Three Promises for Workplace Happiness

“What if you are having a great day at work and some jerk comes by and ruins it by dumping all his negativity on you?”

The question — a tough one — came from somewhere in the audience of hundreds of lawyers at a recent conference sponsored by the New York State Bar. I had just given a talk called “The Choices Happy Lawyers Make,” based upon the learned optimism principles of positive psychology, arguing that most of our daily happiness is a matter of conscious choice. Then a skeptical lawyer threw that fastball right at me.

Fortunately, I know David Pollay. Pollay, an athletically built Ivy Leaguer with a thin goatee and a perpetual eye twinkle, is a seasoned business exec and a positive psychology expert. He also wrote a great book called “The Law of the Garbage Truck” that immediately came to mind.

What is the garbage truck law? David explains in the book:Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you. So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well and move on. Believe me. You’ll be happier.”

This is exactly what the lawyer was talking about — how your day at work can be ruined by someone dumping their garbage on you if you let them.I told him about the “Law of the Garbage Truck,” and my answer satisfied him. The rest of the audience seemed to get it, too, and for the rest of the session, the other speakers referred to the garbage truck metaphor to make their points.

The Law of the Garbage Truck is great on things to avoid in our lives and work. Staying away from bad stuff, like sharks and third martinis, is always a good way to keep our equilibrium. But what if we want to move past neutral — and be happier and more productive? Let's turn to Pollay once more.

“The 3 Promises” is Pollay's follow-up to “The Law of the Garbage Truck.” It will be released Oct. 21, and available on Amazon and in bookstores. What are the three promises?

  1. Find Joy Every Day
  2. Do What You Love
  3. Make a Difference

Sounds simple, doesn't it? But in real life we need more than grand proclamations like “find joy” and “make a difference” — we need action plans and this book delivers. It is a compact and fast read but one that packs more profundity and wisdom into its pages than an entire forest of self-help books. Told in a smart but non-academic style, Pollay weaves short yarns from his life and rich experience (executive at Yahoo and MasterCard) and provides 65 strategies to make the promises come to life, such as starting each day concentrating on what is good in your life, or training yourself to use positive and constructive self-talk to narrate your daily life.

A key to keeping the promises is a conscious effort to do so. Academics call this individual agency; I call it choice, and this is an underlying theme of “The 3 Promises.” Happy people “make a conscious effort to have a positive impact, start each day in the right frame of mind or let go of minor offenses by their family or co-workers,” Pollay explained to a South Florida newspaper.

If you are reading this at work, you might be wondering what promises will help you “do what you love” if you hate your boss and your co-workers are trolls. Quitting might not be an option, and even if it were, what guarantees would you have your next job would be “what you love”? Pollay says to first rediscover what makes you happy. Don't quit, or goof off, but promise yourself to take a virtual “fill year.” Pull out your calendar, he counsels, and find a few non-working minutes each day to engage in “exploring as many of your interests as possible . . . developing your strengths, and expressing your interests” through hobbies and new activities.

And don't overthink it, Pollay cautions. You don't need a grand strategy — “you just need to start by taking a step today, and then start again tomorrow” to find what your right path might be.

“The 3 Promises” is a fine book and a blast to read. Get a copy when it comes out and take ownership of your own happiness at work and life.

You'll be glad you did. I promise.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.