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.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

funny quote on houseworkWe are living in desperate times. No, I’m not talking about Trump, Syria or ISIL. I’m talking about the division of labour in our households.

Let’s just say I was not a happy camper last week. It started last Sunday. We got home from Clare’s hockey game. Dave went to lie down and do his exercises for his knee, Clare flaked out on the couch reading a book, Dave’s Dad sat in the sunroom reading the papers and Grace retreated into her lair to do homework and spend endless hours on her iPad.

Instead of curling up with the latest People Sexiest Man Alive issue, I did laundry, drained and scrubbed the hot tub, made supper and did the dishes. At one point I asked the kids through gritted teeth for help with sweeping the floors and folding some laundry.

Help. I hate that dastardly word. It implies the sole responsibility for keeping a household running is one person’s, with the others just “helping” out.

Then Tuesday came. After a 10-hour day, I came home to find supper not started, the wood not brought in and the dogs unfed even though my children get home 2-3 hours before me and my husband was at home all day (albeit still recuperating from his knee surgery, but well enough to make a salad I reckon).

I resorted to the most shameless, childish trick of all time—the silent treatment. I admit it. I’m not proud of myself, but I was angry, tired, and frustrated. The worst part was I had this utopian hope that with Dave’s surgery, the girls would step up their game and help with the cooking and cleaning. I was so wrong.

One brisk walk and one quiet night helped restore my equanimity, but I wasn’t happy with how I reacted and worse, knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. So the next day I came up with the idea to introduce a new rewards system, “Two Things a Day”. I made a chart and explained that everyone in the house had to do two things a day to keep our house running. If at the end of the week, the chart was full, there would be a special reward.

What a change. Yesterday morning, the girls did chores around the house without being asked. We had fresh sheets on the bed, swept floors, wood in the wood box and sand for when the snow and ice comes.

It’s early days yet. But I’m hopeful my evil master plan will work, and my family will accept that we are all responsible for doing housework and keeping our busy household running and I will be a happy camper once again.

Ed. note: When Dave and I first got married, we had to take a marriage course. The minister asked, what is the biggest source of most arguments in a marriage? People answered finances, family issues. I answered housework and the class laughed. Guess what? It was housework.