What about Happiness? A Critical Narrative Review with Implications for Medical Education

Fabienne Schwitz
Jacqueline Torti
Lorelei Lingard
Soort article
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Introduction: Despite abundant scholarship and improvement initiatives, the problem of physician wellbeing persists. One reason might be conceptual: the idea of ‘happiness’ is rare in this work. To explore how it might influence the conversation about physician wellbeing in medical education, we conducted a critical narrative review asking: ‘How does happiness feature in the medical education literature on physician wellbeing at work?’ and ‘How is happiness conceptualized outside medicine?’

Methods: Following current methodological standards for critical narrative review as well as the Scale for the Assessment of Narrative Review Articles, we conducted a structured search in health research, humanities and social sciences, a grey literature search, and consultation with experts. After screening and selection, content analysis was performed.

Results: Of 401 identified records, 23 were included. Concepts of happiness from the fields of psychology (flow, synthetic happiness, mindfulness, flourishing), organizational behaviour (job satisfaction, happy-productive worker thesis, engagement), economics (happiness industry, status treadmill), and sociology (contentment, tyranny of positivity, coercive happiness) were identified. The medical education records exclusively drew on psychological concepts of happiness.

Discussion and Conclusion: This critical narrative review introduces a variety of conceptualizations of happiness from diverse disciplinary origins. Only four medical education papers were identified, all drawing from positive psychology which orients us to treat happiness as individual, objective, and necessarily good. This may constrain both our understanding of the problem of physician wellbeing and our imagined solutions. Organizational, economical and sociological conceptualizations of happiness can usefully expand the conversation about physician wellbeing at work.


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