Develop your emotional intelligence

EQI’ve been reading a lot about emotional intelligence lately. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions. Studies show that people with high emotional intelligence have better mental health overall, higher job performance and satisfaction, and are strong leaders.

While I haven’t read enough about emotional intelligence to know for sure, it seems safe to reason that people who are emotionally intelligent are also happier. If you can recognize, understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, you are far more likely to be able to connect with people and be happy with who you are.

The article, 13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People, lists thirteen habits of people who are emotionally intelligent that make them likeable. You can read the full article—it’s quite interesting, but for the purpose of what makes you happy, I will focus on these seven:

  • Be curious and ask questions—it shows you care, but it also pays off in dividends in terms of learning new things, understanding, and acceptance
  • Be genuine: it will make you feel confident and instill trust in others
  • Be open-minded and don’t pass judgment
  • Be consistent—people want to know what to expect from you
  • Balance passion with fun—be serious when serious is called for, but don’t be afraid to have fun
  • Use positive body language and words. Remember “how you say something can be more important than what you say” or in the words of mother Maya, people won’t remember what you say or do, but they will remember how you make them feel
  • Smile and greet people by name

Here’s the good news: we all have the capability to build our emotional intelligence. This week’s #HappyAct is to raise your emotional IQ. How well did you listen to others? Did you smile and greet people by name? Were you consistent and open-minded? Have a great week everyone.

Love in the workplace

Tomorrow, most of us will go back to work after some much deserved time off. Not a single person I asked this year had a new year’s resolution about work and yet global employee engagement is at an all time low.

A 2015 Gallup study showed just 13% of employees are engaged in their workforce. Gallup defines employee engagement as employees being involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. The remaining 87% of employees are either not engaged or indifferent–or even worse, actively disengaged and potentially hostile to their organizations.

What if we had more love in the workplace? Not romantic love, but the supreme emotion of love that affects how we feel, think and motivates us to act.

One leadership expert, Mark Crowley thinks love is the answer. In his Fast Company post, “Why engagement happens in employees hearts, not minds, Crowley says while traditionally using the word “love” in the context of the workplace has been taboo, when people feel cared for, nurtured and growing they will serve the organization well.

Another fascinating thing Crowley discovered in his research is “while people used to derive their greatest sense of happiness from time spent with family and hobbies, how satisfied workers feel in their jobs now determines their overall happiness with life. This monumental shift means that job fulfillment has become essential to people everywhere.”

I think employee engagement boils down to this. Your pay cheque is what makes you show up for work every day. What you do with your time when you’re there depends on four things:

  1. the degree to which the work you do is aligned to your passion and strengths
  2. the relationships you have at work and the “love” factor Crowley talks about
  3. how much you believe and are committed to the purpose of the organization,
  4. and what I call the “negative quotient”: the degree to which negative factors at work affect your ability to succeed. This can be anything from office politics to feelings of anxiety around change or direction to not having access to tools or resources to help you do your job (what experts call being “enabled” when defining sustainable engagement)

Employee rewards are important for attracting and keeping good talent, but not necessarily motivating people. Only people and love can motivate people.

If you have five minutes, read his full post. There are some great basic nuggets in the article: companies only focused on profits without a compelling mission will inherently neuter employee engagement and the importance of recognizing people.

This week’s #HappyAct is to love your co-workers and the people at work. And if I don’t say it enough to my team: thank you for everything you do. I think it’s a miracle you show up at work every day and do the amazing work you do. I love you all.

Does being a leader make you happy?

Nelson Mandela quoteThis is the question I’ve been pondering this past week after spending six days with leaders from across the country at the Queen’s Leadership Course.

It was an amazing but exhausting week, where we learned about team building, transformational leadership and how to be a good coach.

Transformational leadership is elevating others by inspiring people to see the importance of what they do so they want to do it better. It often results in change through a shared vision. Think of leaders like Nelson Mandela, the great basketball coach Phil Jackson and Mikhail Gorbachev.

With this definition in mind, you would think the obvious answer would be yes. That helping people develop and elevating them to new heights would result in immense personal satisfaction and happiness.

But Mandela and Gorbachev also had to endure incredible hardships, stress and conflict in their lives.

It made me think of two of my most recent leadership experiences, both non-work related. I would probably rate my performance in both these cases as a 4. Sure, I shared my vision, I worked hard, I led a team to the best of my ability, but in the end, after my leadership stint was over, there was very little change. When I ask myself the tough question, did I elevate others, the answer is no. I failed as a leader.

I also didn’t enjoy the one experience at all. Instead of being energized, I felt drained most of the time, frustrated and unhappy.

So, back to my original question. Does being a leader make you happy? I’m not sure I can answer that question, but I do know that some of the things they reinforced this past week does make me happy and more important, makes the world a happier place. Things like caring for others, taking the time to say hello and ask people how they are doing, what’s important in their lives. It’s the little things that are the hallmark of a great leader and the good news is, we all have the ability to be great leaders.

This week’s #HappyAct is to think of one small act you can do this week to help elevate others. Tell me what you think. Does being a leader make you happy? Leave a comment. Here are some inspirational quotes from the week to inspire you.

