Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Recipe for the Salad Bowl of Happiness


A tried and true recipe for happiness: in a large bowl of individuality, mix spoonfuls of family and friends, add whisks of peers and acquaintances, and dress it with a generous helping of core values.

Defining happiness


Happiness: a state of well-being and contentment.


Merriam Webster for the most part captures the meaning of the word. But I asked some of my patients to define happiness and got different answers—happiness is a state of mind, happiness is achieving one’s purpose in life, happiness is a feeling of fulfillment and wholeheartedness, happiness is caring and exchanging.


All good definitions and probably different ingredients of the happiness salad.


Within or without?


Ruth Whippman, in her article, Happiness Is Other People,  raises an important question on whether happiness comes from within, or from social engagement. She cites many examples of happiness coming from within; e.g. developing a positive attitude via use of happiness apps, meditation, and mindfulness. But it is well known that just using happiness apps or practicing yoga or mindfulness is not enough in the absence of a healthy lifestyle.


With regards to social engagement, I completely agree with Whipmann, there is good scientific evidence to support the importance of social engagement and social interactions in improving quality of life. Research also supports the role of social interaction in preserving cognitive functions and maintaining brain vitality. As some of my patients suggested, one often feels a sense of exhilaration in conversing, caring, sharing, exchanging and connecting with others. The popularity of social media is a simple example of the joy one gets in staying connected. However, engaging with others in the absence of inner contentment is also not a recipe for complete happiness.


Maintaining balance


So it is not a question of engineering happiness from the inside versus from outside in. It is about maintaining the balance between the two.


For me, happiness is keeping one’s behavior and lifestyle in sync with one’s inner core values.


Recipe for the salad bowl of happiness


So, one could consider happiness to be a salad bowl. Here is my recipe—in a large bowl of individuality, mix spoonfuls of family and friends (proportions can be adjusted to taste), add whisks of peers and acquaintances, and dress it with generous helping of core values. Toss the salad so that the ingredients completely blend with the core value dressing.