Make an Adjustment to Your Career for Up to a 40% Happier Life

Sylvie Stacy, MD, MPH explains how the 50/10/40 formula can be applied to a physician's career to change happiness and job satisfaction.

May 9, 2024

In my book, 50 Unconventional Clinical Careers for Physicians, I encourage readers to think beyond hospital employment and traditional private practice when considering their professional goals and career paths.

The book includes interviews with physicians who have chosen various unconventional careers. One of these was with lifestyle and functional medicine specialist Myrdalis Diaz-Ramirez, MD. I asked her what advice she had for other doctors and medical trainees looking to find personal and professional satisfaction outside the usual career paths that doctors take.

She shared the following insight:


“In life, our happiness is 50% genetically predetermined, 10% determined by our circumstance, and 40% comes from our actions. We can take control of our lives, especially if we are exposed to possibilities.”


This concept is often referred to as the 50/10/40 formula.

It originates from the research of psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues.

Lyubomirsky found that while our genetic makeup significantly influences our baseline happiness, a hefty portion is also shaped by our behaviors, thoughts, and relationships.

Though some view it as an oversimplification, it can be a useful framework to understand that we have a significant degree of control over our happiness.

The 50/10/40 formula applies to physicians’ career choices and the impact of these choices on our overall happiness and job satisfaction.


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Your genes and circumstances

Genes play a big role in determining our happiness, accounting for about half of its variance.

This genetic influence means that inherent personality traits and predispositions are major factors in how we perceive and experience happiness.

For example, some of us might be naturally more optimistic or resilient.

A higher baseline level of serotonin production can actually make someone genetically predisposed to maintain a positive emotional state more easily. Genetic traits like this can markedly contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

Our genetic makeup sets a baseline for our happiness, but doesn’t dictate it entirely. In the context of career fulfillment, genetic traits can influence how a we react to the challenges and rewards of our profession. Ultimately, they can impact our job satisfaction.

Another 10% of our happiness is contributed by the circumstances of our lives. This relatively small percentage encompasses factors like socio-economic status, living conditions, and the environment we are in. These are external conditions.

We have limited say in the genetic and circumstantial factors that account for 60% of our happiness. So let’s talk about the remaining 40%, which we have significantly more control over.


Another 10% of our happiness is contributed by the circumstances of our lives.


Your actions control 40% of your happiness

Our actions are powerful.

Actions aren’t just what you physically do. They include your thoughts and decisions, and how you approach life’s ups and downs.

This 40% is particularly important for physicians.

This is because, for many of us, our profession isn’t just a line of work. And our career isn’t just a series of jobs. It is a part of what defines us and is a core part of our identity. The choices you make in your professional life can greatly influence both your happiness with your career and your overall happiness.

The traditional medical doctor role is burdensome.

The hours are long, the pressure is high, and there is a mountain of administrative tasks.

This can lead to burnout and disengagement at our jobs.

However, choosing to deviate from the traditional role via a less conventional job or career path can be a game-changer.

Practicing medicine outside of conventional healthcare delivery settings can reduce the stressors that cause burnout, for some doctors. This may be due to a lighter schedule or more comfortable work environment. Or, it may be because the job involves a unique patient population or a specific clinical focus that they’re passionate about. Stepping away from patient care and taking a nonclinical job can accomplish this, as well.

A job search, accepting a job offer, quitting a job, taking on a side gig, and many other career decisions are all actions that we take. And we can deliberately make these actions align with what brings us satisfaction and joy in our work, thereby impacting our overall happiness.


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Being proactive about your career is an action toward happiness

Being proactive about your career is a direct path to improved happiness.

Many doctors are stuck in roles that don’t fulfill them. Reasons for this can be fear of the unknown, financial constraints, and societal expectations that anchor them to their positions. Some physicians worry about the risks of leaving a stable job or feel pressured by the traditional image of a successful physician.

But inaction can be harmful. It leads to a sense of loss of control and diminishing job satisfaction. It can contribute to burnout.

Being proactive in your career choices is a critical part of that 40% of happiness you can control.

Taking steps to actively shape your career can significantly boost your happiness.

Considering we spend about a third of our lives at work, job satisfaction becomes a major contributor to our overall well-being. When the professional part of your life is unsatisfied or stressed, it can lead to a deeper sense of loss, affecting your actions in all other areas of life.

Opting for less conventional paths helps some doctors regain control. Pivoting your career is not just about job titles or work settings. It’s about actively influencing a key part of your life.


The 50/10/40 formula applies to physicians’ career choices and the impact of these choices on our overall happiness and job satisfaction.

Learn more about unconventional (and happier!) careers in medicine

Our happiness is shaped in part by factors beyond our control, but much of it comes from our own actions.

This is where you have the power to effect change. Do not give control of your 40% to others or to preconceived notions.

If you’re inspired to take charge of this 40% in your professional life, dedicate some time to learn about all the varied ways that physicians can use their medical degrees. Too often, doctors restrict themselves to conventional healthcare system employment or practice partnership, even when it is not a good fit for their interests, goals, and personality.

Simply being aware of the other options is a great step in the right direction.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.


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