My horoscope yesterday said, “Do what makes you happy”. The problem is, I’m not sure what that is anymore.
Call it the pandemic blues, call it middle age (okay, I’m being kind to myself here), but I’ve found myself pondering this question the past 24 hours.
What used to make me happy was simple. My family, my beautiful lake and property, visiting with friends and neighbours, little things like the refrains of the piano drifting through the air while I sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.
These things still make me happy, but I’ll admit, it’s more subdued now.
I wish I was one of these people who found a new passion and purpose during COVID. I haven’t. I’ve fallen into the cohort known as “languishers” the term coined by the New York Times to describe those of us feeling joyless and aimless, and “slipping slowly into solitude.”
With things opening up, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to reach out and connect with people, but I’m not. I was talking to a friend at work the other day who felt the same way. It’s not that we have social anxiety, it’s not that we don’t miss people and would love to see them again, we just don’t have the energy.
They say one antidote to languishing is to immerse yourself in a project. But that takes energy too.
So dear readers, this week my #HappyAct is to ask you for advice. How do you figure out what makes you happy again? Please, leave a comment.
There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.
As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.
Here is my vision for the future of work.
First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.
Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.
We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes.
There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.
Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.
We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.
Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.
We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.
The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.
Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.
The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.
Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.
Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.
Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.
Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.
These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.
Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.
Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.
When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.
I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.
Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.
This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:
Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.
I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.
I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.
Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.
There are two sayings we bandy about at this time of year: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
This year as I was writing out Christmas cards, I found myself naturally avoiding those usual seasonal sayings and writing sentiments instead like, “Joyous wishes” and “I hope you can find moments of joy” for friends who had lost loved ones in this particularly difficult year.
Alan McPherson, a retired minister with the Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton says there is a difference between happiness and joy. “Happiness is an emotion. Joy is deeper, more long-lasting. It is based more on inner certainties, not external events.”
Who knows what the new year will bring. With the second wave of COVID-19 still having an icy grip on the country and most regions in lockdown, happier times seem a way off. But we can always find joy each day in simple acts. Curling up with a good book. Catching up with an old friend. Going for a walk on a bright wintry day and hearing the snow crunch underfoot.
Yes, we can always find joy. And we always have hope.
While November is often thought of as a drab and dreary month, there is one redeeming grace. As a blanket of leaves forms on the ground, light floods into spaces that were previously dark or shadowed from canopies.
Let there be light. We need more light right now.
The psychological benefits of light are well-known. Increased hours of sunlight heighten the brain’s production of serotonin, which improves mood, alertness, productivity, sleep and mental wellbeing.
Recently, we redecorated our sunroom. We love how the light fills the room. It is a very happy room in our house. But you don’t need to redecorate your house to find more light. Here are some simple things you can do to take advantage of the limited light in the darker winter months:
Go for a walk each day at lunch or rearrange your schedule to do at least some form of physical activity outside each day in daylight
Change your window coverings or clean your windows to let in more light. Using mirrors or rearranging your furniture can also result in more indoor light.
COVID is a perfect excuse to keep extending patio season. Visit a local brewery and have a pint outdoors or have your morning coffee bundled up on the front porch. On Saturday, we watched the sun go down sitting on a hay bale in front of a fire at Slake brewery, a new microbrewery in Prince Edward County. It was spectacular.
If you can, move your workspace to a place by the window or with better light. If no one is home, I often will dial into meetings from my sunroom.
Take Vitamin D during the winter months if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or try a light therapy lamp.
This week’s #HappyAct is to let the sun shine in and keep smiling.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night about regrets and the impact they have on our lives and relationships.
Regret is a negative emotion, but it can have positive outcomes. It can give us insight and help us make sense of the world and our place in it, and impel us to make positive changes in our lives.
Left to fester, however, regret can make us doubt our decisions and path in life, and create a devalued sense of self-worth. It may lead to us withdrawing within ourselves and to feelings of unhappiness and depression.
We can regret actions we’ve taken, or actions we didn’t have the courage to take.
It was a heartfelt conversation, and my friend and I learned this the other night about dealing with regret:
First, it’s never too late. It’s never too late to say I’m sorry, to reach out, to take action.
Accept that sometimes life has its own plan and your path is where it decides to take you.
When it comes to regret and relationships, know that the other person’s perception of what happened may be completely different than yours.
Forgive yourself, forgive others and move on. We are all human, we make mistakes.
