Five Ways To Become Happier At Work

In my previous articles I’ve talked about why workplace happiness is important, busted some myths and described what a happy workplace looks like for me. So I thought it was about time I shared some tips for becoming happier at work. Here are five things you can do to give your happiness levels a boost.
Cultivate a more positive mindset


It surprises some people that we can develop a more positive mindset but actually we can train our brain in the same way we work out in the gym. Like getting physically fit it does take a bit of effort and commitment (but there is far less sweat and not a communal changing room in sight). Psychologists use a technique called reframing. This basically involves changing our perception or assumption to be more positive. So rather than seeing something as a problem that will stop us achieving the outcome we want, you can learn to see it as a challenge that can be overcome. Another way to look at it is that you want a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. Someone with a growth mindset accepts things can and will change and that they can influence the outcome. Someone with a fixed mindset will see problems as terminal and insurmountable. So how do you achieve a growth mindset? The answer comes down to practice. Start to notice when your brain defaults to negative thinking. Try to look at a situation another way. Try pretending you are talking to a friend who needs your advice with a problem – think of it as their problem rather than yours. I guarantee you’ll be much more optimistic! Noticing and writing down three positive things from the day also trains your brain to spot the positives rather than the negatives, as does writing an account of something that happened to you using positive language.
Find purpose and meaning at work


In an ideal world we would all love our jobs so much we leapt out of bed everyday singing ‘Good Morning’ like Debbie Reynolds and co in Singin’ in the Rain. However I worked in the corporate world for long enough to know that even if you really enjoy your job after a while it can lose that spark, especially when times are challenging. Taking a moment to pause and reflect can help. Ask yourself these two questions. What am I passionate about? What do I believe in? The answer may remind you why you took your job in the first place or it might be that your answers don’t relate directly to your current role. It might be there is something that used to be part of your role that has fallen away or been neglected that your really enjoyed. Could you bring that back? Is there something periphery to your role that you could spend more time on? Maybe you enjoy helping develop people and could find an opportunity to mentor someone. Maybe you are really passionate about diversity and inclusion and want to create a network at work to raise awareness, educate and support staff.


Focus on things inside your Circle of Control
When things are busy it can feel like everything is out of control. Have you ever had that feeling of being on a fairground ride you’re not enjoying and just want to get off because everything around you is spinning? Yes, you know what I mean. Have ever had that feeling at work? Like you just want to shout “STOP!’ Sometimes we see if coming, sometimes it just sneaks up on us but either way it’s not very conducive to feeling happy at work (quite the opposite in fact). So what can you do to get through these intense periods of stress? Well one thing you can try is focusing on what is within your Circle of Control. This is a fancy way of saying focus on what you can control and forget the rest of the stuff. If you can’t influence it or make a difference to it then don’t let it take up the valuable brain space you need for dealing with the stuff that is within your Circle of Control. Take a piece of paper and make a list of everything that is causing you stress. Then divide the list in two. On one side write down all the things you have control over. On the other side write all the things you don’t have control over. It’s up to you what you do with this side. You can either tear it up (some people find this cathartic) or just put it out of sight. It doesn’t really matter. The important side is the list of things you have (some) control over. Next to each of these write down one or two things that you can do to exercise some control over these things. Don’t write more than one of two things as it might become overwhelming. You can repeat this exercise as often as you need to.


Nurture your social connections
In 1938 American psychologist George Vaillant began a study which would last almost 80 years looking at a group of 268 men. From this group he wanted to find out who would lead the happiest, fullest lives and why. When asked to sum up his finding the psychologist said “love-full stop”. “Our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything in the world” he went on to say. And there has been plenty of evidence since this study that supports the premise that social connections and relationships are vital for a happy life. This is as true in the workplace as it is outside. How often do we fall into the trap of having too many solely task-orientated conversations with our colleagues? How often do we take the time to learn something about a colleague that isn’t work related? How often do we ask someone what’s going on outside the office? And I don’t just mean polite chit-chat. I mean putting your phone down (no peaking at those emails) and actually having a meaningful conversation. And if you think you don’t have time, you probably need that coffee and a chat more than you realise!
Learn to ‘fall up’


I love this phrase – ‘falling up’. It comes from Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage which, in my view, is THE go-to book on workplace happiness. The book has a whole chapter about bouncing back from adversity and overcoming challenge, or ‘falling up’ as he calls it. In it he talks about counterfacts – these are the things we tell ourselves about a particular situation. For example, if you go in to present an important pitch to the board and everyone is looking down and playing with their phones you might tell yourself some negative counterfacts like that they were bored and uninterested in your pitch. But what if you tried to come up with some more positive counterfacts? What if they were looking down because they were thinking deeply about what you were saying? What if they were actually taking notes on their phone or emailing someone to secure some support for your pitch idea? Our default can often be to leap to the negative but when we become aware of that tendency we can learn to step in and change the narrative. Next time your mind defaults to negative counterfacts, stop, pause for a minute and see if you can think of some more positive counterfacts, I bet you can!


So do you do any of these things already? Which one are going to try first? Let me know in the comments.


The Happy Business School runs a Happiness in the Workplace workshop which is packed with tips like these and loads more about how to create a more positive workplace culture. If you’d like to find out more, or you’d like a free 30 minute call to talk about how I might be able to help your business, then send me a message.

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5 myths about happiness at work

Wrong. The absence of disease isn’t health and the absence of misery isn’t happiness. Just because we might do enough as leaders to not have our people crying at their desks doesn’t mean we are invested in their happiness. Just because an employees comes in every day, does a good job and leaves without complaining about anything doesn’t mean they are happy.

Wrong. It’s right that some some people are more naturally optimistic but, with practice, you can become happier. There is a wealth of science that shows, when we know how, we can train our brains to be more positive. Asking someone to write down three good things that have happened in the last 24 hours may appear glib but this is about training the brain to spot positive things. When we learn to look for things we see them more easily.

Wrong. In fact blind optimism is a bad thing. Who wants to be in a plane where the pilot never believes anything bad can happen so doesn’t bother doing all the safety checks (not me for sure!). Just like in the world of work we don’t want to fail to look out for the risks and dangers, we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by the fear of them.

Wrong. The science tells us that being happier at work makes us more productive, more resilient, more creative, more accurate, more analytical, less likely to take time off sick, leave or burnout. Who doesn’t want those benefits? Yes, what a great wellbeing initiative to be able to say we are interested and investing in your happiness but it goes much further than that. There are real business benefits to helping people increase their happiness.

This one is only a half myth. Yes, people need to be invested in working on their own happiness but as a leader it is for us to help them with that, to show them we value their happiness, to allow them time to work on it, to give them the tools they need to become happier at work. Importantly we need to help them understand why being happy at work is important. As a leader if you can show you are invested in your own happiness it will show your people they should invest in theirs too.

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