Wellness takes priority this summer

Posted on Monday, July 26, 2021


“It’s not so much that success leads to happiness; it’s that happiness leads to success.”

— Dr. Tim Lau, uOttawa associate professor and psychiatrist at The Royal.

By Chonglu Huang

This summer, the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine is encouraging its learners, faculty and staff to take a breather and prioritize their well-being by offering a Summer of Kindness.

From June to the end of August, a Summer of Kindness approach means being kind to yourself and others and appreciating that self-care is central to success in a sustainable way.

“It’s not so much that success leads to happiness; it’s that happiness leads to success,” said Dr. Tim Lau, a uOttawa associate professor and psychiatrist at The Royal, who also holds a position as Director of Joy-at-Work Initiative in the Department of Psychiatry.

As a clinician and researcher in wellness and mental health, Dr. Lau has been a national public speaker on happiness for over 10 years.

Dr. Lau cited findings from longitudinal studies spanning 30 years that people who are happier are more likely to lead successful lives; that a happy, engaged, and flourishing workforce is about 50% more productive than a dissatisfied, unengaged and despondent workforce.

“Conventional wisdom prior to 15 years ago thought that external forces—things like pressure, performance reviews, salaries, and bonuses—drove performance. But in reality, internal forces are much more powerful. Workers perform better when they are happily engaged with what they do,” said Dr. Lau.

But what is happiness? And how is it obtained and sustained? The answers to those questions are more complex and personal.

“As far as the determinants of happiness are concerned, the work of Dr. Ed Diener and Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky show that our general sense of happiness is only 10% determined by our circumstances,” added Dr. Lau. “Instead, internal factors related to the individual life choices, relationships, meaning and genetics play much larger roles in creating happiness and wellness.”

Researchers have shown that people who have strong interpersonal relationships live longer and heathier lives and are less likely to develop dementia in old age.

When it comes to the workplace, employees who are most happy and productive feel valued and respected, have the freedom to be creative, and foster positive relationships through teamwork.

Dr. Lau is encouraged by the Faculty’s Summer of Kindness initiative and its support from the Dean: “In an organization, leadership also matters when it comes to wellness. The words from leaders count because people want to hear that their well-being is being supported openly in the workplace.”

While the path to wellness is different for each person and their individual needs, Dr. Lau offers a list of top 10 wellness interventions that stem from research studies done in the last decade:

Top 10 Wellness Interventions Backed by Science

  1. The importance of relationships: People are more likely to live longer, be stronger and less likely to develop dementia if they have strong meaningful relationships, at whatever stage of life you are in, according to findings from the Harvard Study of Longitudinal Development.
  2. Cultivating meaning in one’s life: Finding a sense of purpose and discovering one’s own meaning makes life worth living and builds resiliency. Studies show it actually leads to a longer life, helps avoid hospitalization and increases the capacity to cope with the hardships that inevitably come with living.
  3. Cognitive therapy: Restructuring how you think changes how you feel and thereby what you do. No one can just choose to be happy by turning a switch. But you can choose constructive thoughts. Learned helplessness can be replaced with learned optimism and hope. 
  4. Behavourial therapy: Like adapting your thinking, altering what you do will change how you feel. Constructive behaviours like exercise, healthy eating and sleeping will help build up your mind, body and spirit. 
  5. Mindfulness: Being present, practicing gratitude and journaling are some of the approaches that help foster mindfulness—being aware of one’s own feelings and needs without judgment.
  6. Resiliency training: The US military developed the concept of mental armour which has empirical support. Several pilot studies of medical residency programs suggest that building resiliency improves stress, anxiety and quality of life.
  7. Forgiveness: Recent findings in mental health research demonstrated that forgiveness can protect one’s health from long-term stressors. This resonates with our own experience of carrying the weight of resentment and its emotional baggage.
  8. Promoting joy: Finding joy and beauty in what you do helps you flourish in all areas of your life (not just work). Studies looking into laughter have shown that laughter is proven to reduce stress, anxiety and physical pain.
  9. Flow: There is a concept of “flow” psychology from Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that advocates for balancing your challenges against your skills. If you have too high a skill level and not enough challenge, you will be bored. But if you have too much challenge and not enough skills, you will be anxious. Find your own “groove” and you will flourish.
  10. Kindness: Studies have shown that we really are happier giving than receiving. And the effects are much more enduring. Extending kindness, generosity and compassion to others can be more fulfilling than always serving one’s own selfish interests.

As a way to prioritize wellness and create a sustainable culture of kindness in the workplace, the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine has implemented a Summer of Kindness. Find out more about this initiative and what you can do to make a difference.

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The Faculty Of Medicine's Greatest Needs fund financially supports the priorities of the Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Tim Lau

Dr. Tim Lau, associate professor of psychiatry at uOttawa and director of Joy-at-Work for the Department of Psychiatry, has been a national public speaker on happiness for over 10 years.


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