me, I am on my way to being somewhat legitimate when it comes to a career as a physician.

The further along I get, the more I appreciate what I have done to get where I am today and the more I wish I picked another career path. In fourth year of medical school, I really lived it up. I found ways to love medicine again – most notably, by teaching. I was a a teaching assistant for anatomy and took a four-week Medical Education rotation with weekly lectures on how to teach and hands-on hours in the classroom. It was something challenging that exercised my brain power, honed my confidence in my medical knowledge/skills, and allowed me to work with medical students. It made me feel like there was a way to find myself again in this career I chose 10 years ago.

I realized practicing clinical medicine doesn’t always bring me joy. There are beautiful moments. There are times I feel energized. There are patients who make me forget my qualms about pursuing a career in medicine. I love working to improve someone’s quality of life. I have purpose.

I feel constantly validated when it comes to my career choice – alas, there are worse things to have chosen in life than to become a doctor. At the same time, I think every day about what I plan to do in 10 years. Who I plan to be…in 10 years.

An educator.
A Zumba instructor.
A writer. A novelist.
A traveler.
A full-time mother.

Then I wonder to myself: why not do what I want to do now? What is stopping me? Well, time. That I can’t necessarily change. I can optimize my use of time but I can’t help how many hours I am scheduled to work in a given week.

Besides time, I realized the other thing stopping me from doing what I want is energy. I simply lost the will and intrinsic motivation to do things that bring me happiness that involve any mental or physical energy. All the energy I have goes to work, sleep, eating, and making important social functions.

This past week – my first week off during intern year, mind you – I found my energy again. I cleaned my house. I slept 12 hours a night. I spent time with friends and family. I walked over 20,000 steps a day exploring another country. I went to a wedding. I found a part of me again that I had neglected – that part of me that felt like the Authentic Afsoon. Or at least, the Afsoon I am more proud to be. Kind, active, considerate, less anxious, engaged, spontaneous. I read for fun. I mapped out my future novel in my head. I laughed loudly. My husband reminded me that I have a goofy sense of humor and that I find positive energy in what’s around me.

In reading the first half of The Happiness Project I tapped into a part of myself that makes me appreciate who I am apart from work. I think my own personal source of happiness is finding self-worth and enjoyment in life separate from patient care and my career in medicine. Ultimately, my perfect career in medicine would be a couple half days of clinic a week while primarily teaching. And writing. And I’m not talking writing research articles or academia. I am talking good old-fashioned short stories and novels. Memoirs. Historical fiction. The occasional poem. Some inspired by medicine, others not at all.

I am tired of looking to 10 years from now for an idealistic notion of what career will elicit the most happiness. In the now (for the most part), I adore my faculty, my co-residents, my nurses, my support staff, and many of my patients. I have a healthy marriage, a great relationship with my family members, and multiple close friends who are basically family. Although I spend the majority of my hours at work, I no longer wish my job to define me – something I think most people in the world probably relate to. Not sure how often we find that in medical residents.

I am setting out on my own personal Happiness Project. One that involves tapping into what truly brings me joy, and doing more of that whenever I can. Sure, I love Netflix, movies, couch time, snuggling with my husband, drinking a warm cup of tea. I also love cold lemon water, exotic fruits, warm sunny days, outdoor trails, window shopping, the smell of new books, Zumba, circuit training, ice skating, puzzles, writing, doing projects around my house, organizing, updating my excel spreadsheet to analyze my finances, talking to people I care about, browsing houses for sale, NPR, and nothingness (sitting by myself, thinking about nothing, letting my mind relax and be free – some might call it meditation).

I want to be my authentic self at work, at home, in the real world. If that makes people define me as neurotic, anxious, kind, loving, hardworking, Type A, whatever – I give zero shits. I am done trying to be the best person. Nobody likes a perfectionist. I am Afsoon – whoever she is. I have an impressive range of emotions. I appreciate different types of people with a wide array of interests. I have a wonderful life. I regret my career choice (which apparently many interns do) and have found a long-term plan I am comfortable with. I am happy that by doing this career, my husband was able to pursue his dream of opening a music school and becoming a full-time musician. I am happy I picked Family Medicine and especially grateful that Fort Belvoir picked me back. Even if I stopped writing for the past year, I am a writer. I appreciate the power of words on paper. I am home, in Virginia, surrounded by family and my closest friends.

I think the most crucial aspect to my personal happiness project is acknowledging my mood for whatever it is, validating it, and using what energy and time I have to do something that brings me joy. We only have so many moments in our time on earth. I choose to spend mine being an authentic person and doing good. Whatever that means for the future, I need to live in the present.