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Dr. Gurley: Joy Tidbits

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Here’s a great article about specific, science-based ways to increase the joy in your life. Based on some relatively small studies, these tips range from the abstract to the hard-nosed. Take a look at the list below, then read my take on two of these tips - one gets a yes! and, one gets an I’m not so sure about that one…:

1) Allow your golden self to emerge

2) Design your life to bring in joy
3) Avoid “if only” fantasies
4) Put best friends first
5) Allow yourself to be happy

First, here’s the tip that gets a yes!: It’s the design-your-life tip (#2). One study asked women to document every single thing they did - and then, afterward, review step-by-step whether or not an activity gave them any joy at all. Some women had tears in their eyes as they realized that they disliked every single thing they did. Systematically looking to replace one activity that you dread with something that brings you joy is a great, practical tip for all of us who can get caught up in the whirlpool of daily life. Keep a diary for two days and try this experiment on yourself. How does your life stack up? Can you make a small change that will have a lasting impact on your joy habit?

Second, here’s the tip that gets an ‘I’m not so sure about that one…: The most abstract (and least science-based) tip is the let your “golden self” emerge (#1). What does this mean? The idea is that each of us has an inner nature, and happiness comes from working toward letting “the highest possible expression of his or her nature” emerge. There is considerable evidence that working towards a positive goal (especially a long-term one) can lead to an enduring sense of joy. But (perhaps I’m just a tad - ha- cynical) becoming a more extreme version of a person’s inner nature seems like it could be fraught with problems. For example, the purest version of the old Doc Gurley nature (even the good parts) might be a bit much for the world to stomach undiluted. What about you? Do you think working to expose your innermost nature, even your best parts, will lead to happiness? Agree? Disagree? Join in the comments discussion.

Dr. Jan Gurley is a board-certified internist physician and the only Harvard Medical School graduate to have been awarded a Shoney's Ten-Step Pin for documented excellence in waitressing. Having achieved this pinnacle of greatness early in life, Doc Gurley inevitably spiraled downward. Jaded, and afraid of becoming known as a waitressing has-been, she tried years of basic science research in labs (graduating magna cum laude from Harvard), then did a residency at UCSF in Internal Medicine, then received a Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship in epidemiology, public health and public policy. Her health/science background covers the vast territory from sub-cell systems, to human studies, to the captivating science of seeing patients one-on-one. She is microscopically-famous (G-protein-sized, to be specific) within the airless halls of cloistered Medicine for two things - 1) for being the first to describe and study a syndrome where the isolated elderly and ill are found helpless/dead in their homes (the Gurley Found Down Study), and 2) for being the first to proudly attach her name to the stages of breasts sag-age (the Gurley Stages of Breast Regression).

Doc Gurley's motto when it comes to her health writing is: Just A Spoonful of Humor Helps The...well, even without Julie Andrews breaking into song, you get the idea. Doc Gurley's health writing has appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chronicle Sunday magazine, with letters in the Washington Post and UK's Daily Telegraph. Her research has appeared in academic publications including the New England Journal of Medicine. She is also the author a humorous book of serious healthcare advice, Dodging Death, forthcoming from Penguin/Avery books.

Visit Dr. Jan Gurley on her website:

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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