Attend a retirement party

Two women with drinks celebrating

Elaine on the right with her sister Lynn-Marie (also retired!) at her retirement celebration

I’ve attended a lot of retirement parties lately. Several years ago, my company announced a change to retiree benefits, and I think many of my friends and colleagues just decided it was time to go.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the retirement celebration of my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson. You may recall Elaine, since she’s been a subject of blog posts like Show your spirit, You Can’t Buy Happiness, but You Can Buy Chocolate and Play Hookey for the Day.

While some people like to quietly slip out, Elaine helped plan an entire week of retirement festivities with lunches, dinners, and an after-work fete at a local bar. Today, I’m taking her to Handel’s Messiah for her retirement present.

On Friday, I celebrated the upcoming retirement of my friend Beatrice, who told us that Empire Life was the longest place she ever worked. She stayed because she liked the people she was working with so much and the work was always interesting and challenging.

There are so many reasons why these celebrations are so special.

I enjoy hearing the incredible stories and contributions my colleagues have made to their organizations, often over the course of decades.

I love seeing the smiles and laughter around the room and how genuinely happy everyone is for the person retiring.

I like seeing former colleagues who made the leap years ago who came to honour the newest recruit to their ranks. Without fail, they look ten years younger and say they are busier than ever.

But most of all I love the warmth and family feel of these gatherings. Like it or not, work is a huge part of our lives. The people we work with become our family. And when one of our members leaves us to embrace a new, exciting chapter in their life, we celebrate with them.

This week’s #HappyAct is to attend a retirement or honour the work contributions of a special colleague. And to all my friends who have made the leap into retirement or are making the leap this year, I am so happy for you. Enjoy, and don’t look back!

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Get unplugged

Special guest blog by Alison Taylor

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make me happy. Well, to be truthful, most times it is the simple things.

Living in a country setting really makes you appreciate the quiet calm of the countryside. I am lucky to have access to hundreds of acres of fields and bush that I can walk through with my pal, Molly (friend of the four legged kind).

I like to get away from “devices” and unplug. I don’t disconnect though….I rather connect in a different way and use my senses to observe and interact with the “natural” kind. Sometimes it is the stillness, and peacefulness of the experience. Other times, the wind is howling, snow is crunching under your big boots, and you feel exhilarated.

There can be those moments where you see wildlife and marvel at their resilience, or watch the birds flittering in the grasses and listen to their songs and time stands still.

For me, I like to unplug as much as I can on weekends. My work week is full of the latest buzz words: high tech, digital disruption, seeking electronic efficiencies, etc.  It is nice to spend my weekend on what really matters, and spend time “unplugged” and surrounded by an environment that has stood the test of time and will be around many years to come whether I plug in or not.

Could world happiness end global poverty and lead to world peace?

March 20 is International Day of HappinessOn June 28, 2012, all 193 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the resolution to make March 20th the International Day of Happiness.

A basic tenet of the U.N. resolution is happiness is a human right and goal. It states,
“The General Assembly,[…] Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,[…] Recognizing also 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. “

It’s wonderful to think that simply by doing what makes you happy and looking out for others’ happiness, we could solve global issues like poverty and war. Some would say this is idealistic and utopian. I see it as a beautiful and simple answer to so many of the problems in the world today.

Pharrell Williams has become an unofficial ambassador for the International Day of Happiness, launching his Happy video in 2014 and addressing the UN in 2015, where he proclaimed happiness is our birthright and asked for action on climate change.

What you can do to make the world a happier place on March 20th?
• Sign up at speakhappiness.com for their free “Happiness in the workplace” guide to make your workplace a happier place
• Share the happy. Use the hashtag #InternationalDayofHappiness and #HappyDay in March, or share one of my blog posts in March
• Read the 2015 World Happiness Report that delves into such fascinating questions as how does subjective well-being vary around the world by gender and age?
• Fresh out of school and need a job? The International Day of Happiness organization is looking for interns for social media, and a writer and editor

This week’s #HappyAct is to mark March 20th by doing something that makes you happy, and something to help the happiness of another person. Then do it every day of the year. Let’s make the world a happier place, one happy act at a time.

