Hadley’s Intro: A Psychiatrist explains how to live and die happy
by living a fulfilled life in a guest post courtesy of WashingtonPost
Happiness is fleeting. Aim for fulfillment.
It can be achieved when you accept who you are,
make the most of what you have and are optimistic
about the future
Advice by Gregory Scott Brown, MD
May 19, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
I recently met with a patient, a man in his late
40s with a soft smile. Minutes into our first
session, I learned that his biggest fear was that
decades later, he would look back and realize that
he had spent his entire life — as he put it —
“What are you hoping to get from our time
together?” I asked.
“I just want to be happy,” he responded.
As a psychiatrist, I think about happiness and how
to achieve it. And thousands of conversations with
patients who are chasing happiness have taught me
that it can be a distraction from what’s really
necessary for a better life — fulfillment.
Happiness is fleeting
Patients often come to see me when they are
unhappy with their work or personal life. Many see
a period of time in their life, such as the day
they got married or when they graduated from
college, as their template for happiness.
“If I could just feel that way again, I would be
happy,” they tell me.
The problem with this approach is that happiness
is an emotion, not a state of being. Emotions such
as happiness and sadness aren’t supposed to
last. They come and go.
Seeking happiness as the ultimate goal is like
running after a moving target. And we may feel
even more depressed or anxious because we are
setting unrealistic expectations about what is
Fulfillment is a state of being
Unlike happiness, fulfillment is a state of being.
It is achieved when you accept who you are, make
the most of what you have and are optimistic about
I learned this lesson as a psychiatry resident
almost 10 years ago. As I witnessed patients die,
I noticed that despite age or diagnosis, some
seemed to be more at peace than others. I wanted
to understand how some people in their final weeks
could still be okay.
Fulfillment seemed to be the answer. Patients who
were fulfilled could reflect fondly on their life
and relationships, have gratitude (sometimes that
just meant being grateful for having a few hours
without physical pain) and remain optimistic (in
some cases, in the promise of an afterlife).
Now, I often ask my patients to “imagine life
better” and describe what their fulfilled life
might look like. Usually, they realize that it’s
a life that is attainable.
One of my patients, a woman in her late 50s, came
to see me after going through a difficult divorce.
Eventually she found fulfillment — even amid a
difficult transition — by focusing on what she
was grateful for, such as her three adult
children. She took up new hobbies and rekindled
old friendships, which gave her hope about the
You, too, can begin to cultivate your life in a
way that draws you closer to fulfillment, with a
Don’t overreact to highs or lows
People who are fulfilled don’t overreact to
emotional highs or lows. They are able to
appreciate that just as the seasons come and go,
so do our emotions.
I recommend the HALT model to my patients as a
way to avoid allowing their feelings to get the
best of them.
Ask yourself: Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired?
If you are any or many of those things, here are
steps you can take.
Eat a nourishing meal.
Step away from the situation that’s causing
stress, if you can.
Practice 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale for four seconds,
hold for seven seconds, exhale for eight seconds.
Go for a 10-minute walk.
Write down three things that you’re grateful for.
Talk to a friend.
Do things that make you feel relaxed.
Learn to adapt
Life rarely turns out exactly as we plan, and
learning to adapt is a superpower for your mental
Adapting doesn’t mean giving up your hopes,
dreams or intentions. Instead, it involves making
the most of what you have right now, so you can
stay focused on creating the life you want.
Some researchers have developed a test for AQ
(adaptability quotient) similar to IQ that gauges
how adaptable you are.
If you aren’t as adaptable as you’d like, you
can start by asking yourself: How willing am I to
change, to learn or to make mistakes?
Adapting may require unlearning old habits so you
can develop new, more helpful habits. I challenge
you to approach your life with curiosity before
judgment. You may learn valuable lessons about
yourself and the people around you.
Friends are essential to a healthy life — and
they are just as important for our well-being as
healthy eating habits or a good night’s sleep.
Friends, though, don’t just appear out of thin
air, an expert said. Here’s her advice for
making new connections and maintaining the old
You may have lost touch with friends during the
pandemic and may be eager to reconnect. If you
want to maintain the level of effortlessness you
had before, here is advice from friendship experts
on how to optimize these relationships.
Children who develop supportive, trusting
friendships with others their age are more likely
to become healthy, happy and professionally
successful adults, studies show. Adults can help
foster teen friendships.
Develop meaningful relationships
The Harvard Study of Adult Development showed that
quality relationships are important for
well-being. This comes at a time when loneliness
feels like it’s more common than ever.
Consider your relationships not only an investment
in your mental health, but also an opportunity to
bring you closer to fulfillment. Common interest
meetups, group therapy and religious organizations
are great ways to form meaningful connections.
When you meet someone new, ask them how they’re
doing and actively listen by affirming your
understanding of what they told you. It’s an
easy first step in planting the seeds for a
Try not to regret
We all have aspects of our past we would change if
we could, but living with regret isn’t helpful
for mental health. One study shows that people who
are fulfilled choose not to live with deep regret.
This means accepting that although you can’t
change your past, you can change the way you think
Ask yourself what lessons you have learned from
past experiences. These lessons can teach you how
to avoid the same mistakes. In some cases, living
without regret can allow you to find gratitude for
Many of us could use more happiness in our lives,
but as psychiatrist and author Victor Frankl
wrote, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must
Instead of searching for happiness, shift your
attention toward finding fulfillment. It may bring
you closer to living a better life and
experiencing more happiness along the way.
Gregory Scott Brown is a psychiatrist, mental
health writer and author of “The Self-Healing
Mind: An Essential Five-Step Practice for
Overcoming Anxiety and Depression, and
Revitalizing Your Life.”
When you feel uneasy, HALT. Then decide the
most loving thing you can do to ease hunger,
anger, loneliness, or exhaustion. And do it.
Practicing healthy self love attracts love and builds
happy sexy love that lasts.