The Four Pillars of Happiness

Nurse Next Door

Making Lives Better

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In my previous post, I talked about our discovery where we learned approximately 50 percent of our clients across our organization were struggling with some form of depression. It was definitely a rude awakening, but this realization truly made us look at happy aging in a whole new way.

My wife Gayla, who has her PhD in Psychology, and I began to research the Science of Happiness in seniors. Through that research, we discovered three fundamental findings that led us to build an entirely new care delivery model in our company around bringing happiness to seniors.

50% of a person’s happiness is genetic

This is perhaps one of the most surprising statistics, simply because it’s easier to believe a grouchy person is set in their ways than to try to change their attitude. This simply isn’t true!

We discovered that 10 percent of a person’s happiness was based on circumstance – circumstances in your life that you have very little control over. The other 40 percent, however, is due to intentional activity! That means that a person has control over 40 percent of their own happiness. This was great news for us. It meant that if we did things right, we could truly deliver some joy in a client’s life and make lives better.

Frequency over intensity

The second finding was that the frequency of positive experiences was much more important than the intensity of positive experiences. Often times, people will think of an intense moment – such as winning the lottery – as an experience that will give us lasting happiness, but his is also untrue.

Research shows that someone who enjoys a dozen mildly positive experiences every day will be happier than the person who has one big truly amazing thing happen over a period of time.

This was important to us because in home care, we look after the activities of daily living for our clients. Day in, day out, we’re there to take care of the details – bathing, cooking, cleaning – the personal care. Now, imagine delivering these services with a bit more love in the details. Instead of simply drawing a bath, we now give bubble baths! And when we find out that our client Mrs. Jones loves Beethoven, we’ll crank up the music while she enjoys a nice, relaxing soak in the tub.
We realized that we could help deliver these small nuggets of happiness on a daily basis and over time, ‘move the needle’ on a client’s overall happiness.

And the third finding was, from all of our research, we were able to formulate a framework for happiness. We call it our “Pillars of Happiness”, but we found there were four KEY drivers in helping a senior with happiness.

nursenextdoor_wii_final_lg_webThe first pillar we call “Play.” We found that many seniors stop living their passions, their interests or their great hobbies as they age, which lead to “unhappiness.” If we can help them do the things they stopped doing that they LOVED to do, then this would be something that would help them lead a more fulfilling life as they aged. And in fact, when we can find the answer to this question “what did you used to love doing that you no longer do?” then our care plan starts to revolve around getting them back doing this thing.

NND_Kayak_lowresThe second pillar is travel and adventure. It turns out that most seniors, even those who haven’t traveled before, have somewhere in the world that they have always wanted to go and see. In most cases, they can’t actually go, but why can’t we bring it to them? If our client answers, when asked our question “where in the world have you always wanted to go?” and they answer Egypt, then why can’t we bring Egypt to them? So that’s what we do – we will cook Egyptian cuisine, we will watch movies about Egypt, and of course, with the power of Google – a whole new world is opened up before their eyes when we get them online and researching Egypt!

The third pillar is growth and learning, because we found that many seniors still have a desire to learn new things, but think that they can’t. We will ask a question like “what have you always wanted to do that you haven’t done before?”

NND_Family Photo_001_webAnd the fourth is social/connection/relationships. If we could bring it back to just one thing, this one is it. For many seniors, connection becomes the focal point in their lives as they age, but many lose touch, even with their families, so if we can do things to encourage these relationships, make them easier, then we have the ability, again, to influence the happiness in a senior’s life.

Today, this framework has set the foundation for our caring consults and how we orient and begin to train our caregivers. Our clients now do all sorts of things with us – swimming, biking, Skyping, golfing, traveling – LIVING! If they want to start gardening again, we’ll find a way to make it happen. No matter how big or small their desires are, we’ll find a way to fulfill them and we’ll never run out of stories to share!

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  • Linda Lucero December 9, 2014

    I cannot express my thankfulness for this posting. The suggestion to cook the food of a place they would like to visit. GENIUS! I wonder why I never thought of something so simple. Hmmm. Thanks to this brief article I’ve seen many new approaches I can implement in my practice.

    • Reply from December 9, 2014

      You’re very welcome, Linda!

  • Sheila Anne Bass April 6, 2015

    Thank you for the reminders of what helps our seniors thrive and find happiness once again in our communities. These ideas are great and I will implement them for my Mom and all seniors that I come into contact with.

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