Work, Wellness and the Pursuit of Happiness – by Clark Gaither, MD, FAAFP

I want a 30+ year job I hate in a career I despise. I want to spend every working moment wishing I were somewhere else, working with somebody else and doing something else, but never feeling inclined to change anything. I want to perpetually dread Mondays and look forward only to Fridays.

Day after day, I want to spend all my time at work griping and complaining about what I have chosen to do while pretending to listen to others as they gripe and complain about what they do. I want to learn how to stop saying ‘NO’ and take on more and more work which no human could possibly complete.

I have the utmost desire to work longer hours and take work home with me every evening so that is interferes with my family life. I want to avoid taking vacations because I know to do so would put me even further behind at work. I want to feel exhausted 24/7, become cynical and feel as though I accomplish nothing meaningful at work.

I want to think so little of myself that I come to believe it is impossible to change jobs or careers because I’m too inadequate, too old, lack the right education, lack enough experience or can’t learn anything new. I want to become an abject pessimist, thinking and speaking the most negative of thoughts such that people begin to flee at the mere sight of me.

I want to put my head down, grit my teeth and white knuckle it all the way through to retirement. Then, I want to retire bitter, angry, and resentful, dying shortly thereafter way before my time.

Sound good to you? You in?


Astonishingly, this is the portrait of the current day American labor force. Over 50% of workers feel just this way, every day, at their current job or workplace. The percentage is no different in healthcare and may actually be worse.


People can lock themselves into a state of what has been termed “comfortable misery.” It is a persistent, conscious, vegetative state where the thought of continuing to do unrewarding and personally stifling work in a toxic work environment is deemed less painful and easier than the unknowns of change.

This is the burned out mindset.

If ‘wellness’ is what you seek, the burned out mindset must be avoided or replaced with a wellness mindset. The burned out brain will tell you change is too hard, I lack the right education, I’m too old, I don’t have the right skills, it will take too long, there are no better opportunities and so on.

I will be the first to attest, Elysium – any place or state of perfect happiness – is an illusion and does not exist. No job or career is perfect, resulting is sublime happiness all of the time. Though, you can get close when a job or career allows an individual to maximally utilize their natural set of talents and abilities, to innovate and create, to pursue happiness through purposeful work and serve others in the process.

This is impossible if you are laboring in a toxic or dysfunctional work environment and are resistant to change. In my opinion, the greatest freedom we possess is the choice to change our current circumstances. Too many deny themselves of this choice.

Think of wellness as a state in which an individual seeks to optimize well-being in every facet of life and living. This includes one’s work. Ask yourself, “How is my well-being at work?” If the answer is anything other than good or great, there is only a choice standing between you and your pursuit of wellness.