Aim for progress, not perfection

strive for progress signIn my line of work, I make it a mission to cut out jargon. There is one buzzword I’ve adopted and even grown fond of lately–the word agile.

More and more, you hear about agile teams, projects and processes. Agile methodology is when you plan out your tasks or work in phases, then measure and tweak along the way.

The reason why I like this word so much is because the agile approach embodies an inherent philosophy that has a direct impact on happiness —the importance of aiming for progress, not perfection.

Two of the leading experts in the field of perfectionism are Canadians—Paul Hewitt, a professor at the University of British Columbia and Gordon Flett at the University of Toronto. In just one of their many studies of 10,000 professors, they found a statistical co-relation that those pursuing a perfect solution had a lower number of publications, lower amount of citations and a lower impact on their profession. They also had a higher rate of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and, shockingly, a higher rate of suicide.

I’ve never been a perfectionist. I can’t imagine the burden that weighs on people of trying to be perfect or achieving the perfect result all the time.

I’ve learned there are many ways to skin a cat. When my team works on a design concept or develops communication plans at work, there isn’t any single right or wrong answer or method. There are simply different options and approaches with different merits and risks. You choose a course, try it out, see what works, then adjust your plan.

You learn most when you fail. Unfortunately one of the biggest issues in business today is organizations say they are willing to let their employees fail, but when push comes to shove, the focus on the bottom line wins out. Companies are so lean they can’t afford the time, money or resources to fail.

Still, aiming for progress, not perfection is a philosophy that can benefit just about every aspect of our lives. Trying to lose weight? Aim for progress, not perfection. Studying for a big exam? Planning a large event? You know the answer.

This week’s #HappyAct is to aim for progress, not perfection. Perfection is an elusive dream. Instead set small, baby step goals, and celebrate when you hit milestones.

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer

thermometerDave and I have a standing bet when we get back from vacation. Who has more emails sitting in our inbox and how many days will it take for each of us to go from feeling completely relaxed to stressed out and tired?

This time, we were really lucky. For two weeks, we were able to disconnect from work, which in today’s day and age is a luxury. But I did find by the end of the second day back in the office, I was thinking about work after hours, feeling tired again and feeling my stress levels rise.

In order to be successful and happy in today’s business world, we need to learn how to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Last fall, I had the pleasure of attending Queen’s Leadership Course. One of the instructors was Peter Jensen who has made a name for himself coaching business people and Olympic athletes on how to manage stress to achieve high performance.

In his book, “Thriving in a 24-7 World”, Peter says we have to be thermostats not thermometers. What does this mean? Using the analogy of stress instead of the weather, a thermometer merely reacts to the stressors going on around it, dipping to severe lows or spiking high when things get heated. A thermostat sets an ideal setting, based on the conditions it finds itself in, and is able to regulate and manage stress, and further, harness it to achieve high performance.

Let’s take the case of the Olympic athlete since Rio is only days away. There are times when athletes need to increase their stress and performance levels—the days when they are slugging through endless hours of training. This can be a challenge, but the even greater challenge is during competition. Olympic athletes face incredible pressure and stress. They need to find ways to regulate that stress and channel it into their performance.

How? Peter offers up several strategies in the book on how you can turn your thermostat up or down to manage your energy levels and stress. Definitely read it, but I’ve summarized a few here:

Techniques for turning down your thermostat in times of stress:

  • Centring or breathing. Try inhaling, breathing in deeply through your nose then exhaling deeply, focusing on your diaphragm, then on your shoulders and upper body.
  • Never multi-task. Studies show people are not as productive when they multi-task. Focus on one key task at a time.
  • Learn different techniques to let it go.
  • Challenge negative thinking. Try to reframe the conversation or your thinking into what opportunities are available.
  • Break up big tasks into little tasks to create a sense of accomplishment

To turn up your thermostat when you’re feeling flat or lacking energy

  • Take a break, get sleep, go for a walk. All of these things will help you focus.
  • Try something new or different—it may just be what you need to create positive energy.
  • Remind yourself of your purpose or meaning.

