It often feels like happiness at work is out of our control. Whether we’re dealing with a demanding boss, an annoying co-worker, a crazy project, or difficult working hours, it’s easy to develop a resentful attitude and settle into unhappiness.
But there are ways you can improve your happiness with your job, regardless of where you work or what your problems may be. The following steps have been confirmed by research to improve happiness at work!
1. Stop Waiting for “Someday”
It’s natural to expect happiness to come after we get a better job, or promotion, or any other milestone we’ve set our sights on.
For better or worse, though, research has shown that reaching these milestones typically have little effect on our long-term happiness, because we quickly adjust to the new benefits and begin striving for our next goal.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD and author of The How of Happiness, explains:
“Research suggests that instead of fantasizing about some dream job that doesn’t exist, we focus on pursuing meaningful goals in the here and now. Typically, our professional lives are focused on material goals —more money, wider recognition—but numerous studies have shown that those of us who are striving (and not necessarily achieving) are happier.”
2. Practice Gratitude
It may seem trite to suggest that someone who is truly unhappy with their job try to “stay positive,” but focusing on what we do have and learning to appreciate those things has a powerful effect on our mental outlook.
And when we choose to be happier at work, we’re more productive – which then continues to have a positive effect on our working environment.
As Shawn Anchor, a positive psychology expert and author of the book Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change, suggests adopting habits to “train” your brain to be happy, much like you would train your body to be in shape through exercise. Here are some of the habits he suggests:
- Write down three new things you are grateful for each day
- Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours
- Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member on your team
There are even apps you can use to help you develop these habits, including a popular one called Happify.
3. Set Personal Goals
Goals give meaning and structure to our work lives. Lyubomirsky explains that goal-setting at work is important because it helps us “attain a sense of purpose, feelings of efficacy over our progress, and mastery over our time,” and all of those things lead to more happiness.
As we challenge ourselves and work towards our goals, we naturally become better at whatever we’re working on, and we learn new skills and find new opportunities for growth.
Setting goals that you know will serve you well regardless of your career path can also be a great focal point when other things, which are out of your control, aren’t going well.
That brings us to the next point…
4. Focus on What You Can Control
Happy workers “focus on the work at hand and on what they are able to do,” Harvey Deutschendorf, and Emotional Intelligence expert, writes for Fast Company.
“They avoid getting involved in issues and conflicts that do not involve them and are beyond their area of involvement. They always focus their attention and energies on areas they have control over, which gives them a sense of satisfaction.”
Why waste energy on problems that you can’t do anything about? Ignore what you can’t directly change and continue to focus on your goals.
5. Reward Yourself
Lyubomirsky suggests breaking your goals down into “subgoals” and celebrating each one along the way to your bigger goals.
“The perfect job may not be the position offering the highest rewards, but rather the place where the daily work — the moments between the big promotion or industry triumph — offers the greatest personal returns,” she says.
Giving yourself small rewards along the way is also a great way to keep you motivated.
6. Avoid Negativity
There will always be people at work who love to complain and gossip; steer clear of them. To increase your own happiness, you need to limit your negative influences as much as possible.
Shawn Anchor calls any information that distracts us from positive change, “noise.” That can include negative news, negative blog comments, or even negative self-talk. By eliminating or counteracting this noise with positive thoughts, we can take control of our own attitudes and happiness.
7. Stay Present
By striving to focus on each present moment, we gain clarity and avoid the stress and time-wasting that comes with trying to do too many things at once.
Meditation, the practice of being still and paying attention to your thoughts in the present moment – often by focusing on your breath – has been proven to reduce stress and increase happiness levels, including at work.
Other ways to stay present at work, according to mindfulness expert Sharon Salzberg:
- Don’t answer the phone on the first ring; take a few breaths before you pick up so that you won’t be in “reactive” mode when you answer
- “Break the momentum” of the day by taking breaks to stop, reflect, and re-focus
- Take the time to “mono-task” once a day. That means, Salzberg says, just doing one single thing at a time, even if it’s just drinking coffee instead of drinking coffee while you check your email.
8. Help Others & Nurture Relationships
Relationships are a huge part of our happiness, and helping others at work is a great way to develop those relationships. Investing your energy in quality relationships goes a long way in boosting your own happiness.
9. Practice Coping
Happy workers have learned how to cope with difficulties at work with a sense of humor, says Deutschendorf.
When others might stay disappointed or down after a setback, resilient workers can distract themselves back into a positive mindset, sometimes by thinking of happy times or situations that make them laugh.
If you want to stay happy at work, you have to be prepared with a coping strategy to deal with the difficult situations.
10. Take Care of Yourself
Happiness at work is affected by our behavior outside of work, too. Most of us struggle with daily habits of exercise and nutrition, which are extremely important to our emotional well-being.
Physical activity boosts your mood, and you’re much less likely to have the energy to work toward your goals if you aren’t eating well.
If you’re struggling with any of these tips, start by making small changes. Try exercising for just 10 minutes a day or substituting one healthy snack for an unhealthy one. These small changes have cascading positive effects on the happiness we feel both at work and in our personal lives.