Pursuing Happiness: It’s all About the Journey, not the Destination
Suffering from infertility is tough. No one has ever called it an easy thing to experience. As a reproductive endocrinology nurse practitioner, I guide patients through the most effective treatment to pregnancy and a baby. Even so, many patients face some kind of a setback or challenge during their fertility treatment. While some patients fall into overwhelming sadness and depression, other patients find a way to accept these setbacks and continue to move forward with a positive mindset. Many times I have wondered what allows some individuals to “power through” stressful times, while others faced with the same challenge become almost paralyzed by stress and negativity.
In the field of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, we often look to hard science to give our patients the best chance for success. But what if there is something else we can do to help our patients succeed? As a nurse, I often find myself telling patients, “Stay positive” or “I’m thinking positive thoughts for you.” That may sound silly but I really feel there is something to this whole positivity concept. I have found myself exploring the field of “positive psychology” where studies show that happy people are successful people (surprisingly, not the reverse–that success leads to happiness). Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener (2005) performed an extensive review of 225 research papers, which revealed that happy individuals are more likely to have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, better health, and a long life.
I believe there are ways that we can integrate the concept of happiness and a positive mindset in the field of infertility (in fact, these ideas can be applied to just about all facets of our lives). I realize this happiness concept applied to infertility may seem strange as it is such an emotional, stressful experience with many things left out of the patient’s control. But, I feel this is precisely the reason why we should be bringing positivity into this field. Some patients may think, “I will be happy when I have a baby.” Why delay your happiness? Instead, I encourage those experiencing infertility to practice a few simple interventions that have been proven to train the brain to be happy. Practicing optimistic thinking, expressing gratitude in writing, spending more time socializing, performing acts of kindness, and exercising are all activities that have been shown to increase happiness and actually decrease depressive symptoms (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009; Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011). Happiness and positive affect when facing stress or challenge is associated with good outcomes (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005) and effective coping (Lyubomirsky & Tucker, 1998). Not only that, but happiness may actually have a positive effect on maternal and fetal health. Lobel, DeVincent, Kaminer, & Meyer (2000) performed a prospective study showing that optimistic women were less likely to deliver low-birth weight infants, even when controlling for effects of risk and ethnicity. By incorporating a few simple interventions into your daily routine, you can actually rewire your brain for happiness to get you through the tough times and truly appreciate the good times.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” –Dalai Lama XIV
Lobel, M., DeVincent, C.J., Kaminer, A., & Meyer, B.A. (2000). The impact of prenatal maternal stress and optimistic disposition on birth outcomes in medically high-risk women. Health Psychology, 19(6), 544-553.
Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J.K., & Sheldon, K.M. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion, 11(2), 391-402.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.
Lyubomirsky, S. & Tucker, K.L. (1998). Implications of individual differences in subjective happiness for perceiving, interpreting, and thinking about life events. Motivation and Emotion, 22(2), 155-186.
Sin, N.L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467-487.
Empowering Fertility: An educational blog for patients & healthcare professionals that empowers individuals to take charge of their fertility. Visit us at http://empoweringfertility.com.