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Want to be both happier and more productive at work? You can achieve both by making a few changes and adding a regime of gratefulness. Follow these easy steps to change your perception of reality and achieve the much-craved happiness at work.
My new hero is the psychologist Shawn Achor. I caught his TED talk about happiness in the workplace, which really struck a nerve. When you have some time, I recommend that you spend it watching his 12-minute presentation on how we change the lens of reality and achieve greater happiness and productivity at work. What I found particularly interesting was whether happiness is an inside-out or an outside-in process and how to get the process started.
Achor’s research suggests that only 10% of external factors have an influence on happiness. The remaining 90% are based on how you view the world – and this is where the good news starts! According to research, changing language and behavior by consistently focusing on the positive instead of the negative will not only make you happier but also increase productivity and results by a staggering percentage. For example, Achor mentions that happy salespeople sell 37% more than average.
So how do we get there? Start by recognizing that we have the process of achieving success and happiness all wrong, which I, in retrospect, can see is probably correct. Usually, we say that good productivity leads to success which leads to happiness. However, in reality, once you achieve your goals, your perception of success has changed, and you need to pursue even greater exploits to get the same result. In effect, you have moved the goalposts for what it takes to reach a state of happiness. Instead, Achor recommends that you reverse the process and start by focusing on creating a happy baseline, and the success and increased productivity will follow.
How to Be Happy
In my time as a leader of people, I have noticed three overall main components that my staff seems to agree makes them happy. The first one is choice: the freedom to plan and execute their work, or at least have a significant influence on the way their day is scheduled. The second one is skills: working with skilled professionals, either their peers or superiors, developing skills that matter to the organization, and creating a place and a function within the professional ecosystem. The third is perhaps the most important, and the one we all strive to serve and that is purpose: serving a higher cause, spending time changing the world, greatly or just a bit.
A survey in Forbes about which U.S. professions were the happiest, cites some of my observations as well. One thing that hit me when I read it is that compensation in terms of financial rewards matters very little in the greater scheme of things. The top 10 of the happiest professions does not even mention compensation, but instead highlights collaboration, autonomy and mastery as the greatest sources of happiness in their profession.
Here’s the checklist that will make you happy:
Be Grateful – Often
Achor’s research suggests that starting the day with a positive, praising e-mail to a co-worker or business partner resets our minds and starts our day on a positive spin. This also inadvertently creates a ripple effect as the recipient of the e-mail also starts the day on a positive note. Achor also recommends a diet of writing down three new things that you are grateful for every day for 21 days. This rewires the brain to focus on the positive.
Pay Attention to Rhetoric
Then there is the wording: positive wording goes a long way. I am not talking about sugarcoating, but turn a regular evaluation and feedback session into feedback that aims for growth for the individual and for the organization, for example. Take some time before each meeting to prepare for something positive to contribute to the conversation, instead of focusing solely on solving problems, which is usually what meetings are about. This is hard, and I think it will be something I need to work on in the future.
Make Room for Collaboration and Selfishness
Collaboration with skilled peers and superiors makes most of us happy, as the Forbes survey attests – and this is an area in which you should put a lot of your efforts. Creating room for a bit of selfishness is not shameful either. Personal drive and individual goals should also be respected. If a top performer needs to develop in a beneficial direction, he or she may even pull the rest of the organization to new highs in terms of performance and productivity.
I think it is a great goal to implement happiness into the organization. Happy people not only make for a better company, they are also more productive, energetic and creative, which is something we all need every day. In fact, I think I’ll start by writing a nice e-mail to a colleague right now, and see where it takes us. I’ll let you know if it works!