Advice from a sea turtle

Girl walking on a beach

I’ve been dreaming of white sandy beaches and palm trees lately. It made me think of one of my favourite passages, “Advice from a sea turtle”:

Swim with the current
Be a good navigator
Stay calm under pressure
Be well travelled
Think long term
Age gracefully
Spend time at the beach

Have a happy week!

Discover the spiritual insights of Haiku

Haiku poem

By guest blogger Alison Taylor

The second decade of the twenty-first century has been one that will go down in the history books that is for sure. I have made a conscientious effort to stay focused on the positive.

One of the positive things that has happened to me is the discovery of poetry. I really was not much of a poetry fan and have avoided it for most of my life. However, with most of my days spent in front of a screen, I needed something that was a departure from the digital “screen in your face” world.

I discovered Haiku. Funny enough I discovered my new appreciation for the art via social media, but then it morphed into a challenge for me. I started writing random thoughts using Haiku.

Haiku is a form of poetry that originates from Japan and consists of three phrases with a 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern.

I found a notebook I bought a few years ago while in York, England. So I already was starting from a happy memory of a place I love and it set the stage for my Haiku writing adventure. I would transport to somewhere else with my notebook and write. No big commitment needed, just let my mind wander and three sentences later a Haiku was born.

I started sending my friends some inspirational Haiku’s when they were having a tough day. Then I added it to notes in birthday cards and now it just calms my mind and a Haiku will pop into my head and I write it down. Here are a couple I wrote for this blog. Maybe you want to give it a try?

The quiet and calm
Sun down, stars are appearing
Night time once again

Find your Happy Act
You may be surprised, who knew?
A smile on your face

And for Laurie as she ends one chapter of her career and embarks on another:

It is not goodbye
It is a new beginning
It is happy times

Take a trip down memory lane

Author with friends at Kingston's waterfront
Our Welli Boot Toss team in 1999. Kingston Brew Pub used to host a charity event in support of Hospice Kingston where you throw a Welli boot as far as you can. I threw my back out shortly after!

I’ve been awash in memories these past few weeks. After 27 years at Empire Life, I am taking early retirement and will begin a new job as Director of Development with the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington in May.

I’m sure most people on the verge of retirement find themselves taking a trip down memory lane, but for me, it’s been a constant flood of memories since I’ve also been going through my company’s archives these last few months.

I’ve found pictures of me doing crazy things for charity, like jumping in Lake Ontario on December 31, 1999 for Y2K in the Polar Bear Plunge, dressing up for skits as part of our annual United Way campaign, and uncovering every lame Halloween costume I ever pulled together at the last minute. (I was notorious for lame Halloween costumes; it became a bit of a running gag between Dave and me.)

Two girls jumping in Lake Ontario
Jumping in Lake Ontario for charity on New Year’s Eve, Y2K

I also came across photos of people who have passed away, friends young and old who I still think about and miss to this day.

What I didn’t find were any pictures of me working. While I had an interesting and varied career, it won’t be memories of work that I’ll take away from my time at Empire; it will be the memories of the different events, fun times and people who made work-life happy and rich.

This week’s #HappyAct is to rifle through an old yearbook, photo album or drive and take a trip down memory lane. Here are some more of the favourite pictures I found.

Acting in a play
Playing Dr. Evil in one of our United Way skits.
Serving cake at my company's 75th anniversary
Helping serve cake at our company’s 75th-anniversary celebrations almost 25 years ago
Dressed up to judge our Halloween contest
Judging our annual Halloween contest–our President Doug is wearing Dave’s kilt!
Dressed up as Queen Amidala from Star Wars
One of my lame Halloween costume pics, Queen Amidala from Star Wars
Dressed up as KISS for Halloween
One of my best Halloween costumes of all time, KISS with fellow bandmates Jon Begg, Chris Seymour and Tracey Hunt. Any time I had a good Halloween costume it was because my co-workers took pity on me and helped with my costume and make-up

My unscientific poll on work and happiness

happy co-workers

Recently I emailed a dozen friends and asked them three questions about how happy they were at work. The results were very revealing. The people who responded work in all sectors, government, private sector and self-employed. Here are the results of my unscientific poll on work and happiness:

My first question was, “Are you happy at work?”

