What’s in a Name? Chief Wellness Officers and Chief Happiness Officers


Happiness and wellness—what’s the difference and how are they being treated differently in the workplace?


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As burnout continues to rise in physicians and other workers in the United States, various solutions have been tried. For physicians, one is for the organization to have a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO) devoted to the wellbeing of its health care professionals. Indeed, that was one of the goals of the new workgroup on physician wellness and burnout that I was part of several years ago in the American Psychiatric Association.1

As the recent May 12th article for The Wall Street Journal, “Confessions of Your Company’s Chief Happiness Officer” indicates,2 other workplaces have placed the emphasis on happiness rather than wellness. One of the goals is to keep employees satisfied, engaged, and less lonely. Some reported happiness activities include coaching, book clubs, and volleyball.

Happiness has never been a strong goal of clinical psychiatry. In mania, there is often too much of it. Freud felt that due to the conditions of civilization, including conflict, losses, and dangers, that we will do well to bring patients to normal unhappiness.

How to define both wellness and happiness is also challenging. Wellness generally refers to overall health and mental health, whereas happiness refers both to acute joy and/or ongoing satisfaction.

A former colleague recently published a memoir about how my coleader and I tried to find trustworthy ways to enhance staff’s mental health and personal development, ranging from processing our racism to having a ping-pong table for lunchtime decompressing.3 That led him to treasure hunt for the hidden strengths of patients that could be used to trust and empower them to help the clinic and themselves, ranging from setting up a coffee service in the clinic to a system-wide consumer movement.

Business tends to emphasize the profits and customer satisfaction; medicine tends to emphasize the outcomes of the patients. Essential to all is finding and valuing the personal treasures of the helpers, no matter who does it and what it is called.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.


1. LoboPrabhu S, Summers R, Moffic HS. Combating Physician Burnout: A Guide for Psychiatrists. American Psychiatric Association Publishing; 2019.

2. Borchers C. Confessions of your company’s chief happiness officer. The Wall Street Journal. May 12, 2022. Accessed May 17, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/confessions-of-your-companys-chief-happiness-officer-11652303222

3. Bateman H. Pathway to Treasure: Discovering the Hope Empowerment can Bring Toward Recovery from a Serious Mental Illness. Herb Bateman; 2022.

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