A Work of Joy.2 – What is Joy in Work, Where has it Gone? How can We Bring it Back?

What is Joy in Work, Where has it gone, How can We bring it Back?

This is the second in a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work. It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This second blog outlines Sandy’s initial thoughts on Joy in Work.

Sandy Carter, Ph.D. works as a physician coach and consultant. Sandy is a professional certified coach, holds a PhD in organizational management with a specialization in leadership, and Masters in Business Administration and Social Work. Her research is in the area of transformational leadership with physicians, and wellness and resiliency.


What is Joy? How is it different from happiness?

Sandy Carter:

Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a combination of emotions and contains elements of contentment, confidence, and hope. Joy has more depth, meaning and purpose than happiness. Being joyful means feeling connected to yourself and/or others in life, nature, and appreciating beauty. It requires an acceptance for how life is (not how you’d like it to be), by living in the present. Joy comes from within! It is a sustainable emotional experience that alters our physiology and biochemistry promoting a sense of wellbeing that promotes resilience and supports immune health. In the Biblical sense, Joy is not an emotion, and it is not linked to environmental conditions, but is an attitude of the heart and spirit. It is where internal peace and contentment reside, in spite of, what’s happening ones’   life.


Happiness is subjective – it can mean different things to different people and is more of a momentary state of being. Happiness is an emotional state of wellbeing defined by positive feelings that can range from contentment to intense Joy!

Savor the Moment

Why is Joy/happiness important?

 Joy and happiness are connected to wellbeing and are valued as essential for individuals to thrive in their work and personal lives.  On March 20, 2013, the first ever International Day of Happiness was celebrated around the world. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution to promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration for people everywhere. The UN is urging governments to start measuring wellbeing as a guide to creating public policy. This has roots in the field of sustainable development. The UN recognizes by measuring gross domestic product (GPD) we are placing overemphasize on materialism and incomes (that beyond a certain point) does not enhance life satisfaction.

International Happiness Day

Additionally, by enhancing our overall wellbeing we can directly impact the high costs of healthcare and help create healthier work cultures that can improve hospital safety concerns (medical errors and complications). While working in cultures where there is blame/shame people tend to be hyper-vigilant and low trust. This level of stress impacts energy levels, judgment and health. Often leading to lost revenue from absenteeism, turnover, disability, insurance costs, workplace accidents, violence, workers’ compensation, and lawsuits, etc.

The United States is the most overworked developed nation in the world. Working is not necessarily the problem. If you love what you do, are doing it for the right reasons and can rest and restore – work can be a wonderful thing. However, far too many Americans are driven to work more and more (based on scarcity values of feeling like they don’t have enough) which leads to stress and lower quality of life. Leaving many people without time to unwind, take care of themselves or their homes. Vital connections are lost to friends and family. These kinds of circumstances lead to isolation, loneliness, and burnout. When all of this becomes overwhelming and can lead to coping strategies, further stress and deteriorate health.  Stress is the #1 cause of both mental and physical health problems. Many workers today are burned out and pressured causing heightened anxiety, depression and disease.

Overburdened Doctor

Biology of Joy:

People who experience upper reaches of happiness on psychological tests develop about 50% more antibodies than average. It’s also been discovered that mental states such as hopefulness appear to reduce the risk or limit the risk of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Joy, happiness, and positive emotions make your immune system function better, help you fight disease, and even live longer.

Herbert Benson has done research on the Relaxation Response. By initiating the Relaxation Response, we can experience a physical state of deep rest that counteracts the harmful effects of the fight-or-flight response. If we can let go of bad stress, our brains can rearrange themselves neurologically so that the two hemispheres communicate better, and problem solving becomes easier.

Relaxation Response

Stress, Eustress & Joy

The problem is we don’t take care of ourselves very well. For example, the United States is the only industrialized nation without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. Furthermore, 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of a workweek and the U.S. does not. A large percentage (85.8% male and 66.5% females) work more than a 40-hour workweek. We also are the only nation in the industrialized world that has no legally mandated annual leave and very short vacation times compared to Europe.

Unmanaged stress can be destructive, and… stress also has a positive benefit. Eustress or good stress provides us with energy and motivates us to produce. When we are utilizing eustress, we find clarity, focus, and creative insight.

Joyful Doctor

Joy at work is essential. It is a vital energy in sustaining high levels of passion, performance, and productivity. Meaningful work is about uncovering and utilizing our true gifts.

In these times of unprecedented change, it is vital that we are connected to a deeper, natural energy source from within.

Stress is an essential response in highly competitive environments – it focuses you, but past a certain point it compromises your performance, efficiency and eventually your health. We are at that point today as physicians experience burnout at epidemic levels and commit suicide at a rate higher than the general public.

Poetry describing what it means to live joyfully




Every day

I see or I hear


that more or less


kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle


in the haystack

of light,

it is what I was born for—

to look, to listen,


to lose myself

inside this soft world—

to instruct myself

over and over


in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,


the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant—

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,


the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help


but grow wise

with such teachings

as these–

the untrimmable light


of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?


Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early, 2004

Mary Oliver

David Whyte on JOY

is the meeting place of deep intentionality and self forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formally seemed outside, but is now neither, but become a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world: dance, laughter, affection, skin touching skin, singing in the car, music in the kitchen, the quiet irreplaceable and companionable presence of a daughter: the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world inhabited as an edge between what we previously thought was us and what we thought was other than us.

Joy can be made by practiced, hard-won achievement as much as by an unlooked for, passing act of grace arriving out of nowhere; joy is a measure of our relationship to death and our living with death, joy is the act of giving ourselves away before we need to or are asked to, joy is practiced generosity. If joy is a deep form of love, it is also the raw engagement with the passing seasonality of existence, the fleeting presence of those we love understood as gift, going in and out of our lives, faces, voices, memory, aromas of the first spring day or a wood-fire in winter, the last breath of a dying parent as they create a rare, raw, beautiful frontier between loving presence and a new and blossoming absence.

To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow our selves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt like a thankful death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, overheard in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of a mountain, a sky or a well loved familiar face – I was here and you were here and together we made a world.

‘JOY’ David Whyte

From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words


David Whyte.3


Meaningful work is by far the primary motivator for engagement, and experiencing excitement and joy in one’s work. Today, in healthcare organizations the environments are toxic, as the conditions for creating opportunities for meaningful work are not met.

Conditions of meaningful work include: worker autonomy, having sufficient resources and an opportunity to learn from problems. Currently, many physicians have lost their autonomy, are told to do more with less and work in toxic cultures. These are environments where it’s not safe to expose vulnerability for growth and development, and we know working in environments where there is mutual respect is critical to finding meaning and joy. A precondition for a culture of safety in the workplace is the protection of the physical and psychological safety of the workforce. Joy in the workplace comes from an appreciation of the human spirit and organizational support for developing capabilities.

Conditions for meaningful work also comes from having leaders who are a resource for enabling physicians/others by removing obstacles, providing support and acknowledging/validating strong effort and successful outcomes. When people engage in work at this level – community spirit, innovation and creativity flourishes. Most adults in the U.S. spend more hours at work than anywhere else… work should “ennoble, not kill, the human spirit.”