Play hookey from work

Friends at the Kingston sign

It was our Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For 10 years, my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson and I had talked about going for a patio lunch and not going back to work. We finally did it on Friday.

Now before you HR types get all bent out of shape, we did this with the full knowledge and approval of our bosses, and booked it as vacation time. Whatever points we lost on the spontaneity factor were more than made up for the excitement of looking forward to our afternoon of hookey.

Our first stop was Confederation Basin to put the “I” in Kingston. Earlier this summer, Kingston erected a new sign where tourists can take their picture. There may be no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston.

Then we headed up Brock Street to Atomica for a leisurely patio lunch. If you’re not familiar with the Black Dog Hospitality Group of restaurants in Kingston, which includes Dianne’s Fish Bar, Le Chien Noir, Harper’s Burgers and Atomica, they are a favourite of the locals.

We split a yummy caeser salad; Elaine had one of their signature pastas, and I had their Retro pizza. The best part about not being “on the clock” is you can relax and just take in your surroundings (a couple of drinks each helped too.)

For instance, as I was sitting on the patio, I noticed a statue of a beaver on top of the building across the street. I’ve probably walked past that building a gazillion times and never noticed that beaver before. We also watched a young couple next to us get googlyeyed and the guy at the end of the patio shovel his food in with his fork like it was a backhoe.

beaver statue

Two hours and two drinks later, we decided to wander down to Ahoy Rentals to go canayaking (a new term I made up after a couple of beers). We got sidetracked at Battery Park by the breakwater. I was telling Elaine how as a kid I would jump from rock to rock on the breakwater in Port Credit where I grew up, but how they put a fence up so people couldn’t go out on the rocks anymore.

In Kingston, there’s just a sign warning people to proceed at their own risk, so we proceeded. At the end near the lighthouse, we could see Elaine’s office. We texted her co-workers to look out the window to see us waving, but they were too busy working (hah!) We talked to a retired RMC professor who kayaked past us and waved to the boaters.

Woman at lighthouse

Since it was already four o’clock and we were thirsty again, we decided to pass on the kanayaking and headed up Princess Street to Barcadia, a bar with old arcade games. Elaine had brought some rolls of quarters, so we raced sports cars through the streets of Paris and Moscow, played baseball (I was the home run queen and beat her in the bottom of the eighth), Pacman and pinball.

It was too nice a day to stay inside, so we checked out some of the stores on Princess Street, then topped the afternoon off with a “It was just a dream” fro yo at Parfait.

While it was well after dark when I got home, in the old days, we probably would have gone into the wee hours of the night. Still, it was an awesome afternoon playing hookey, and on the plus side, we were both able to enjoy a beautiful weekend. This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an afternoon playing hookey–just don’t get caught!

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How to be happier at work

Chief happiness officerIn April, I attended a workshop by Dr. Raj Raghunathan, Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business and known happiness researcher at the University of Austin, Texas. His talk was on how to be happier at work.

Here is the Coles notes version of what he shared.

First, it pays to be happier at work. Happier workers are healthier and more productive. They are better at making decisions and creative problem solving. When you’re happy, your brain is “lit up” and working on full cylinders. Happier workers also tend to be better team players. It is in companies’ best interests to make sure their employees are happy.

Now for the million dollar question. How can you be happier at work? The good doctor shared three tenets to live by:

  1. Find an optimal work-life balance: he recommends working no more than 40 hours a week and cited many studies where working more can actually make you less productive
  2. Cut your commute. Commuting is a happiness killer and results in higher stress levels and incidences of sickness and leave
  3. Promote socializing within your organization. Organizations where co-workers develop friendships have significantly lower turnover rates and higher engagement rates. Encourage people to network, volunteer for social causes together, organize retreats and team building exercises and get to know your co-workers.

I asked the question how do we get organizations to buy in to these tenets? Dr. Raghunathan says every organization should have a Chief Happiness Officer and leaders must embrace these principles to drive a healthy and happy work culture.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt these three principles to be happier at work. And if anyone is looking for a Chief Happiness Officer for their organization, I’m open to offers.

Accept we are not in control

Comic Mind full or mindfulSpecial guest blog by Ray Dorey. You can read more of Ray’s adventures at www.storiesfromdoreyville.wordpress.com.

“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control.” – Character of Simon Masrani, Jurassic World.

I think I laughed out loud when I first heard this. I’d always believed the polar opposite. But as I’ve come to learn, these words from a fictional movie about a dinosaur park couldn’t ring more true.

I have somewhat of an obsession with “to do” lists – summaries both personal and professional, detailing all of my goals and tasks for a given period of time.

In my job, I have every day of the week planned nearly down to the minute. All meetings and objectives are scheduled to optimize efficiency and ensure completion.

And whether personally or professionally, I had always at least partially measured my success by how many of the items on my list were completed in the time I had prescribed.

But as we all know, life often doesn’t care about our tidy lists. It can be so easy for our plans to fall off the rails, and that can lead quickly to frustration – and possibly anxiety if we allow it.

I’ve learned that what is far more important than measuring ourselves strictly to planned objectives, is how we choose to react to the inevitable surprises and challenges that get interjected without notice or reason.

The past two years have been especially challenging for me personally. I’ve suffered multiple retinal detachments in both of my eyes, requiring surgery and extended recovery periods. In an instant, all of my immediate plans were abruptly pushed to the side, and longer-term plans became a complete blur (pardon the pun).

But my recent health issues have also strangely been among the most positive things to happen to me. Throughout seemingly endless visits to my ophthalmologist, I encountered and empathized with many others fighting their own vision issues, from the very young to the elderly.

