’Tis the season to be jolly…May your days be merry…It seems, no matter where you look, you’re being told that you should be happy this month.
Most of us want to be happy, but happiness can be elusive, especially during this time of year, when it’s practically demanded. Often, this time of year means extra work and tight or rush deadlines. It can be difficult to find any cheer in juggling end-of-year budget work, renewals, client needs and strategic planning with family time, holiday parties and gift shopping. It can take the “Ho, Ho, Ho” out of the best of us!
So I did a little rooting to find out if there is a way to be happier this time of the year, both at work and in life in general. Let’s begin by debunking some popular myths about happiness.
Myth No. 1—Happiness is an end goal. We think of being happy as an end, not a means. But this is putting the cart before the horse. In a Harvard Business Review article, “Happiness Isn’t the Absence of Negative Feelings,” Jennifer Moss, founder of Plasticity Labs (which bills itself as a group of workplace culture and happiness experts), writes, “What’s really important is the journey; finding out what makes us the happiest and regularly engaging in those activities to help us lead a more fulfilling life.”
Myth No. 2—Happiness is about being cheerful, joyous and content all the time, always having a smile on your face. Not so, says Vanessa Buote, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Western Ontario, whom Moss quotes in her article. Buote believes being happy is taking the good with the bad and learning how to reframe the bad. Moss builds on this idea, saying, “Happiness is not the absence of suffering; it’s the ability to rebound from it.”
Myth No. 3—You don’t have to be happy at work to succeed. Annie McKee, fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, calls this idea a lot of bunk in her Harvard Business Review article “Being Happy at Work Matters.” Research shows happy people are better workers, are more engaged, and work harder and smarter. Neurological science shows that strong negative emotions can cause us to shut down and can impede our ability to make sound decisions.
Myth No. 4—Our genetics and environment determine our ability to be happy. Not so, says Shawn Anchor, Harvard lecturer and author, in “Positive Intelligence.” He has found that “one’s general sense of well-being is surprisingly malleable.” Anchor believes our habits, interactions with co-workers and thoughts about stress can all be managed to increase happiness and our chances for success.
So let’s take a look at some tips on how to be happy, this time of the year and beyond!
In “5 Tips for Staying Happy During the Holidays,” journalist Kevin Daum writes that it’s important to bring order to the chaos. Make a list of everything that you are trying to do before the end of the month, then set priorities. Now check off the things you really can eliminate. Keep checking off until your list becomes reasonable. His logic is that it’s better to do fewer tasks well than to fail at a massive number of them. He cautions you must communicate and manage the expectations of the people involved. His other tips include having no regrets, maintaining your strength, stopping the stress and indulging yourself.
Anchor says it’s important to train your brain to be positive. He likens this to training any other muscle in your body. It’s about rewiring your brain. His ideas to help you increase your happiness include:
> Develop New Habits—Choose one of these five activities and do it every day for three weeks to create a lasting impact:
- Jot down three things you are 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 two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.
> Help Your Co-workers—Anchor has found providing social support is an even greater predictor of sustained happiness than receiving it.
> Change Your Relationship with Stress—Your attitude toward stress can change how it affects you. Stress is part of everyone’s life and work. When you feel overwhelmed, make a list of the stresses that you are under. Now divide the list in two—things you can control and things you can’t. Choose one thing that you can control and come up with one small action you can take to reduce it. Doing this will nudge your brain back to a productive and positive mindset.
Does all of this have you wondering how happy are you at work? McKee has a little quiz on the Harvard Business Review site. It can help you identify what you need to work on to be happier at work during this season of joy and beyond. If you need help with the link, just send me an email! It will make me very happy to help you and to know that someone has read this column!
Wishing you joy in this holiday season.
McDaid is The Council’s SVP of Leadership & Management Resources. firstname.lastname@example.org