Are you happy at work? This simple question is much more complicated than you would think.
Happiness has been studied and researched throughout the years, and there are many aspects that are agreed and disagreed upon.
Henry David Thoreau is quoted as saying “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
Professor David T. Lykken, author of Happiness: Its Nature and Nurture, says that “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” We each have a “happiness set point,” he argues, and we move away from it only slightly in one direction or the other. He argues that happiness, to a large extent, is determined by your genes.
However, many psychologists believe that you can actually choose and work on being happy. In order words, you can chase down that elusive butterfly and get it to sit on your shoulder by making the effort to monitor the inner workings of your mind. In fact, psychologists who study happiness, including Lykken, believe we can pursue happiness by thwarting negative emotions such as pessimism, resentment, and anger and instead fostering positive emotions, such as empathy, serenity, and especially gratitude.
Happiness at work
While happiness is a complicated feeling, being happy at work is even more complex. Neuroscientists Richard Davidson and V.S. Ramachardran point to one simple fact: Happy people are better workers. People who are engaged with their jobs and co-workers tend to work harder and smarter.
Unfortunately, according to a 2013 Gallup report, only 30% of the workforce in the U.S. is considered engaged. In other words, very few people in the workforce are truly committed to the success of their organization. To make matters worse, according to the same Gallup report, nearly one out of five employees are considered actively disengaged. These people are sabotaging projects, backstabbing colleagues, and generally wreaking havoc in the workplace.
In light of all of this information, how does one become truly happy at work?
1.Intentionally Choose To Be Happy
The intention to be happy is the first of The 9 Choices of Happy People listed by authors Rick Foster and Greg Hicks in their book of the same name.
“Intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy,” they write. “It’s the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.”
Tom G. Stevens, PhD, titled his book with the bold assertion, You Can Choose to Be Happy. “Choose to make happiness a top goal. Choose to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to be happy. For example you can:
- Reprogram your beliefs and values
- Learn new self-management skills
- Learn good interpersonal relationship skills
- Adopt better career-development skills
- Choose to be in and foster a positive environment
- Choose to be around people who increase your probability of happiness.
- Commit to making small positive changes
The people who become the happiest and grow the most are those who make truth and their own personal growth their primary values.”
Keep in mind that unhappiness can also be a habit. Employees that chronically complain, see the negative side of everything, and rarely engage in positivity can get stuck in this state. The first step is to choose to be happy and commit to the change.
2. Counteract Negative Thoughts and Feelings
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day habit of negative thoughts and feelings. Just as in your personal life, each day will likely have something that is not positive. Happy people tend to focus less time and energy on those moments. By building a habit of counteracting negative feelings and thoughts with positive ones you will start to feel happier over time.
In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jon Haidt compares the mind to a man riding an elephant. The elephant represents the powerful thoughts and feelings (mostly unconscious) that drive your behavior. The man, although much weaker, can exert control over the elephant, just as you can exert control over negative thoughts and feelings.
“The key is a commitment to doing the things necessary to retrain the elephant,” Haidt says. “And the evidence suggests there’s a lot you can do. It just takes work.”
“If you learn techniques for identifying negative thoughts, then it’s easier to challenge them,” Haidt said.
3. Unclutter your work area
Chrystal Doucette suggests on Chron.com that having an organized workplace will help you be better prepared and work more efficiently. It can also improve your happiness since a “clean desk makes the work environment seem less hectic and stressful.” In short, you have enough stress with work, so avoid the additional stress that clutter and scrambling for lost documents can cause
4. Earn Automomy in Your Position
For most people having autonomy at work means being happier and more productive. The World Happiness report cites “having control over how the workday is organized” and “the pace at which the employee works” as core features of workplace autonomy. It reports that many studies have shown that autonomy is one of the main drivers of a happier work environment.
Employees with greater autonomy report higher levels of job satisfaction and are less likely to be unhappy and leave their current position. Autonomy has even been shown to have health benefits. A simple way to understand its appeal is to consider it as the opposite of micromanagement. One study found that micromanagement can lead to “low employee morale, high staff turnover, and reduction of productivity.” The appeal of working at home mostly lies in the ability to have greater autonomy, particularly for people with children. At the office, autonomy remains a critical component of lower work stress and increased happiness.
So how do you build autonomy at work?
Build and establish your trustworthiness with your superiors by getting your job done thoroughly and efficiently and then effectively communicating the outcome and results as soon as the work is finished. Respond to questions quickly and with adequate detail so that they don’t need to be asked a second time and position yourself as a mentor to other team members. This type of behavior will establish trust and help you earn a more autonomous position within your company
5. Have Purpose And Meaning
In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl shows that even in the worst of circumstances, purpose, hope, and connection are what keep us going. His story of finding good in evil and pursuing a noble purpose in spite of the horrors of life in concentration camps is nothing short of heroic. As Frankl shows us, we can strive to find meaning in our day-to-day lives no matter where we are or what conditions we are subjected to.
An excerpt from How to Be Happy at Work by Annie McKee, Harvard Business Review Press (September 5, 2017) states: “As you have probably discovered, you can easily lose sight of what you value and ignore the aspects of yourself that matter most to you, especially when you’re struggling with dysfunctional organizations, bad bosses, and stress. You’re then more likely to put meaning and purpose on the back burner or wait for someone else to give you a compelling reason to love your job. Couple all this with the outdated but pervasive notions that personal values don’t belong in the workplace, and you have a recipe for disengagement and unhappiness.
You need conviction to insist on living your purpose at work but according to How to Be Happy at Work, the effort is worthwhile. Having a sound, clear, and compelling purpose helps you to be stronger, more resilient, and able to tap into your knowledge and talents. As you discover which aspects of your job are truly fulfilling—and which are soul destroying—you will be in a better position to make good choices about how you spend your time and what you pursue in your career.”
While it may take some time and effort to become happy at work, it truly is a worthwhile goal. From the paper “Importance of Being Happy at Work” by Vibhuti Gupta: Happy people are more satisfied with their jobs and report having greater autonomy in their duties. They are less dependent on others, they do not complain or blame the external factors for delays or failures. They also do not easily give up in demanding situations. They perform better on assigned tasks than their less happy peers and are more likely to take on extra tasks like helping others. They also receive more social support from their coworkers and tend to use more cooperative approaches when interacting.
Bonus – Be happy and you just might live longer.
According to Professor Diener the evidence suggests that happy people live longer than depressed people. It has been found that happy people are physically healthier, live longer, and cope more effectively with challenges —characteristics that undoubtedly make it easier to accomplish more in their careers. Accordingly, overall, happy people enjoy greater workplace success, and engage in more behaviors paralleling success, than do less happy people.
And last but not the least, benefits for the employee may be happiness at home, emotional intelligence, increased focus, loving work, valuing their positions, and feeling appreciated. Who can ask for more than that.
- Collins SK, Collins KS. Micromanagement–a costly management style. Radiol Manage. 2002 Nov-Dec;24(6):32-5.