The final word: Remember stress can be a positive. It can help you harness energy to achieve performance. The key is to recognize your stress levels, and set your own thermostat to help your body prepare for the challenge ahead.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. And for those of you curious who won the bet—I had over 500 emails in two weeks (but a lot of mine are social media notifications, media alerts and newsletters) and Dave had 64.

Write your own employment contract

employment contractIt’s scary how many people I talk to fielding work calls and emails at all hours of the day.

This has what the work world has come to these days. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can write your own employment contract. I wrote mine years ago after I got laid off early in my career. Here’s what I promised myself:

  • While on vacation, I will not check my email. I’ll make sure I have sufficient back-up and confidence in my team to handle anything that comes up in my absence.
  • I won’t work weekends unless there is something out of the ordinary that necessitates cutting into my precious time with my family.
  • I believe that someone else’s lack of planning does not constitute a crisis in my day and I have pledged to never be the cause of a crisis for people I work with because of my lack of planning. That would be disrespectful.
  • I deserve and will take at least 10 or 15 minutes to eat my lunch.
  • Whenever possible, I will go for a short walk at lunch to clear my head, and get a few minutes of exercise and fresh air.
  • I will leave the office at a reasonable time each night so I can have dinner with my family. My productivity takes a nose dive about an hour after my normal work day ends, so it is not in my best interests or the best interests of my company for me to stay.
  • I will work my hardest and uphold the highest standards of professional integrity.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own employment contract. Do you think mine is realistic today, or am I a dinosaur? Leave a comment.

Be a mentor part 2: Matt’s perspective

Matt and his wifeSpecial guest blog

(Read part 1)

It took me awhile to figure it out, but, I am a writer. The longer I worked the more I realized my passion in life was with writing and communication. Since my current job involved no writing at all I was looking for a change. I didn’t want to leave my company or all of the insurance knowledge I had gained over the years, so I looked for an inside move. My sights were set on our company’s Communications area. Without any related experience or a related degree I knew it would be tough. I needed some help. That’s when I reached out to the one person I knew in the Communications area, a person I had been looking up to for inspiration for years, and asked her if she would consider mentoring me?

I had no idea what to expect when I asked Laurie if she would be my mentor. I was hoping she would accept, meet with me a few of times, give me a couple of writing assignments, and layout a rough map of what I needed to be doing to get where I wanted to be. Well, almost two years later our monthly meetings have continued and the scope of our discussions have expanded to more than the narrow field of communications.

Is this mentor – mentee relationship what I expected?

NO!

It was much, much more.

Professionally, my mentor has given me more than I expected.

  • She has shared her vast network of contacts with me.
  • Guided me on where the company is moving and where opportunities for experience and jobs will be.
  • Brought me up to speed on what industry leaders to follow and what books to read.
  • Stressed exactly the things I needed to do in our company to succeed (and have a chance at moving into the career I dream of).

Helpful? Very!

But, it was the non-professional things that had a bigger impact on me.

  • I am more motivated now then I have ever been in my work. Not only do I have that dream of moving into a communications job, but with my mentor’s support it feels like it is a realistic goal.
  • Having someone you trust, to share personal work related problems (such as conflicts with coworkers or management) is invaluable. Especially if that person, like my mentor, has been on the other side of the fence in management roles.
  • It has made me more empathetic. My mentor has changed the way I view those above me. She has allowed me to see the more human side to those in supervisory/managerial/directorial roles.

I did not expect this mentor mentee thing to cause such a monumental change in the way I feel about work, but, it definitely has. I am a much better employee in every way because of it.

This week’s #HappyAct is the a repeat of last week’s: find someone to help you grow. And thanks, Matt, it’s been a slice!

Contributing author: Mathew is a very productive and sarcastic cubicle citizen who reads way too many Dilbert comics. He blogs about his life outside of work at theplaceunderthepine.blogspot.ca.