Tips for work happiness
You work. You have a life. So what’s all this balance you keep hearing about? “I think ‘work/life’ is just a phrase someone in HR came up with to make employees feel like they have to continually have work on their mind,” says Norm Geller, a New York-based sales consultant. “I think the real intent is to make sure employees know that they have to get their work done first; then they can get on with their lives.”
Geller, 45, admits he takes a cynical view of the various attempts companies make to “create happiness,” he says.
“I’m the person responsible for my happiness,” Geller says. “I appreciate some of the things offered to help create a different type of atmosphere at work, like more flexibility with my hours, but if there’s work to be done, that flex-time turns into 12-hour days.”
As HR departments of both small and large companies continue to tweak their employee benefits to attract and retain employees, Geller’s point remains: who ultimately controls your happiness? More importantly, what are some things you can do to achieve happiness during the day-to-day routines at work, especially if the company’s “bring-your-dog-to-work” policy isn’t exactly filling your heart with joy?
We checked with Tim Bono, author of “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness” (Grand Central Life & Style, $25), and the assistant dean in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who offered a series of tips to help people achieve happiness, even without the benefit of Taco Tuesday at the office:
• Go outside, move around: Bono says that research confirms a few minutes walking around in nature can boost both mood and energy levels. “Exercise is key to our psychological health because it releases the brain’s feel-good chemicals,” he says.
• Get more bang for your buck: Buy experiences instead of things and spend your money on others. “The enjoyment one gets from an experience like a vacation or concert will far outweigh and outlast the happiness from acquiring another material possession,” says Bono.
• Make time for others: Instead of focusing so much on “me-time,” Bono suggests using some of the extra minutes in your day to help others. “Doing a good deed empowers us to tackle the next project, helping us feel more in control of our lives and less pressed for time,” Bono says. “This translates to higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.”
• Delay the positive, dispatch the negative: Anticipation itself is pleasurable and looking forward to an enjoyable experience can make it all that much sweeter, according to Bono. “Wait a couple of days before seeing a new movie that just came out, plan your big vacation for later in the summer and try to take time to savor each bite of dessert,” Bono says. “On the flip side, get negative tasks out of the way as quickly as possible. Anticipation will only make them seem worse.”
• Enjoy the ride: People who focus more on process than outcome tend to remain motivated in the face of setbacks. They’re better at sticking with big challenges and prefer them over the easy route. Focusing only on the end outcome can lead to premature burnout if things don’t go well, according to Bono.
• Embrace failure: People who overcome adversity do better in life because they learn to cope with challenges. “Failure is a great teacher, helping us realize what doesn’t work so we can make changes for the better,” Bono says.
• Sweet dreams: Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis. “Our brains are doing a lot of important work while we sleep, including strengthening neural circuits that both consolidate memories from the previous day and that help us regulate our moods when we are awake,” says Bono. “Sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment similar to that of intoxication and often is the prelude to an ill-tempered day.”
• Strengthen your willpower: Exercising willpower muscles in small, everyday behaviors strengthens your ability to stay focused at work. “Resisting the temptation to check our phone for new text messages or emails when we’re walking somewhere, or resisting the temptation to get the candy bar when we’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, allows our willpower muscles to become stronger and in turn, resistant to temptations that could sidetrack us in other aspects of our lives,” Bono says.
• Introduce variety: Being able to change things up every once in a while by taking on new projects or even by doing the same task but with music in the background or by interacting with different people, can be one way to introduce variety and improve overall morale.
• Stop comparing yourself to others: Redirecting your attention to your own internal standards for success can go a long way for our psychological health, productivity and motivation. “Social comparison is one of the biggest barriers to our overall happiness and motivation,” says Bono, who also recommends spending less time on social media, which can exaggerate how much better off others are compared with how we might feel about ourselves at the moment.
• Reach out, connect: Nothing is more important for our psychological health than highquality friendships. Find an activity that allows you to get together with friends on a regular, ongoing basis. People with high-quality relationships are not only happier, they’re also healthier,” Bono says. Bono also recommends using your phone as it was originally intended: to connect with others.
Sure, the “bring-your-dog-towork” policy fills your heart with joy. But what are some other things you can do to achieve happiness during dayto-day routines?