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The secret of happiness

In light of the recent report on mental illness and happiness1 the question therefore emerges - 'what is the secret of happiness in the work and lives of the ordinary jobbing primary and community nurse?'

The work we are doing on the happiness theme, both in our care homes when developing our dementia quality kite mark and in how we are developing person-centred organisations, as well as person-centred care, has included four key aspects of life that determine a subjective feeling of happiness - both for staff and for those we look after, many with well progressed dementia.

Our four key themes are:

1.     Positive anticipation - having things to look forward to - planning to do or experience nice things including having fun.

2.     Enjoying past memories of happy times, achievements, successes, fond and amusing reminiscence.

3.     Having quality relationships with others - family, friends, care staff, and significant others - the giving and receiving of affection.

4.     Helping others and having a meaningful life, having a purpose and retaining confidence and value as a person.

The report does refer to childhood influences on adult life satisfaction and while many of us might have strong enduring happy memories of our early years many also don't. Most of us might however agree that mental health and wellbeing for all is a key determinant to feeling happy.   

In terms of resource contribution within the NHS only 12-14% of the £120 billion healthcare budget is spent on mental health despite a huge increase in stress and life and relationship strain experienced by people in everyday life and a growing number of people requiring help, support and treatment - most often in primary care.

The secret of happiness as a nurse I suggest (as I often promote in the talks and presentations I give to a variety of groups and audiences) should include some of the following:

- Retaining control in key parts of one's life - being organised and having areas where you are the one making decisions about your life.

- Having a healthy sense of humour and perspective.

- Balance in terms of team work and independent skills and competencies.

- Adherence to the four key themes I listed earlier.

Perhaps an interesting exercise could be sharing with family, friends and work colleagues the top tips suggested in this short piece and deciding what's missing - this list is not exhaustive! 

I recognise it can often be a simple and immediate pleasure in everyday life that can lift one's mood and increase a sense of happiness. Nurses are being encouraged and supported to work toward the '6Cs' as promoted by the NHS lead nurse Jane Cummings and her team.

There are a lot of C words not included in the original six that I would include: clarity, capacity and most essentially confidence.  Confidence, I would claim, is certainly one of the main determinants of happiness. 

A final suggestion I would make is to measure and monitor your own confidence levels in your everyday work - score your confidence on a scale from 1-10 at the end of a typical working week and consider what elements within your ability to change things can help improve confidence. Could be worth a try?


  1. Layard R, et al: London School of Economics: Centre of Economic Performance, CEP Discussion paper 1239 -September 2013