Happiness at Work Takes Work

Happiness is something everyone wants, in some vague and ill-defined way, but few of us are willing to work at it. Work at happiness, you ask? Isn’t happiness bestowed upon us by fate and circumstance? Not really; if that were true, then how do you explain the never-ending stream of billionaire CEOs and movie stars whose divorces, addictions and arrests are splashed across tabloid headlines? The truth is that happiness, however one defines it, is not dictated solely by circumstance, but by many things, including how hard we work at it.  The good news is that because it is work, it is a process, with rules one can learn, practice and master.

Last month I offered five of the top 10 rules to find more happiness at work. http://blog.talentmgt.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=359&action=edit&message=10. They were:

1. Use your strengths at work.

2. Teach yourself the skill of optimism.

3. Spend time out of the office every day.

4. Be sociable at work.

5. Put things in perspective.

Here are five more ideas for finding workplace happiness. Like the first five, these are all based upon empirical research and practical experience.

6. Sweat the small stuff.

Wait a minute, you told us (Rule No. 5) that it is important to put things in perspective! Doesn’t that mean “don’t sweat the small stuff?” Not exactly. Putting things in perspective means taking a long view of life, realizing that a short-term setback is just that, short-term. However, much of the daily stress in our lives is caused by the little, unnecessary mistakes we make. In tennis they are called “unforced errors.” Roy Baumeister, psychologist and author of the recent top-selling book Willpower, says the best way to reduce stress is to “quit screwing up.” Don’t procrastinate, show up late, miss a plane to a client meeting or forget a deadline. Work is tough enough without self-inflicted wounds. Sweat the small stuff; the big stuff has a way of working itself out.

7. Be resilient.

Of course, you will screw up – we are all human. And bad things no fault of our own do happen. When they do, be resilient. What is resilience? Think of how a rubber ball, if squeezed, bounces back into a round shape. That is resilience. It is the ability to take a blow and return to normal over time. The techniques involved in doing this are to change your thinking patterns by challenging defeating thoughts. Don’t say, “I’m a loser” when things don’t go well. Say “OK, that didn’t work out. I’ll try it a different way next time.” Resilience can be learned.

8. Be mindful. Stop! Right now. Focus on what you are doing. Block everything else out in your mind other than this present moment. Take a deep breath. And another. Relax. Feel better? I thought so. There is abundant evidence that a few moments of mindfulness, or simple meditation, during the work day brings significant health and happiness benefits.

9.  Have a sense of humor. And work around people who do. Humans are biologically programmed for fun and play. I am not talking about Nerf football in the hallway, but try to lighten up a bit. I once had a job where laughing – I kid you not – was frowned upon as being unprofessional. I quit.

10.  Make your work a calling – or find something else to do. There is work, and there are callings. The happiest people find both at the same place. If you hate your job, quit complaining and get out. The great Southern poet James Dickey, a former insurance salesman, was speaking to all unfulfilled office dwellers when he said, “If your life bores you, risk it.” If you hate your job, leave it. Buy a bar in the islands. Or bus tables until you have enough money to buy it. Do anything, but don’t stay in a job you hate. Work consumes the majority of our time for most of our lives, and you will not be happy in any of life’s domains if you are miserable at work.

I am a pragmatist and a realist. I know if you are saddled with debt, desperate to find a job or feeling stuck at a high-paying job because of a mortgage and private school for the kids, a list like this sounds glib. But if you are looking for a little more joy in your daily life at work, I challenge you to try at least one or two of these tips and let us know on the “Comments” section if they helped a bit.