Are you always wishing for the weekend or willing your next holiday to come round quickly? Or going to bed feeling stressed? Or generally feeling dissatisfied?
Work and happiness are far too often considered to be mutually exclusive notions. What people don’t realise is that happiness is a habit. Work is a huge part of life, often so huge that people define themselves by it. Because of the huge part it occupies in our lives it is essential that we gain happiness from it. If not, you end up on that life-draining ride of grinding away day in, day out and craving the weekends.
There are two main ways to look at happiness. The first is that it should be created – that you should weave activities and behaviours into your life that bring you joy. The second is that it should not be prevented, which involves removing the things that block your happiness.
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The five tips below make reference to each of these:
1. Understand that there will always be more work to do, and that’s okay
That awful feeling of placing your head on the pillow at night and feeling stressed about all the tasks you didn’t get around to for the day is a clear sign that your attitude to work and time management is causing you harm. Those of us with full plates and many responsibilities need to come to the realisation as soon as possible that ‘work’ is a never-ending queue of tasks. This may sound more likely to trigger stress than happiness, but consider this.
Can you imagine feeling okay about the work you’re not doing right now? What would it take to alleviate the guilt? The best thing to do is to ‘delegate, allocate or negotiate’. Make sure that every time you get that pang of panic you either pass the work to someone who has the time/effort/energy to do it, or you allocate a day on which you will complete the work or you negotiate with stakeholders to reconsider the priority and importance of the task. When you have more work than time it should trigger a discussion around priorities with stakeholders if you are unable to immediately offload.
Remember, it is much better to bring a few things to completion than have many things in progress that are not reaching an end point. A sense of completion, gained by having a key focus at any given time, will do more for your happiness and self-worth than any amount of overloading, multi-tasking and cramming ever will. You’ll also have a trail of accomplishments to point to.
2. Become action focused
Sadness, happiness, pressure, stress are all emotions that we face in the workplace. We tend to know when we are experiencing these emotions, but often seem to forget that there are specific actions that directly affect the intensity of these feelings. What can you do to make yourself feel happy? What makes you feel more in control? Can spending five minutes cleaning your desk, doing that tough call/email to take care of a problem or starting a long overdue task make you feel refreshed and clear-headed? Actions help us feel better, especially actions that achieve a result or remove a block.
What are the actions that you undertake that make you feel more stressed? Saying yes to everything? Failing to plan properly? Underestimating time demands of certain projects? See what you can change; see what can be removed as a stressor.
3. Help people and be generous
There’s a horrible downward cycle that happens to people who are stressed, sad and frustrated at work. Their agitation makes them very insular, trying to get through the day, the task, the week. They don’t feel that they have time for themselves, let alone helping anyone. This leads to further isolation and increased frustration. It also harms your ability to manage the grey areas with people on issues.
Compare that to being helpful and generous. It does remarkable things for your own well-being, and really increases the strength of social connections within your workplace. Some organisations really push against the natural human urge to be social, with closed-off offices, partitions and a culture of non-interaction. Yet those interactions can help us see ways to help others. When we are generous to others it makes life better for everyone. It may sound idealistic, but the evidence is there to see.
4. Know what you’re working for
Working life can become so encompassing that people forget why they’re even doing it. Work can be satisfying in its own right – we all have an innate need to create, produce and contribute, but it is also a means of building a career path and enabling leisure activities.
When you create the career and personal financial goals that you want your working life to satisfy it can give you that longer-term perspective that justifies many of the frustrations from day to day. It means that the argument you had with your boss becomes a bit less important. Of course you’ll have to resolve it, but if you resolve it in terms of broader life goals (for example, I want to be happy) then you will approach the solution quite differently.
5. Scripts and triggers
The other aspect of really rounding out your understanding of what brings or blocks your happiness are the scripts and triggers that create the emotions you feel. Think of the thought loops that make you feel lousy. Do any of these sound familiar?
“This place is such a drag – how long until the weekend?”
“So much work, I don’t have time for any of this.”
“I wish she would get off my case, she is so annoying.”
“Sick of this – they don’t pay me enough to put up with this.”
Try replacing them with these:
“I’ve got the whole week ahead of me; I’m going to see how much I can get done before the weekend.”
“This is more work than I have time for, will book a time to speak to my boss about which are the priority projects and which can be shelved.”
“If I give her the info she needs and update her at the end of the day she won’t hassle me anymore.”
“I need to improve the way I manage this stress, or find a new job.”
Notice how each of the replacement scripts focus on action. This is a much more effective way than simply complaining about the current unsatisfactory situation. You need to focus on ways to move from the current situation into a better one. Don’t pretend a situation is good when it clearly isn’t – that’s self-delusion and usually comes unstuck.
Tune in to your thought processes and make adjustments when you are leading yourself down an unproductive path. Identify the triggers for those thought loops. The trigger might be a frustrated customer, or a manager treating you unfairly, but a trigger will usually set off a string of thoughts and actions, often subconsciously. One example is when people get an email that carries a criticism, a suggestion of rework or new work project without clear definition. The email is the trigger, the first thought is that it’s overwhelming, and the subsequent action is one of procrastination (go and make a coffee, check personal emails, etc).
You can’t stop the trigger, but you can replace the thoughts and actions that follow it. These are your opportunities for improved happiness. You would be amazed how small changes can have significant flow-on effects to managing your overall wellbeing. Start small. You’ll soon discover a broad range of thoughts and actions that you could improve on. Pick an easy one to change, carve out a new habit and you’ll be amazed at what flows on.
Too many people accept stress and hardship as an inevitable part of normal working life. There are always personal problems and major work disruptions that affect this – but the workplace should be a place of challenge and achievement with a positive social component. If you are finding that’s not the case then you should definitely start to look at what actions you can take to change it.