I’m currently reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It’s a really interesting look at how many of us get things the wrong way round, telling ourselves “If only I achieve x, y or z, then I’ll be happy”. Shawn’s research consistently shows that changing the equation to being happy first, can have a remarkable effect on our performance.
In a TEDx talk that Shawn gave in 2011, he shares research-based ideas for rewiring our brains to be happier. These are:
- Keeping a gratitude diary.
- Random acts of kindness
Let’s have a deeper look at each of these and how you might incorporate them into your daily life.
Researchers from Portland State University investigated the impact of gratitude on nurses’ wellbeing. They found that being thanked more often at work predicted better sleep, fewer headaches and healthier eating because it improved nurses’ work satisfaction. The big takeaway from the research was that we should express gratitude when we see someone doing a good job. A positive feedback loop impacts you and those around you, and can ultimately shape a healthier and happier workplace.
Why not set yourself the challenge of actively looking out for the good things people do at work and thanking them for it? In lots of workplaces I go into, people have fallen into the habit of only really thanking people when they’ve done something above and beyond. Thanking someone for something, no matter how small, might just make a positive difference to them and you.
A while ago, there was a daily challenge on Twitter using #3goodthings where people shared three good things they were grateful for. Why not start your own online challenge using the hashtag? It can keep you accountable, as well as spread a bit of joy.
Deepak Chopra talks about the benefits of journaling in this piece for CNBC. The benefits include giving us more clarity and insight on problems, as well as giving us the time to reflect upon and learn from situations.
If you’re new to journaling and not sure where to start, then here are some prompts I give to managers to help them reflect on their impact:
1) What do I think my staff notice about my moods and behaviours?
2) How do my colleagues feel about my competence and compassion?
3) Am I in tune with what it feels like to work with me?
And in her book, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown provides some prompts to help you reflect on what gives you joy:
- When things are going really well, what does it look like?
- What brings me the most joy?
- When am I in my zone?
We all know the power of exercise and the way it can give us an endorphin boost. Key is to find something you like as you’ll be much more likely to stick to it. And you don’t have to sign up to a marathon to yield the benefits.
A 10 minute walk in a local park or green space, during your working day, can make a big difference. Whilst this Stanford University study suggested a 90 minute walk in nature yields the biggest impact, the positive effects on your mental and physical health can still be found after just 10 minutes. And a 2014 study found that walking outside led to the most significant positive creativity boost.
There are thousands of studies which highlight the benefits of meditation, including how it can rewire our brain. Research suggests benefits include:
- Reducing our stress and anxiety
- Improves our sense of well-being and happiness
- Improves our cognitive ability and focus
If you’re new to meditation, I’d suggest using an app with a guided meditation. I started meditating in 2013 and used the Headspace app. Each day I’d follow the instructions by the guide and learned how to focus on my breathing. I’ve since moved on to Calm, which gives me a choice of guided and self-managed meditation. There’s also lots of lovely, calming music to listen to.
Acts of kindness
Researchers at the University of Oxford examined whether there is a causal relationship between kindness and well-being, i.e. that being kind causes greater well-being. The study did find a modest (small to medium) effect of performing acts of kindness on both well-being and happiness.
Check out the Kindness Curriculum by University of Wisconsin-Madison – a set of practices for use in pre-school classrooms. Why not do something similar as part of any management and leadership programmes in your organisation?
Kindness.org – was set up “to inspire small ripples of everyday compassion” around the world. Why not share the website with your team and discuss the case studies, and ideas for being kind at work, at your next team meeting?
While research in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics found that employers’ small acts of kindness can have big impacts on employee health and work performance. During the study, on-duty bus drivers got, in addition to their typical box lunch which includes no fruit, a serving of fresh fruit—either an apple or a banana—for three weeks. Bus drivers reported significantly decreased depression levels one week after the experiments ended compared to one week before it began.
In his book, Give and Take, Adam Grant shares examples of activities that can help create kinder and therefore, happier workplaces. Among these is the Reciprocity Ring where participants “pay it forward” by helping each other.
Feeling happier requires us to put the effort in but hopefully, as you can see from this post, often it’s the simple things that can help boost our happiness.
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