More than half were not happy at work. Some said they were ashamed to admit it, because “they have a pretty good gig”; one person said they weren’t happy but planned to slog it out until retirement. A quarter of respondents said they were happy, and one person said at different times in their career they’ve been happy, and unhappy at other times.

When I asked what was the cause of their happiness or unhappiness at work,

On the plus side, the common themes were working with great people, loving what they do, and the variety of work. One person said they work in a low-stress environment and have an eight-minute commute, so they can come home for lunch every day if they want.

For those unhappy at work, here were some of the reasons they cited for their unhappiness:

  • Lack of involvement and inclusion and team camaraderie.
  • Being tired of dealing with some teams who don’t appreciate the work they do.
  • The inactivity associated with being on a computer eight hours a day.
  • One person said working within an environment where there are too many people in authority who “literally don’t have a clue what they are doing” and a “poisonous” atmosphere as a result of so many people being off on leave, creating more work for those left behind who are still working diligently.
  • One person who is self-employed said, “I’m bored, but I like the flexibility of what I do, so I stay at it. Also, the administration associated with being self-employed is a tough slog. I’m always behind on that, so that creates guilt that I’m not keeping on top of things.”

My final question was “What would make you happy or happier at work?”

  • Being valued and respected and having their work acknowledged was a common theme, along with being able to do more of what they love to do and having challenging projects.  
  • Better work-life balance, and being compensated fairly and seeing more transparency in salary grids were cited as other key factors.
  • One person said they’d like to have a friend at work and work with a diverse team.
  • The one person who was unhappy at work in the “poisonous” environment said they cope by focusing on their family, volunteering and sports and outdoor activities to remind themselves of what’s important in life.
  • On a lighter note, one person wanted a Keurig machine, a fitness room with a treadmill or exercise bike and another an office cat (for me, it would be a dog!)

So what does this tell us and what can we do to be happier at work? Scientific studies show having at least one good friend at work is a key contributor to happiness. Making sure we choose a positive environment where we work with good people and where our work is respected is critical.

As we emerge from this pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to redefine our relationship with work. At the core of the discussion should be these three questions.

Special thanks to the people who participated in my unscientific poll.

More reading on work and happiness

Slow down, you move too fast

Song lyrics

For many of us, life is about to get really busy again after two years of discovering a slower pace of life. When things become crazy and out of control, remember to slow down and make the morning last.

You never know what you will see when you slow down. The other day, I was running late and hitting land speed records on my back roads over to Sydenham. I came up behind a farmer’s tractor and had to slow down and follow him around the curves. While I crawled behind the tractor, I looked to the left and saw a beautiful herd of deer in the field grazing on the green tufts shooting up through the last remains of snow. If I hadn’t slowed down to follow that tractor, I would have never seen such a beautiful sight. 

So remember,

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last…

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

Still one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkle songs of all time. Here they are performing The 59th Bridge Street Song live.

Listen to a happiness podcast

happiness podcasts poster

There’s a not-so-new craze sweeping the nation, and all it takes is a device and twenty minutes of your time.

It seems everybody these days is listening to podcasts. According to buzzsprout, 9 million Canadian adults listen to podcasts every month.

There are literally dozens of podcasts on happiness. This FeedSpot blog lists 80 of the most popular ones or check out Oprah’s top 16 picks.

I’d recommend the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. You may know Harris as the ABC news anchor who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America. He turned to meditation and started his podcast, which discusses the benefits of meditation on happiness and explores happiness in the context of current events.

On his most recent podcast, “The Upside of Apocalypse” Buddhist minister, author and activist Lama Rod Owens talks about the benefits of having an existing practice in times of heightened anxiety, the obstacles to empathy in the world right now and social erosion caused by the pandemic.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to a podcast on happiness on this International Day of Happiness. What’s your favourite podcast? Leave a comment.

Adopt Happytalism

International Day of Happiness poster

A decade ago, the United Nations held its first ever conference on happiness and established an International Happiness Day to remind us that being happy is a human right and worth celebrating.

This year the significance of International Happiness Day on March 20 and the belief that happiness is a fundamental human right is playing out on the world stage as we watch millions of Ukranians refugees and citizens who have had their happiness ripped from them overnight with every Russian rocket, bomb and artillery strike.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that made it a “fundamental human goal” to give happiness as much priority as economic opportunity. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

What’s interesting in all these resolutions is there is no mention of war or conflict and its impact on happiness; the focus is solely on economic factors.