“Leadership is not about taking control; it’s about helping others make better decisions.”

“People respond remarkably to what you say and how you treat them.”

“You don’t need to be inspiring all the time. Be inspiring at the right time.”

“Great leaders elevate their followers; terrible leaders demean their followers and make them feel smaller.”


It can buy me a boat

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately. November is Financial Literacy Month, and once again my company, Empire Life, is issuing a challenge: to take action this month on the one thing you need to do to feel better about your financial health. We call it the Financial Weight Loss Challenge—lose the weight of whatever financial worry is weighing you down.

Financial Literacy Month ad

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to decide what action I will take this month. Last year I said I was going to change to a cheaper cell phone plan, finish a spreadsheet I’d started with all our insurance and investment policies, and start saving more for the kids’ education. While I didn’t get it all done last November, I followed through on all three things.

My family’s favourite song right now is Chris Janson’s song, Buy Me a Boat. The lyrics are, “I know everybody says money can’t buy happiness…but it could buy me a boat, it could buy me a truck to pull it.”

When it comes to money, we’ve always taken a balanced approach between saving and living. Right now, living is winning out. So my actions this month will be modest: sign up for ebilling for those final bills that are still mailed to me (bonus points for going green, something I should have done a long time ago), put a few extra payments on our line of credit, and waste less food in the house, which for us mainly means cleaning out our fridge more often.

That will leave a little money in the bank to dream. And while the last thing we need is another boat, you never know what might show up in the driveway or where the wind will take us on our travels next year.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the Financial Weight Loss Challenge and share what you’re going to do to lose the weight of financial worry. Post a comment here or on the Empire Life Facebook page. You can also help support Pathways to Education if you share one of our posts with the hashtag #EmpireFLM this month. Every time someone uses the hashtag in November, we’ll donate .25 cents to Pathways to Education. Take the challenge: how will you lose financial weight? Leave a comment.


Find your happy place

saying about happinessA couple of week’s ago, I posted this image on Facebook.

All my life I’ve lived by water. Growing up in Port Credit, I lived by the Credit River and Lake Ontario. I’d spend my summers swimming in the Credit or at one of the many beaches along the lake. (Sadly, the beaches are often closed now due to high eColi readings and only a crazy person would swim in the Credit River anymore).

In Ottawa, when I was studying my Masters degree at Carleton University, I lived by the canal and not far from the Ottawa River. I biked in the summers along the river and canal, and skated to school and downtown in the winter on the world’s longest skating rink.

When Dave and I decided to get out of Toronto, we targeted five areas. The area north of Kingston, with its honeycomb of lakes was at the top of our list, and today I live on a lake and work at an office where I can see Lake Ontario from our offices.

There’s a scene in Happy Gilmour, where Happy’s golf coach tells him to go to his happy place.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find your happy place. Mine is water. What’s yours?

Don’t quit your day job

questions to ask if you should quit your job
Source: Hammslice, 2015

Have you ever been to one of those motivational talks where the speaker tells you that you need to find your passion and follow your heart, even if it means quitting your day job?

Personally I find these talks a bit irresponsible. For most of us, the reality is we can’t quit our day jobs. Last time I looked most of us have a mortgage to pay, kids to feed and clothe, and in our case two big dogs that eat us out of house and home. If you quit your day job, you will probably feel an initial euphoria and freedom, but then reality will sink in and you may be anxious, uncertain, and unhappy, especially if things don’t go as planned.

The other issue I have with these motivational talks is they imply that happiness and a sense of worth are only tied to work, and if you’re not doing work your passionate about, you can’t be happy. I’d challenge that.

The reality is our relationship with work is not that black and white—it’s a big ol’ corporate world of fifty shades of grey out there. We can like our work, the people we work with, and the work we do, but we may not be passionate about it. And yet, we can still be happy.

One caveat this week: If you are really unhappy at work, to the point where it’s affecting your health or other important aspects of your life, finding a new job may be the way to go. But for the rest of us, finding happiness in what we do and what we can control is a more realistic option.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make one conscious change at your work, or in your regular routine that will help you be happier in what you are doing now. Sign up for training, offer to take a lead on project, or start a new project at home. I’d love to hear your thoughts on work and happiness–leave a comment.

Soak out the stress

woman in hot tubA couple of weeks ago, I had a really bad week. I mean really bad. One of those weeks where you wonder why you’re slogging away at what you do and where Friday can’t come soon enough. On those weeks, I turn to the love of my life for comfort, solace and rejuvenation: I turn to my hot tub.

I love my hot tub. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m the happy act blogger. I write about what’s really important, like the people in your life, precious moments, having purpose and being confident in who you are.

I know I’m not supposed to love material things. I believe there is an exception to every rule, and my exception is my hot tub.

I love that moment when I slip into my hot tub, and the steamy water sends tingling sensations through my spine. I sink deeper and deeper into the hot bubbling water until I can feel the jets pounding on my back, working their magic as they massage my tired limbs. I close my eyes, and become lulled by the tones of the water: the high-pitched hissing of the bubbles on the surface, the alto sounds of the gurgling jets and the rumbling of the water pounding below the surface.

