I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The author wanted to find more happiness in her everyday life. She looked at how small, daily changes can add up to more happiness in the long term. She spent a year coming up with some ways to focus on happiness and documenting the things she did and felt. After reading this book, I was thinking about my career and how I can improve my happiness at work.
Most days, I am happy with dentistry. But, then there are the days when I wish I had gone to veterinarian school. The author has a list of commandments that seem to be the guiding principles of her happiness project. I took her commandments and modified them slightly for my own personal happiness as applied to dentistry.
1. You don’t have to know how to do everything.
I have learned it is okay to admit that you don’t know something. Sometimes patients ask questions that you really don’t know how to answer. It is okay to ask for help or let the patient know you don’t know at this point in time, but you will refer them or try to find out for them. We are only human.
2. Be nice to everyone.
We all have days when the people around us are driving us crazy, be it dramatic staff or needy patients. But making the extra effort to be kind is always worth it.
3. Let go of dental guilt.
This is one I am still working on. I spent the first year of practice obsessing over things I had no control over. Is Mrs. Smith going to have post-op pain? Is that tooth I crowned on Mr. Jones going to need endo? There is nothing we can do about treatment once we have left the office, and it is best to not obsess over it. We did not cause the decay or the infection, so we shouldn’t feel guilty for normal post-op levels of discomfort.
4. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Most clinicians I know are perfectionists. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves, “Is it functioning? Is it really going to benefit the patient to have this done and/or re-done?”
5. Act the way you want to feel.
If you want to work in a happy office you need to act happy. Moods are contagious. If you can fake your way into a good mood, maybe other people will be influenced into actual good moods, and that can come back to you.
6. Have hobbies outside of dentistry.
I have gotten a lot of happiness out of hobbies that have nothing to do with dentistry. Taking a break from one passion for another is very rejuvenating. I love fiction, baking, soccer, and my two dogs. All these things take my mind off a stressful case and give me more to talk about with patients.
7. When in doubt, wait it out.
I have never regretted not doing treatment. If symptoms are vague, most people will understand that you don’t want to do irreversible things if the symptoms aren’t telling a clear story.
8. It is called “practice” for a reason.
There is always room to grow: new things to learn, new technologies to try, more CE to take. When you are satisfied with everything you are doing, you stop trying to improve.
9. Slow down, you’re in a hurry!
A dental school professor of mine used to always say, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it over?”
10. You can’t make chicken soup out of chicken s***.
This is another saying of a dental school professor. We all have those cases where patients want Hollywood smiles but the foundations are crumbling. Is this a chicken soup case? Or is it chicken s***?
Sarah Meyer, DDS