Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Prioritizing Happiness and Personal Well-Being

Below is a personal piece that I wrote for my Letter to the Editor article. It delves into my struggles this summer, the constant feeling over being overwhelmed and unhappy. It will be published in the October edition of ASDA News. 


Three weeks ago, I was drowning in the frenetic pace of dental school life. It was the tail end of my second year of dental school. Post-it notes dotted my walls, reminding me of tasks I had yet to complete. Dental decks and empty coffee mugs were littered across my table. I was being dragged headfirst through currents of emails, deadlines, meetings, and patient appointments. My days were productive but I was unhappy.
                  I think dental students across the nation can empathize with my daily struggles. Let’s face it. Dental students are overachievers. We are the ones who successfully went through the gamut of obstacle courses to get into dental school. We have the ability to juggle academic, clinic, and extracurricular commitments with finesse. Often, we put these commitments ahead of our personal well-being and happiness.
                  We trade sleep for extra cups of coffee. We sacrifice our livelihoods for better grades, wider campus involvement, higher leadership positions, and more clinic time. Our lives become a never-ending series of need-to-dos and should-have-dones.
                  My tipping point came the day after my part one board examination. Instead of feeling relief, I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety. An onslaught of to-do lists plagued my mind the moment I stepped out of the Prometric testing center – study for finals, write this letter from the editor piece, organize our chapter’s ASDA pre-dental day, respond to emails, start on a research project, follow up with patients, and so forth. Six trimesters into dental school, I was mentally and emotionally burnt out. What was wrong with my life?
                  In the midst of my frustration, I stumbled onto a list of life goals I scribbled onto a sheet of binder paper three years ago. They were the overarching principles that I wanted to define me. “Dedicate myself to a life of love, health, and happiness. Don’t forget to exercise!” read the first line on the paper. It was the summer before I started dental school and life was brimming with hope and promise. I was a newly minted twenty-one year old. Times were simple.
                  How did my priorities in life change so much in three years? When did undervaluing personal well-being and happiness become a part of the dental school experience? When did I forget that success in life and school is also measured by the intangible qualitative factors such as happiness, mental health, and physical well-being?
                  Last week, I decided to take a vacation and escape to Napa, California. I dropped my pile of to-do lists and ignored the looming deadlines. We drove into the vineyard-laden countryside, away from the fast-paced metropolis. It felt foreign to me. We had a full twenty-four hours on our hands and not a single thing on my to-do list. There was time to relax, time to breath, and time to enjoy the moment. For the first time this summer, I was happy.

                  When I think back to the unhappy stretches of my summer, the takeaway is this – your happiness and health are just as important measures of success as the quantitative factors. Less sleep plus more work plus greater achievements does not necessarily make someone successful. Life is about choices. Starting from now, I’m choosing to prioritize my personal well-being. I’m choosing to get that extra hour of sleep. I’m choosing to take time off when I need it. I’m choosing that yoga or dance class instead of staying an extra hour in clinic. I’m choosing to reconnect with friends and family on weekends instead of stressing about school. I’m not casting aside my personal drive for success. I’m simply redefining my metrics of achievement.


  1. Finally you reached your happy goals.. its not surprising how you've been depriving yourself of all the comforts and following a lethal routine but the spark came when you finally realised what actually makes you happier.

  2. Love these tips! Staying active thru out these long study days during dental school is a must.