Yes, just when I think I can’t love my hot tub any more, we take our relationship to a whole new level.

This week’s #HappyAct is to soak out the stress and get yourself in some hot water. If you don’t have a hot tub, try a long hot bath, or why not treat yourself to a day spa, like the Nordic Spa outside of Ottawa? I’ve heard people say it’s wonderful.

Whistle while you work

Panda in tree saying he hates mondaysSpecial guest blog

I was joking around with a co-worker recently, pointing out that she has spent about 65,000 hours at work. Granted, she has been working for 35 years, but, when you actually see a number like that you realize–that is a lot of time.

Even the significantly smaller number of 8 hours (your average work day) takes up a third of your day and about half of your awake time.

So, what if you are unhappy at work? According to my numbers, about half your life will be wasted.

There have been times in my career when I was unhappy at work and counting down the 47,000 or so hours I had left until retirement. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the job, or the people, or the idea of contributing to society. It was that work got in the way of ‘real’ life. It got in the way of family and friends. It was time consuming.

So I made a change. I dismantled the wall between work and ‘real’ life. I realized I was wasting so much time and negative energy on something that, maybe, wasn’t so bad. I had to be there, so why not embrace it?

I did. The change was more than I expected. According to the numbers I expected to be 50% happier, but, in reality I became 200% happier. I’m not sure exactly why my happiness multiplied exponentially, but, now I wish I’d figured this out ten years ago.

What exactly did I do? The main thing was to change my perspective. I will admit, this is easier said than done. I guess for me I just accepted that work was part of ‘real’ life and I should treat it that way. I started taking things a bit more seriously. Not only doing what needed to be done, but, living up to the same high standard I set for myself at home.

I also broke down the mental barrier I had built up with the people around me. I used to be of the mindset that you leave work at work, and that included the people. But, when I started opening up and getting to know my coworkers outside of work (Facebook is a wonderful place to do that), that is when things got fun. Now I’m not spending a third of my day, and the majority of my adult interactions, with people I barely know, but, I’m getting to spend the day with friends.

My #HappyAct challenge is for you to reevaluate work. Find a way to get connected with your job and the people around you. Good luck.

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

Ed. Note: Great post Matt and so true! Consider these stats from

  • Seventy percent of employees believe having friends at work is the most crucial element of a happy work life.
  • One-third of adults have met at least one of their closest friends through work.
  • Seventy-four percent of women and 58 percent of men say they would turn down a higher-paying job if it meant they wouldn’t get along with their co-workers.


Be a secret Santa

Secret santaI’ve mentioned before that I’m lucky to work with some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Our work is as hectic as the next place—seems there is no down time these days. They call it the “new normal”. But in December, we make time to celebrate the season and each other’s company.

Some of the traditions we’ve started is helping to pack hampers for the Salvation Army as a team, writing hand-written personal cards, and of course, lots of holiday treats, goodies and a potluck.

This year the gang wanted to do something different than our ordinary gift exchange, and we landed on Secret Santa. We drew names (well, we actually had to draw twice since Jessica put her name on every slip the first time), and for the next two weeks, we are going to delight the person whose name we drew with little surprises to make their day. It’s been so much fun thinking of what I can do for my Secret Santa friend. I can’t wait until the 19th when we have our potluck, exchange gifts and have our “secret Santa reveal”.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be a secret Santa to somebody. Surprise them with a little gift, treat or card telling them how great they are, decorate their cubicle or hang an ornament on their front porch. Embrace the spirit of giving. Let the merriment begin.

Hold an Office Olympics

People in chairs
My Montreal colleagues compete in the pairs chairs spin event

I work for a large financial services company and my office is as Dilbertesque as they come.  I swear some days it’s like Scott Adams is in the same meeting as me. But I also work with some of the nicest people you’d ever want to spend 7.5 hours a day, 37.5 hours a week or 1,800 hours of your waking life with each year.

One thing we started in my office a few years ago was an Office Olympics every Friday afternoon in February to beat the winter blahs. It’s a great way to have some fun and destress during a very busy time of the year.

My favourite event was a William Tell archery competition where we used elastics to shoot a stress ball off of one of our manager’s heads.  You know stress balls, the “incentive item” and thank you gift every project team member gets to celebrate a product launch and which are completely useless except for hurling at people because you’re so stressed by the end of the project —or for fun stuff like Office Olympics.

So with our eyes glued to Sochi and cheering on our Canadian athletes, this week’s Happy Act is to hold an Office Olympics and have some fun with your co-workers. (If you don’t work in an office, you can also do this with your kids with items around the house, or with friends at a party). I was in our Montreal office this Friday for our first competition of 2014, which was a Pairs Chair Spin competition. Here’s a pic of my Montreal colleagues in action (au revoir, Rene-Pierre!) and to get you really inspired, a 9 second video of a cubicle hurdles competition (hilarious but make sure you get insurance for this one!)

Special note: My blog celebrated two milestones this week: 500+ followers and 1000+ views in just a few months. Thanks for following and keep sharing your comments and posts on your Facebook and Twitter feeds if you like what you read. Thanks for helping make the lives of those we care about hopefully a little bit happier.