Finding Happiness in Our Wounded World

Andrew Siegel MD   5/21/2022

The “pursuit of happiness” is an inalienable right as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find joy and happiness in our chaotic and troubled world where we are constantly bombarded with pessimistic and depressing headlines: A lingering pandemic; global warming; rising and polluted seas; natural disasters; Russia invading Ukraine with the threat of nuclear war; multiple other international conflicts (Ethiopian Tigray war, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Syria, the Iran threat, Saudi-Yemen, Israel-Palestine); our broken, reactionary politics and struggling democracy; domestic terrorism with uncivilized lunatics randomly committing murder and mayhem; red-hot inflation; Wall Street turbulence; world hunger; humanitarian crises galore; etc., etc., etc.  These are fraught times and despondency and malaise are understandable. How can one possibly achieve happiness in this kind of toxic environment? It is challenging, but entirely possible.

  • Seek Meaningful Work, Harmony and Balance   It’s not so easy, but try to find work that is purposeful and is not merely an “occupation” but a passion and it will hardly feel like work.  Many Americans are conditioned to hate their jobs (#2 on the list of what makes us unhappy, exceeded only by illness) and love passive forms of relaxation, but studies demonstrate that meaningful work is preferred over mindless down time. A healthy balance between work and recreation is fundamental for happiness. Stay engaged and enthusiastic with interests and hobbies that exercise your mind and body, including reading, travel, games, puzzles, art, music, crafts, recreational sports, etc.
  • No Need to “Keep Up with the Joneses”    Money is not a reliable path to happiness. Once our basic needs are met, we will be doing better than most of the world’s population and should be reasonably content.  Clearly, lack of resources strongly contributes to unhappiness, but once one has sufficient material resources so that basic needs are met, increased resources only marginally increase happiness. In the words of Stuart Goldsmith, an extremely wealthy friend of my father’s: “It’s not so good with, as it is bad without.”  The law of diminishing returns is relevant to the effect of money on happiness. Simple is good, less is often more, and everything in moderation.  We should be grateful and appreciative of living in a pluralistic democracy with a stable government, having access to quality education, healthcare, occupational and recreational opportunities, and living in a generally safe environment.
  • Seek Experiences, Not Things The following quote sums it up nicely:

People derive happiness from experiences, not objects. Once it’s done, once it’s over, we adapt very quickly…it’s the process that yields the joy, not the outcome.” Tal Ben-Shahar, Director of Masters in Happiness Studies Graduate Program, Centenary University in New Jersey.

  • Try to Achieve “Flow”  Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (quoted below) described this inner transcendent state of focused contentment, one of the genuine secrets to happiness. When in flow, you are totally immersed, involved, engaged, and concentrated in an experience such that you feel like you don’t exist as your body disappears from consciousness and the activity becomes effortless. You feel part of something larger and a sense of clarity, serenity, and even ecstasy can result, and you can lose all sense of time as you are totally present in the moment with no thoughts of the past or future.  Flow may occur in a variety of circumstances, including work, sports, talking with a friend, sex, writing music, crafts, and providing therapy (as my psychology grad student daughter related to me), etc.  

“We can’t afford to become trapped within ourselves, our jobs, and religions, and lose sight of the entire tapestry of life. When the self loses itself in a transcendent purpose — whether to write great poetry, craft beautiful furniture, understand the motions of galaxies, or help children be happier — the self becomes largely invulnerable to the fears and setbacks of ordinary existence.” Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

His TED talk on flow.

  • Manage Time and Negative Interactions Our time on this planet is limited, so it needs to be structured effectively and efficiently. Learn how to say no, how to prioritize, and how to delegate. Avoid emotionally draining activities as best as possible and try not to worry about things outside your ability to control.  Eliminate negative, toxic energy by avoiding negative people.
  • Find Nature Connecting to nature can offer solace and be restorative. The simple act of being outside in fresh air, sunlight, and among nature– the beach, parks, forests, mountains, watching sunrises and sunsets, animals in their natural habitats, etc. — can enhance happiness and physical and mental wellbeing. Nature is full of wonder and reminds us not only of life’s renewals and rebirths as season turns to season, but also of our own impermanence and fragility, which helps us to be present, grounded and maintain perspective.