Most likely that’s because in war, there is no happiness.

As we face this global crisis, let’s find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other and adopt Happytalism.

The UN secretariat for the International Day of Happiness is calling on all 7.8 billion people and all 206 nations and territories in our global community to take the “Ten Steps to Global Happiness” challenge and call to action. You can find all ten steps here. I’ve listed my top five, with the last one being my own:

  1. Celebrate the day. Do something special, just don’t let it pass by.
  2. Attend a world happiness event. There are live and virtual events on almost every topic imaginable, from education, health, technology, self and work. See the full list of events here. There’s a small cost to the virtual events, but in many cases, the proceeds go to helping others, like sponsoring a teacher that is helping underserved populations.
  3. Do what makes you happy. Happiness is about practicing self love, mindfulness, acting consciously, and with purpose and intention, positive energy and mindset, and celebrating the things you love that make you happy.
  4. Tell everyone. Spread the word and mission of #InternationalDayOfHappiness. Post something that makes you happy on social media, write a song or letter, make a poster.
  5. Support the people of the Ukraine. Make a donation. This CBC story lists charities you can support.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt and spread a more holistic, inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to the world order that promotes sustainable development, eradicates poverty and war, and focuses on the happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

#HappinessForAllForever.

Why women should rule the world

Vladimir Putin

Like all of you, I have been watching in horror and disbelief the unconscionable war in Ukraine. I have my Master’s degree in Russian history, did I ever mention that? Anyone who has studied Russian history might contend that this war was inevitable.

For centuries, Russian tsars and leaders have annexed territories, withdrawn freedoms, broadcast propaganda, and imposed their will in the name of Russian nationalism, for the greater good of “mother Russia”. When Gorbachev ushered in the era of glasnost, for many Russians, it was seen as a sign of weakness.

On Tuesday, I’ll be participating in some International Women’s Day events, and this past week, I can’t help thinking that if only we elected women rulers, we’d have a better chance at peace.

History is replete with male dictators: Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Uganda’s Idi Amin.

And then you only have to look at the modern-day roster of dictators: Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan who has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for tragedies in Darfur, Kim Jong-II of North Korea, Muammar al-Quaddafi of Libya, and Vladimir Putin.

There have been a handful of cruel women monarchs and leaders throughout history. The religious crusades against Protestants of Queen Mary of England in the 1500’s earned her the nickname Bloody Mary.  Madame Mao persecuted her enemies to further the Cultural Revolution of communist China in the early 1900s. But there are very few examples of modern female leaders who have committed atrocities, started wars or committed crimes against humanity.

In this Forbes article, If Women are Better Leaders, Then Why Are They Not in Charge?, scientific studies have consistently shown that on most of the key traits that make leaders more effective, women tend to outperform men. For example, humility, self-awareness, self-control, moral sensitivity, social skills, emotional intelligence, kindness, a prosocial and moral orientation, are all more likely to be found in women than men.

Further, “men score higher than women on dark side personality traits, such as aggression (especially unprovoked), narcissismpsychopathy, and Machiavellianism, which account for much of the toxic and destructive behaviours displayed by powerful men who derail”.

This week’s #HappyAct is to elect a woman the next time you go to the polls and pray for the people of Ukraine, and all of Europe.

The OGs of our day

Clare looking cool at the lake

Warning: today’s blog post contains coarse language because it’s hella cool.

I ate shit the other day. Not the actual shit like in the Cheech and Chong skit or the type you’d find in your hamster cage. I fell down hard in our skating rink of a driveway. Grace and Clare both fell too, and burst in the door saying, “I just ate shit”.

You see, eating shit is the latest vernacular for taking a header, falling down, wiping out. I thought it was a strange choice of words, but hey, kids these days. Amirite?

Luckily, my friend Jess recently gave me “A Very Modern Dictionary”, a handy book of 400 words, phrases, acronyms and slang to keep your culture game on fleek (perfectly executed).

I thought I would try it out with my bae, which is different from your bff by the way. Your bae is your significant other; your bff your best friend. Whatever you do, don’t get your bf (boyfriend), bff, gf or bae mixed up. I’m planning a trip down east with my girlfriends this summer (gfs), but my bae is my baller, a rockstar, especially with his dadbod. Together we are the power couple of Spring Lake.