My experience has taught me patience, perspective, and what is truly important in life. During recovery, when I couldn’t do much but keep my head down and stare straight at the floor, I would write (using my one good eye of course). I’d often scribe summaries of everything I was grateful for – from my parents, siblings, and faithful canine companion, to the air I breathe. It didn’t take long to fill at least a page and a half every time.

I watched a documentary recently about mindfulness, the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. Participants at a weekend retreat were first required to purge distractions including leaving their smart phones in their rooms. Two of the exercises stood out. In the first, attendees simply walked across a room. But they did so very slowly, and were encouraged to be mindful of every step, including awareness of the position of their body and the feel of their feet on the floor. In the second exercise, participants ate a quiet meal, chewing slowly and focusing carefully on the taste and texture of every bite. On the surface, both exercises appeared ridiculous, but I understood the lessons they were meant to teach – to concentrate on the here and now and truly savour each precious moment.

I now follow a couple of Twitter feeds to provide daily reminders to slow down and value each moment. Buddha Quotes (@ByBuddha) and Daily Zen (@dailyzen).

As I write, I often glance at my dog, sleeping peacefully on the couch. I envy her, for I doubt she ever worries about the future. If she could write, her daily “to do” list would most likely be limited to four core activities: eat, drink, play and sleep. Not in any particular order, and just responding to needs and wants from one “now” to the next.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we really need to learn to “go with the flow.” There’s no problem in trying to maintain control – we all have responsibilities that we must try and manage. Just be cognizant of the fact that challenge lies around every corner, and we must be mentally prepared – and conditioned – to cope.

This week’s #HappyAct is to focus on the present moment. Every minute you spend worrying about future events robs you of your enjoyment of the here and now. Practiced mindfulness can easily lead to deliberate happiness.

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.

Measuring our Gross National Happiness

Bhutanese childrenWhat if, instead of measuring our Gross National Product, we measured our Gross National Happiness?

It’s not as crazy a concept as you think. In fact, there is one country that has made their Gross National Happiness a priority. Bhutan has been measuring its Gross National Happiness since 1972. The GNH is based on the philosophy that if the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist.

The GNH of Bhutan is based on four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation and nine domains to ensure the happiness of its citizens: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

A person is considered happy if they have sufficiency in six of the nine domains.

Here are a few interesting facts from the Bhutan GNH:

  • The happiest people by occupation in Bhutan include civil servants and monks.
  • Interestingly, the unemployed are happier than corporate employees, housewives, farmers or the national work force.
  • Unmarried people and young people are among the happiest.
  • Men tend to be happier than women

The 2015 GNH survey showed an increase from the 2015 in their overall GNH from 0.743 to 0.756 with 43.4 of the Bhutanese people being deeply or extensively happy, and 91.2% showing sufficiency in at least half of the domains.

I’m not sure I’m willing to leave my corporate job to become a monk, but there are many things we can learn from Bhutan’s GNH.

First, we need to put a priority on the happiness of people. As a nation, we need to measure how well we are doing at creating the right conditions for our citizens to be happy. And finally, North Americans need to relinquish our obsession with work and material things and go back to the basics. Things like spiritual wellbeing, being physically active and healthy, and developing strong communities.

Tomorrow, March 20th is the International Day of Happiness. This week’s #HappyAct is to measure your own GNH. Of the nine domains Bhutan measures, how do you score? Leave a comment.

Have something to look forward to

 

Swinton family in front of waterfall

On our vacation last year in Grand Falls, New Brunswick

A couple of years ago, I was watching Barbara Walters year-end special on the Most Fascinating People of 2015. She asked comedian Kevin Hart to complete the sentence “Happiness is…” and he replied, “Happiness is having something to look forward to.”

I thought it was an unusual but honest and insightful answer. The daily rhythm of life can become tedious. Most of us work to live, and the reality is in North America, the balance of working and living is out of whack. We work too much, and don’t take time to enjoy life.

That’s when you need to have something to look forward to. I find this longing grows even more in the winter months. By mid-February, Dave and I begin to yearn for our next adventure. We start pouring over calendars and road atlases and looking up vacation rentals on vrbo.com and airbnb.com. Where will the winds take us? What will our next adventure be?

My brother Don is the king of having something to look forward to. He takes about four or five trips a year. As soon as he unpacks his bags from his last vacation, he is planning his next trip. I think he would shrivel up into a hole if he didn’t have something planned. And as it happens, Don is a pretty happy guy.

This week’s #HappyAct is plan your next vacation, a weekend away, a special night with friends. While away a snowy Sunday making plans and dreaming of your next adventure, big or small.

Top Ten Happy Acts of 2016

top 10 happy acts of 2016While you’re having a hooga holiday, why not curl up and revisit some of my top happy acts in 2016? Enjoy the read!

On the lighter side

  1. Toast your buns—readers warmed to this post on heated car seats.
  2. Life’s a beach
  3. Fall Fan Fair
  4. Forget the Super Bowl, Watch the Puppy Bowl. It’s official. After this year’s Grey Cup, there’s no contest. Three downs beat four downs hands down. The Super Bowl is usually a snoozefest so you might as well watch the puppy bowl.

On work and wellbeing

  1. How well do you bounce: seven things to help you be more resilient
  2. Write your own employment contract: ideas for maintaining work-life balance
  3. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer: how to deal with stress

On making the world a better place

  1. Reach out your hand in peace and friendship: I wrote this post before Trump, before Aleppo. If you are bewildered about what’s happening in the world, read this post.
  2. Sharing the happy and the bad
  3. Say what you mean

There you have it. My top ten #HappyActs of 2016. Watch next week for my top predictions for 2017.