People like to think that happiness is one achievement away. If I get that promotion, I’ll be happy. Or, once I make this sale, I’ll finally relax. But that’s just not how things work. There’s always going to be another goal to strive for, so any emotional lift you get from your accomplishments will be temporary. There will always be more to do, more you wish you had done.
While being successful won’t make you happy, conversely, being happy can make you more successful. A meta-analysis of 225 studies found strong evidence of causality between life satisfaction and successful business outcomes, and research consistently shows that happier people are more creative, engaged, and productive—not that you needed to be convinced it’s better to be happy.
Here are 3 things you can do to be happier at work.
1. Adopt Good Habits
During the Great Recession, the happiness researcher Shawn Achor conducted an experiment with a group of tax managers at KPMG. He wanted to see if he could make them happier by having them adopt a simple habit. He asked each of them to choose one of five activities:
Write three things you’re grateful for.
Write a positive message to someone in your social support network.
Meditate at your desk for two minutes.
Exercise for 10 minutes.
Take 2 minutes to describe in a journal your most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.
The participants did their chosen activity every day for 3 weeks. At the end of 3 weeks, Achor’s team evaluated the participants and a control group to see what effect the new habits had. They found that, across the board, the experimental group’s scores were significantly higher in every “positivity metric” they measured, including such categories as engagement, depression, and optimism. Four months after the experiment ended, the participants’ still scored significantly higher in optimism and life satisfaction. The adoption of a simple habit had lasting benefits for their happiness.
2. Be friendly
The relationship between socialization and happiness is well known. One study found the correlation between happiness and socialization was an impressive 0.71. To compare, the correlation between smoking and cancer is 0.37.
Being able to count on regular friendly interactions at the workplace will make you a happier worker. So compliment people’s good work, check in on how your colleagues are doing, and rib Brian about how bad the Knicks are. You should look particularly for opportunities to lend a helping hand. Being a support to others is a great way to strengthen ties, and it shows that you’re not just concerned about yourself.
3. To overcome stress, focus on what you can control
The most rewarding experiences in your career are going to involve obstacles, and facing obstacles means experiencing some stress. Stress can’t be eliminated, but you can respond in a healthy way. When you experience stress, the first thing to do is to take the attitude that you’re going to respond well. A positive attitude helps you to focus on the task at hand, making you more likely to perform under the pressure you’re facing, instead of getting frustrated and derailed.
A huge part of facing your problems head-on is focusing on what you can control, and not worrying about the rest. Next time you feel stressed, try this exercise: Make two lists of things giving you stress—one list of things you can control (an email you have to write), and one list of things you can’t (the news). Choose an item from the list of things you can control, and take one small, concrete step towards resolving it. Doing this will put your focus back on your actions, reminding your brain that regardless of circumstances, you retain the power of choice.
This article is adapted from “Positive Intelligence,” by Shawn Achor