It is that time of year to make a list of resolutions. Rather than offering the usual – a handful of tepid ideas to tame bad habits, doomed to be discarded by the Super Bowl (be early for meetings, keep my desk uncluttered, work out before breakfast) – I will focus on what the science of happiness has to say.
Yes, there is a science of happiness. “It is all the rage now,” so let’s focus on what it has to say
1. Be mindful. Stop! Right now. QUIT MULTI-TASKING! Put down the smartphone and focus. Block everything else out in your mind other than this present moment. Take a deep breath. And another. Relax. There is abundant evidence that a few moments of mindfulness, or simple meditation, during the workday brings significant health and happiness benefits. Nothing great has ever been accomplished while multi-tasking. Sure, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling and carved the statue of David – but not at the same time.
2. Use your strengths. The research is overwhelming that you are happiest when you match your work with your strengths and personality. An optimistic extrovert should be in sales, not accounting. It in a bad economy, it is tempting to take the first job that comes along, or hang on for dear life to one you hate, but if you really want to be happy, keep looking for the right fit.
3. Learn optimism. Optimism and happiness are not the same thing, but they are pretty darn close. Although happiness is partly genetic, it is partly of our own choosing. The good news is that optimism is a cognitive explanatory style. This means it can be learned. Start by challenging your own negative thoughts. When bad things happen, don’t see them as the end of the world. Optimists perceive every setback as temporary.
4. Have a sense of humor. It is OK to laugh and have fun at work. In fact, it is necessary for happiness. Humans are evolutionarily programmed for fun and play. As Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang reminds us, we are descended from monkeys, not cows. While your boss might not be ready to install a jungle gym in the breakroom, get him to lighten up. I once had a job where laughing — I kid you not — was frowned upon as being unprofessional. I quit.
5. Keep moving — literally. Don’t fight evolution. Your DNA comes from beings who could outrun prehistoric predators. The sit-around types became dinner and didn’t pass on their genes (with the exceptions of cows, who evolved largely to be dinner). Take frequent breaks and walk around. Get some air and sunlight. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings.
6. Keep perspective. The universe doesn’t revolve around you and your worries. If your boss doesn’t pat you on the back every day, it isn’t because he doesn’t like you any more, it’s because he probably has other things on his mind.
7. Be nice. The late Chris Peterson, a famed positive psychologist and good friend, defined happiness as follows: “Other people matter.” Pay attention to your old friends from school, your family, the person next door. Real friends, not Facebook friends. Walk around the office. Talk to people about things other than work. Go to birthday parties. And happy hour every now and then.
8. Be resilient. A cornerstone of positive psychology is the study and teaching of resilience skills. Resilience is the ability to recover and grow from a setback. As with resolution No. 3 above, the techniques involve developing thinking patterns to help navigate through life’s inevitable challenges.
9. Be grateful. Multiple studies show that people who express gratitude to others, and have a sense of thankfulness for the good things in life, experience much higher levels of well-being than those who don’t. Saying thank you doesn’t just make others happy, it makes you happy as well.
10. Make your job a calling. I have written before about how there is work, and there are callings. The happiest people find both at the same place. This isn’t easy, and might require a good deal of self-reflection and false starts. That is OK. But a pretty good place to start is seeing how successful you can be implementing some of the strategies on this list.