A recent report listed the happiest nations in the world. Guess what? The US didn’t even make it into the top ten. So much for the American dream.
Why are we so unhappy? Let’s start by looking at the origin of the word. Happy is derived from the Icelandic word happ, meaning luck or chance. Is happiness then, by its very definition, elusive due its randomness? With that in mind, here are a number of suggestions that I hope can turn our collective frowns upside-down:
1. Smile. Turns out, smiling is directly linked to happiness. It may have started as a correlation but, over time, the brain linked the two. Don’t believe me? Try this: smile (a nice big smile) and attempt to think of something negative. Either you will stop smiling or you won’t be able to hold the negative thought.
2. Stop worrying. Worrying happens to be one of humanity’s best traits. It is the underlying emotion behind foresight, planning, and forecasting. We worry because some future event is uncertain and that feeling is a cue for us to start thinking about how to address it. The problem is, we worry too much about things that are out of our control (like the economy, stupid). The US has one of the highest rates for mental disease and yes, worry is among the leading indicators. While it’s true that there are plenty of things to worry about these days, take a deep breath, America, and stop sweating the small stuff.
3. Take a break. The US is one of the most overworked industrialized nations. But this is counterproductive for a nation of “knowledge workers.” Overworking people to exhaustion is a horrible way to extract knowledge from people. Taking a break provides an opportunity to reflect and often it is during such times when the best ideas, our deepest insights, emerge. I insist on taking lunches out of the office; I insist that my colleagues do the same. Call it a siesta, naptime, or a mini-vacation. It works for many of the happier nations too.
4. Do things differently. Part of the problem at work for many people is boredom. We are stuck in a rut where we come in and do the same thing over and over and over again. Get your enthusiasm back by doing things differently. Make every effort to learn, to grow, and to challenge yourself. Take on more responsibility or attempt something you never thought you were capable of doing. Even if your responsibilities don’t allow for much flexibility, try a different approach to your existing responsibilities.
5. Stop managing and start leading. If you’re in management, you need to find ways to motivate and stimulate your employees. How? Stretch their minds. Empower your team by giving them more responsibility, more decision-making power, more autonomy. Equally important: be inclusive. Explain what is happening in the company as a whole and give your employees a broader perspective on how their jobs influence the overall business.
6. Delegate. One of the most destructive and counterproductive byproducts of the downsizing era is fear — many managers are scared to let go of control for fear that doing so will make them obsolete. I have news for you: if you feel that way, you already are obsolete. Being controlling is bad for business, not to mention bad for your physical and mental health. The best leaders always look for people better, smarter, and more capable than themselves.
7. Have fun. Here is some tough advice: If you don’t like what you are doing, stop doing it. Life is too short to not have fun. I love what I do and when I stop loving it, I do something else. Even in this economy, you will be in high demand if you are good at what you do — and can do it with a smile on your face.
What are your tips for being happier at work?