No one lives a life of no regrets. If someone says they have no regrets, they’re lying. But hopefully our regrets are few and we’ve learned from them.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny”—Lao Tzu
For the better part of 2020, many of us have been alone with our thoughts, and understandably, those thoughts have been more dark, troubled and worrisome.
I think this quote in large part explains what is happening in the United States right now. Alone with their thoughts, people have lashed out and acted out. It makes me wonder about America’s destiny. I truly believe they are at a turning point in their history.
Every event of historical significance has begun with a thought or difference in thoughts: the American civil war, Aryan supremacy and the Holocaust, communism.
Our thoughts can be a friend, giving us hope, comfort and fortitude, and urging us to do and act better.
Or they can be our enemy, closing our ears and hearts to differing opinions and causing us to act in shameful ways.
We may feel like the world is out of control right now. But we always have control of our thoughts.
The idea to offer a happiness course at the university famed for its academia was the brainchild of Professor Laurie Santos who was shocked at the stress and mental health issues students were reporting a few years ago. She developed a course called Psychology and the Good Life, and a quarter of all Yale students signed up for it. It’s now the most popular course the university has offered in its 300-year history.
This year, the university started offering a free online version. It takes about 20 hours to complete and you can learn at your own pace.
The course focuses on the science of happiness and how to rewire your brain and change your behaviours to be happier.
36% of the people who took the course started a new career after completing it and 34% said they got a tangible career benefit from the course.
Here is the curriculum:
Introduction—why take this course
Misconceptions about happiness
Why our expectations are so bad
How we can overcome our biases
Stuff that really makes us happy
Putting strategies into practice
Start your final rewirement challenge
Continue your rewirement challenge
Continue your rewirement challenge
Submit your final assignment
It will be interesting to see the changes people make in their lives after this galvanizing period in our history, where we’ve been forced into self-isolation and reflection. Maybe this course will help provide more clarity and help us all on the path to better mental health and happiness.
I firmly believe the greatest risk to my physical and mental health right now is the amount I sit.
The negative health effects of sitting have been known for some time, but stole headlines a few years ago when James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” and said “the chair is out to kill us” in an interview with the LA Times.
It’s estimated that in North America, half of our waking hours are spent sitting down. “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death,” says Levine.
The harmful physical effects of sitting are well known. Sitting or lying down for too long increases your risk of obesity, chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers and can shorten your life span.
What was even more startling as I researched this was learning that getting the recommended 30-60 minutes of exercise a day won’t help. You can’t offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise.
Here’s the science behind it. Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. After two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent.
And that’s only half of it. Sitting too much also has an impact on your mental health.
Dr. Alan Schlechter, a professor on the science of happiness at New York University says the way we tell our brain to grow is to move. We are meant to move, and when we sit down for more than 20 minutes, our body and brains shut down.
There is one simple solution to fighting the chair. Get up and move every twenty minutes.
As one expert said, “Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again. These things are so simple they’re almost stupid.”
This week, I’m taking up my armrests and fighting the chair in the interests of my own physical and mental health. I’m going to start booking walking meetings at work, move around more, take the stairs, watch less TV at night and get up and move every 20 minutes. Who’s with me?
I was sitting in my doctor’s office last week reading a National Geographic article on empathy and the brain. It told the story of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who survived an explosion in 1848 that drove an iron rod through his left frontal lobe. Those who knew him described him before the accident as friendly and respectful. After the accident he was uncaring and indifferent. It’s a fascinating read on why people commit heinous crimes stemming from a common thread of having a lack of remorse and empathy for others caused by a deficiency in the neuroscience of the brain.
For centuries, the brain has been a mystery to the medical profession and researchers. But we have learned quite a bit about the chemicals our brain produces and how they impact emotions and happiness. Here are a few interesting facts.
Dopamine is the chemical that spurs you to action when you want something. The anticipation of the reward releases dopamine which creates energy for you to achieve your goal. One easy way to release dopamine is to always be setting goals before new ones are achieved.
Endorphins are the chemicals associated with the fight or flight response and give you the ability to power through situations. You often hear of professional athletes achieving endorphin highs as they train, but you don’t need to push your body to the max to release endorphins in a positive way. Laughing and stretching can release endorphins, acupuncture, and even simple things like eating chocolate, spicy foods or smelling vanilla and lavender.
Oxytocin has been referred to as the “cuddle chemical”. It’s released when you experience a closeness or feeling of trust or intimacy. Giving hugs, petting dogs, and simply just socializing with others can release oxytocin.
This week’s #HappyAct is to think how you can get the neuroscience of your brain working for your happiness.