Posted on September 24, 2013 by Janet Choi
When you look around the office, do you wonder about the people who seem to be happy all the time? They’re just so perky and excited about everything.
And it’s not like you can’t experience joy. You do, but maybe you’re more of a realist. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to experience optimistic energy as often as other people because you realize the benefits of being happier at work. But unfortunately for you, using sheer willpower just doesn’t work.
The cultivation of positive emotions as a solution can sound beyond reach or like a glittery band-aid over a gaping wound. Yet it turns out our brains are pretty powerful. We have the ability to rewire our neural connections to think more positively on a consistent basis, which builds up resilience and fortitude for when times get tough and protects you from grumpy spells.
Plus, being happier at work isn’t really about being perky and all smiles. It’s about your positive mindset and motivation level to better able to tackle the tasks, the email, and whatever else the day has to sling at you.
It does take some practice, just like how the best athletes, musicians, and high performers have to train and put in some hard hours. Here are a few ways to exercise and strengthen your positivity powers:
Keep a done list and celebrate the small wins
A done list (or if you’re feeling rebellious, an “anti-todo list”) helps put things into perspective. You get a lot of stuff done already but you might not realize it. When you write down what you’ve accomplished at the end of each day, you give yourself credit for everything — not just whatever’s on your to-do list.
It seems counter-intuitive to spend extra time to take stock of what you already accomplished, but this act of reflection and celebration furnishes you with motivation and encouragement to keep going. That feeling of productivity and achievement is pretty powerful fuel!
In fact, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has discovered in poring over 12,000 employees’ work diaries that the most powerful driver of “positive inner work life” — of being motivated, engaged, productive, and happy — is making progress, no matter how small, on meaningful work. So it’s vital that you pause to gain awareness of your progress and achievements.
3 Good Things
As you’re writing down all the awesome things you accomplished every day, include a quick list of three good things that happened. Make it specific and think through whether anything helped to make them happen.
A study by Martin Seligman, considered to be the father of positive psychology, uncovered noticeably beneficial changes for people who practiced this 3 good things mental workout for just one week. Not only did they feel happier right away, they continued to feel happy at one-month, three-month, and six-month check-ins.
Be the good thing in someone else’s day
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky has found through her research that performing a simple act of kindness can consistently make you happier. She clarifies that “almost any types of acts of kindness” will do.
So take some time to think of others. Buy someone a coffee, start or end your day by writing an email to thank a colleague for some great work, help set up chairs for that meeting, try to get other grumpy employees to break into a grin for once. The lovely benefit of this exercise is that it helps brighten someone else’s day.
Give yourself permission to slow down
Oftentimes when you feel stressed and harried, your response is to put your head down, ignore the pain, and work even harder. That’s the path to making the same mistakes and exhausting yourself by spinning your wheels to go nowhere.
Instead, this is exactly the time to allow yourself to come up for air and see what’s going on. Great performance actually requires working with, rather than against, your natural energy rhythms — which includes taking breaks to rest and reflect. Consider, for example, how psychologist K. Anders Ericsson found that the best violinists practice in 90-minute bursts, for no more than 4.5 hours a day, while taking lots of naps.
So slow down, pause to acknowledge your feelings, and do a check-up. Take some time for yourself, take a walk, go out for a cup of tea and review what’s been going on and reflect on why something isn’t working, because this is actually more productive than trying to bulldoze through. Take a deeper look at why you feel so busy but you aren’t coming closer to your goals.
Nourish your connections
You may be grumpy because you feel lonely and without friendly supportive colleagues to lean on. One study found that loneliness has real effects in the workplace, causing withdrawal from work and reducing productivity.
Connecting with others starts with yourself. Pay wholehearted attention to the people around you, say thanks and express gratitude, and invite someone out to lunch every so often to increase feelings of support and camaraderie.
Nourish your power
Powerful employees are simply happier. According to research led by Yona Kifer, the perception of power means you feel the freedom to be more authentic, and because you’re free to be yourself, you’re happier. Think about the times when you’ve been powerless — you probably felt like you couldn’t say or do what you wanted.
Take small steps to build and grow your autonomy and be more able to be who you want to be. Maybe you can take charge of a neglected project or step up to take the lead on a presentation. Show your managers studies on productivity to implement more flexible schedules or lessons your team can learn from companies like Zappos who value employee autonomy and authenticity.
If you are grumpier than you would like, give these tried and tested happiness boosting activities a try. It might feel like adding onto an already full plate — but it’s worth taking a risk to feel more fulfilled and happy at work.
What are some ways that made you feel happier at work? I’d love to know!