Commute, work, repeat—it’s an algorithm that resets day after day, week after week, year after year. For most of us, work is a necessity to live. And, considering that we spend one-third of our lives at work, it's worth trying to break that feeling that you're an automaton rather than an actual living, breathing being.
It's not just our intuition that tells us this, science backs it up. Study after study shows that the effects of job unhappiness can impact your overall mental health, causing problems with sleep, anxiety, and depression. Of course, quitting or getting a new job overnight may not be realistic, but you can work toward being happier at the job you have. And that has some serious perks.
“Being happier at work makes us more engaged, interested, creative, and resilient, which ultimately can lead to better service, sales, and profitability,” says Keynote Speaker & Corporate Trainer, Eric Karpinski, M.B.A., author of the upcoming book: Put Happiness to Work. “When we feel positive and optimistic, we’re more interested in what we’re doing and more likely to see opportunities we may miss out on with a negative mindset.” Here's how to werk happiness in the office.
1. Practice Gratitude
Yes, you’ve heard this before, but are you doing it yet? “Taking just two minutes each day to write down three specific things you’re grateful for may actually start to re-wire your brain,” Karpinsky says. He explains that by doing this, over time, we can activate different neuropathways. “New synapsis between neurons grow, which then make this practice easier, so overtime it becomes a default way of looking at the world,” Karpinski says.
Eventually you’ll end up noticing more good things around you without having to be proactive about finding them. “Research shows that if people practice gratitude for 21 days straight, they’ll become more optimistic—even up to six-months later.” Another benefit is how you’ll feel when you look back at older journal entries from your gratitude diary. It’s almost like getting a chance to see the softest, simplest version of yourself; like you, just in really flattering candlelight.
2. Engage in Conscious Acts Of Kindness
Once you get over the fact that this sounds a little like a bumper sticker from the 1970’s, you'll see the benefits. Proactively looking for ways to do good, like walking an elderly person across the street is great in theory, it’s not always easy to find these opportunities on command. Instead of waiting for a chance encounter, Karpinski suggests routinizing this practice. Before you tackle your daily to-do list, send a two-line email to someone in your network giving them a compliment or a few words of encouragement. “The act of sending pops of positive emotion to other people makes them feel good, which in turn puts you in a good mindset for the day,” Karpinski says.
3. Meditate With A Twist
Close your eyes, and instead of focusing on your breathing, concentrate on sending good wishes to people in your life who are easy to love (your dog, your grandfather, your toddler), Karpinski says. These could be sentiments like, “May you have a happy life,” or “May you live with peace.” Or even a simple “I love you.” Once you’ve practiced this, and have a sense of how that feels—maybe you feel warm, or it makes your heart feel full, or makes you smile and relax—then slowly transfer these good vibes to people in the office who might frustrate you. “In the moment, especially before a difficult conversation, this can help get rid of negative energy towards others and create more empathy,” Karpinski says.
If you need a little push to get started, download an app like Headspace and take the “Happiness” course. Or, go to tarabrach.com and listen to her “Blessings of Love” meditation. These and other guided meditations will help you visualize those positive feelings extending beyond you and reaching someone else. This aspect of the meditation is key for building compassion.
4. Have A Work Buddy
Strong relationships at work can actually increase productivity, Karpinski says. “Connection, feeling like we belong and we’re supported are strong drivers of happiness,” he says. In fact, according to research, people who have close friends at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and less likely to get injured at work.
5. Get Some Fresh Air
This has a few mood-boosting benefits. Even a 15-minute brisk walk around the block can make you more energetic so you’re more productive. And, being mindful of nature by focusing on whatever you can find—trees, flowers, grass—can induce positive emotions and help you reset for the rest of the day, Karpinski says.
6. Declutter Your Desk
Research shows messy spaces can have negative effects on everything from stress and anxiety levels to our ability to focus, our eating habits, and even our sleep. Clearing your cube of all those loose papers, empty coffee cups, and unfiled files can basically improve your outlook—and productivity all around. Period.
7. Adopt a Helping Mindset
The idea is to find out who’s ultimately benefitting from the work you do and remind yourself how important it is that you’re doing something helpful, Karpinksi says. Obviously, this is more straightforward if you work in healthcare or for a drug company, for example (the work you do ultimately heals people), but even if you’re in a service industry or don’t even care about the end product, perhaps you’re helping your employees or coworkers make money to support their families. “Feeling this kind of connection will help you find more motivation and meaning in your own job,” Karpinski says.
In an often-cited experiment on work motivation, Dan Ariely, PhD, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, asked participants to build Lego toys. They were paid $2 for the first one, and slightly less for each after that. In one group, after each Lego toy was built, the research assistant set it aside. In the other group, the research assistant would take the toys apart as soon as they were handed in—right in front of the builders.
The result: The first group built 11 Lego toys while the second group only built seven. The theory is people who felt like their work didn’t matter were more easily frustrated and gave up sooner. Similar studies have replicated this phenomenon.
8. Decorate Your Space
Blame it on the every-growing open workspace configuration: Office privacy is just about obsolete. And thanks to the fear of literally your entire office looking over your shoulder, research shows that employees can become more distracted, stressed, less motivated and productive. However, the same researchers found that being able to trick out your space with things that matter—photos, art, mementos—gives workers a greater sense of ownership, control, and comfort, which may help them better cope with stress and distractions.
9. Go To Bed Earlier
Or, if that doesn't work, sleep in a little longer. Either way, more sleep=better mood. There isn't a secret magic number like eight hours a night. Everyone's sleep clock works a little differently. The point is to be attuned to yours. Here's why: Being overtired delays your reactions and clouds your judgment in the same way (and to the same degree) as being drunk. So, that's one good reason not to go to work when you're overtired. Here's another one: Scientists have shown that being tired messes with your ability to interpret and respond to negative emotions. It's a bad combo. Even for researchers studying the phenomenon. In one instance, the study participants were so tired, they couldn't follow the directions on the part of the study that measured their mood.
10. Buy A Plant
Scientists have suspected that having greenery in the office makes workers happier and boosts productivity, at least in theory. Well, now we have even more evidence based on real office spaces in a large study in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands. According to the lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis, from Cardiff University's School of Psychology investing in plants in the office will pay off through an increase in office workers' quality of life and productivity. The research showed plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality. The researchers speculate that the reason plants boost mood and concentration has to do with employees' being more engaged in their work environment.