Let me part the kimono a bit more on this new landscape of communication.

I was chillaxing last week with my homies down at the lake, catching fish and taking Instaworthy photos, when we realized we were fungry (f*in hungry) and I said let’s grab some grub.

We were sitting at the table when the dog let out a big question fart, a fart where the sound ends in an upward inflection, similar to when you ask a question and we all laughed and said, that’s craycray, Bentley’s so dope!

Grace was phubbing us, ignoring the conversation and looking at her phone, but stopped surfing for a moment to ask for a loan from the Bank of Mum and Dad. I said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

This generation thinks they’re the bomb, the OGs of words and Wordle, when our generation was actually the Original Gangsta’s of slang. Old school is now a term of “respect and deference” instead of an insult and I laughed out loud (LOL) when I saw TGIF listed as a “modern” slang term.

I blogged eight years ago about being normcore, which the dictionary describes as “a fashion style characterized by the elevation of bland, ‘normal’ clothing” that has become so popular with hipsters it has “turned the style into a trend, making its claim of being unpretentious decidedly pretentious.” Hey dude, don’t call me pretentious.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get savage with your vocabulary, and not be jelly of the younger generation and their slang and feel #blessed. Nailed it!

A very modern dictionary book cover
Cheech and Chong skit–still a classic!

The key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world

I love my job sign

You can’t read a business article these days without some reference to The Big Quit or The Great Resignation. According to a report by Morneau Shepell, one of the country’s biggest HR consulting firms, 25% of Canadians are considering leaving their jobs. Companies are scrambling to try to figure out how to hold on to their top performers and lure the brightest minds to their organization. We’ve entered a new war for talent.

Flexible and hybrid work and employee wellbeing seem to be the two top themes, with competitive compensation and benefits programs now being table stakes.

I believe while providing flexible work and focusing on employee wellbeing will be important, they will not be enough to create true job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world.

There’s an obvious answer to this pressing problem that everyone seems to be missing: the key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world will be in the work itself.

Let me explain.

The Friday before my birthday, I started working on a project around 3:30 in the afternoon. Fridays tend to be quieter days for me at work: there are less meetings and interruptions. It was a project where I needed concentrated time to think and focus. I worked away at it, and when I looked up at the time, it was after 5 p.m. So much for knocking off a few minutes early on my birthday weekend. But for the first time in a long time, I felt good about work. I was able to think creatively, immerse myself in a problem and logged off feeling an immense spurt of satisfaction.

I had achieved what the work experts call “flow”. Flow is a state of focused attention so intense it doesn’t allow you to have cognitive bandwidth to do or think of anything else. It is an intersection of optimal being and optimal doing and when we achieve it, it creates inner harmony and happiness since we feel engaged, productive and in control.

Flow is like REM sleep, but for work. To be healthy and productive, our body needs to experience deep REM sleep every night. If you don’t, you feel tired, irritable, and you can’t concentrate or focus.

For many knowledge workers, work has become a constant barrage of emails, zoom calls and interruptions which is affecting our wellbeing and happiness at work. We are not achieving REM at work.

In this article in positivepsychology.com, researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi summarized it this way: “The happiest people spend much time in a state of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

One of the biggest benefits of flow is that it amplifies performance. Author Malcolm Gladwell claimed in his book Outliers that a person needs to do something for 10,000 hours to master a skill. In a 2014 study called the Flow Genome Project, author Steven Kotler estimated this time can be cut in half by achieving flow.

The interesting thing about flow is knowledge workers to some degree have control over flow. We can intentionally structure our workday to build in concentrated 60-90 minute sessions of work, we can turn off notifications, establish no meeting windows, and purposefully not check email. But I firmly believe companies need to wake up and create a more conducive environment to create flow in work and greater job satisfaction for their employees.

Some companies are already doing this. In my blog post The Future of Work, I talked about a Fortune 500 software company in India which 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.

Hiring more employees, and cultivating a culture that encourages time spent on creative and strategic thinking and innovation are two more things companies should be doing to help employees do their best work and achieve job satisfaction.

This week’s #HappyAct is to achieve flow in your work this week. Leave a comment. How did it make you feel and did it increase your job satisfaction?