10 November 2007

10Nov. How to...be happy. advice
September 6, 2007

How to... be happy

The pursuit of happiness in the workplace is as much of a holy grail as it is in life, but there are ways to make that pursuit a happier experience

Finding a job that you like is clearly important to your workplace happiness, but it isn’t always easy – and even when you do there will still be times that you’re not happy. Obviously the best way to cheer yourself up is to turn Super Trouper up to 11 and dance around the room for five minutes, but if you don't have an Abba-friendly workplace you might like to try these suggestions instead.

1. Keep things in perspective. “Your work experience is a very big part of your life, but it’s not your whole life,” says Michael Chambers, the managing director of Bacs, the payment processing house. Remind yourself of the positive things in other parts of your life.

2. Recognise the possibility of happiness. “We very often fail to recognise the rich sources of pleasure and meaning that are right in front of us at work,” writes Tal Ben-Shahar in Happier (McGraw-Hill, £12.99). “To turn a possibility [for happiness] into a reality, we first need to realise that the possibility exists.”

3. Change your focus. If the daily grind is getting you down, look at the big picture and remind yourself why you took the job – for example, that you share your organisation’s goal of reducing poverty or that gaining experience at this firm will help you to land your dream job. On the flip side, if it’s the big picture that is getting you down – say, you feel that helping your company to get richer isn’t your goal in life – try concentrating on individual tasks that you can do well. Don’t underestimate the satisfaction that can be gained from getting little things done, whether that is finally clearing out your inbox or resolving an irritating administrative problem.

4. Surround yourself with happy people... even if that means making other people happy to do it, says Marc Woods, a motivational speaker. “People react well to you helping them, and being around happy people does rub off.” He also suggests finding a mentor who enjoys his or her job and can offer support dealing with your emotional state as well as with technical issues. And steer clear of moaners: just as positive people will help to keep your mood up, colleagues who spend their days complaining will inevitably bring you down.

5. Accept reality. Look for the opportunities that change will create rather than focusing entirely on the immediate negatives. “I had bone cancer and had a leg amputated at 17,” Woods says. “I could have said ‘woe is me’, but instead I sat down and thought ‘right, this how it is now, what can I do with it?’ (In his case that turned out to include winning four Paralympic gold medals).

6. Do the best you can. “If you know that you have done your job as well as you can, it can give you a sense of wellbeing even if things don’t work out quite as you’d hoped,” Woods says. “Take pride in doing your job well.”

7. Balance. Overwork and stress frequently lead to anxiety and unhappiness. Make sure that you have enough time to yourself for exercise, a social and family life and relaxation, Chambers says. Keeping a balance will also help out in those inevitable times when you are required to work longer or harder than usual.

8. Take a break. If everything is getting too much, get away from the environment that is making you unhappy, Chambers suggests. “Take a moment on your own to go for a walk or ask a colleague to come for a coffee. It will help you to calm down and get a sense of perspective.”

9. Take control. If something at work is making you unhappy, don’t wait for someone else to solve the problem – fix it yourself. “Take personal responsibility for things that don’t quite work or could be done better,” Woods says. “Managers like proactive people, so you could get a promotion, but at the very least it will improve your own job and help you to be happy.”

10. Be honest with yourself. Are you unhappy because you are in the wrong job? “Listen to your unhappiness,” Chambers says. “Can you resolve it in the current environment or is it a signal that it’s time to move on?” If you’ve done all you can to improve your mood and you’re still unhappy at work, it’s probably time to find something new. “Many [people]... are enslaved by their jobs, not because they have no choice, but because they have made a choice that made them unhappy,” Dr Ben-Shahar writes.

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