Doc: Here's a simple way to be more grateful, happy

Doctor time
Keep a gratitude journal to be happier, healthier.

It may sound too simple to be true, but an Oregon doctor says she’s found a way to avoid getting worn down by the daily grind.

Taking a lesson from a patient she encountered while still in medical school, Dr. Melissa Hemphill, who practices in an urban clinic for the underserved in Portland, says being grateful is a way to make you happier.

She now keeps a "gratitude" journal, writing down three happy moments from each work day before she packs up for the day, she writes in a Fresh Perspectives article for the American Academy of Family Physicians. ”It allowed me to record positive moments and reframe my day. Instead of labeling each day 'stressful,' I started counting the happy moments and positive impacts I had. The journal became a ritual, a way of reviewing the day, shedding stress and leaving work at work,” she writes.

And there’s evidence that positive thinking and expressing gratitude can make people happier and even healthier, she says. For instance, the Harvard School of Public Health has established a new Center for Health and Happiness, whose goal is to promote the role of "positive psychological wellbeing" in health. 

Faced with jobs that can lead to burnout, physicians must take action to reduce their stress levels. “I posit that a gratitude journal can be an excellent tool for the practicing physician,” Hemphill wrote, challenging doctors to start their own journal specifically focused on work. Doctors should write down three happy memories from their day before they leave work, such as a positive patient outcome, a thank you from someone or a hug from a patient—anything that brings a moment of joy.

It’s a good way to get through the hurried holiday season, she says. It’s also important as more and more doctors suffer from stress and burnout.