Nature asks that we acknowledge that nothing lasts; we are each as ephemeral as the trilliums pushing up from the ground right now, or as the seasons are… The cherry blossom festival is no mere show of spectacular clouds in pink and white. It’s a carpe diem festival — a reminder of impermanence as the petals shatter and drop. Gone.” Margaret Roach

  • Take a Break from Tech Being too connected is disconnecting. Seek some relief from television, the news, social media, etc., all of which have been proven to foster anxiety, depression, and isolation. I am enamored with my Apple watch, but getting texted in the middle of a tennis match is disturbing, annoying, and hinders my rhythm and flow.
  • Be Present and Embrace Mindfulness You can’t be happy if you’re fretting about the past and worrying about the future, so try to be present, enjoy the present, and stop and smell the proverbial roses as often as possible. Joy can be had by relaxing and appreciating life’s simple delights such as taking pleasure in that cup of chamomile tea instead of multitasking while drinking it, mindfully focusing on that fresh croissant while eating it, watching and listening to the rain pitter-patter off the window, observing the chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and birds in your backyard, etc.
  • Relationships Matter   Humans are a social, communal, and a connected species, and isolation is unhealthy. Meaningful relationships with a significant other, family and friends, and a good rapport with colleagues are fundamental building blocks of happiness. Community counts.
  • Active and Healthy Lifestyle, Avoiding Self-Abusive Behavior    Number one on the list of what causes unhappiness is the state of being sick or ill. Our greatest wealth is health, and it becomes a challenge to achieve happiness in the face of poor health, so be a good caretaker of your body and mind.  A clean and healthy diet with an abundance of fruit and vegetables, nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods along with regular exercise and physical activity, and adequate quantity and quality of sleep are key elements.  Shun junk food, obesity, tobacco, excessive alcohol, addictive drugs, excessive sun exposure, and undue risks.  
  • Get Your “DOSE” of Happy Internal Chemicals   Four mood-regulating “happy chemical” neurotransmitter/hormones within our body include dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins — referred to as DOSE.  Tapping into your “internal pharmacy” can provide a natural high and feeling of wellbeing.  Their release can be triggered with numerous activities including the following: Enjoying a delicious meal, dark chocolate, listening to music, hugging someone, spending time with loved ones, smiling and laughing with friends, having sex, spending time outside, enjoying nature, meditation, yoga, hot baths, aromatherapy, massage, exercising, playing with your pet, enjoying a fresh bouquet of flowers, etc. The Mappiness (“Mapping Happiness”) project determined that what makes people happy the most are sex, exercise, gardening, sunny and gorgeous days, and being out in nature, particularly near a body of water with beautiful scenery. What makes us unhappiest in addition to illness are working too hard, particularly with people we don’t like, living in cities, and spending too much time on social media.
  • Maintain optimism   Try to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.  A cheery and upbeat disposition, a good sense of humor, a sense of hope about what the future might bring, and flexibility, adaptability, and resilience will help you deal positively with stress and help counter life’s inevitable losses and changes.

Wishing you the best of health,

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro AreaInside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, the largest urology practice in the United States.  He is the co-founder of PelvicRx and Private Gym.  His latest book is Prostate Cancer 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families. 

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Video trailer for Prostate Cancer 20/20

Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

Andrew Siegel MD Amazon author page

PROSTATE CANCER 20/20 is now available at Audible, iTunes and Amazon as an audiobook read by the author (just over 6 hours). 

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health


MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

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2 Responses to “Finding Happiness in Our Wounded World”

  1. mikemarius Says:

    So beautifully said. Thanks for reminding us what’s important in life and what’s worth pursuing. We sort of know these truths, but thanks for bringing all to the surface. Michael R.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Lore’ Denver-Badil Says:

    This is a beautiful contemplative piece from the heart

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