Once upon a time, we did not look for happiness at work. It was merely something that had to be done: a means of putting bread on the table every day.
Nowadays, however, workplace happiness is all the rage. The race is on for who feels the most “pumped” after a brainstorming session, while Instagram is flooded with “awesome” office views.
While the pressure for work-based enthusiasm isn’t always helpful (more on this later), it does at least go some way to balance out the record levels of burnout at play right now.
It’s ironic that as we strive to be happier, we only seem to get more stressed. But really, being happy at work isn’t all that complicated. It does, however, rely on a few important conditions.
These include better physical and mental health, along with a sense of meaning and purpose. The freedom to pursue work in the way that you want to is also key. Here are eight how to be happy at work tips, to get those feel-good vibes flowing:
1. Seek Out Better Connections
The people you work with are more than just collaborators. They can also be a powerful source of inspiration when it comes to how to be more happy at work. While loneliness creates a domino effect on performance and decision-making, having a so-called “work spouse” is the ultimate boost.
University of Nebraska researchers define this unique relationship as “a special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterized by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect.”
Make an effort with your colleagues: take them to lunch and check-in to see how they are. Be a team player. If you work from home, or are a freelancer, seek out meaningful connections: whether that’s through networking, online or in co-working spaces. The support of people is hard to measure, but it’s a crucial part of how you choose to be happy at work.
2. Create Projects That You Can Own
A feeling of autonomy is closely related to being happy at work, so it’s no surprise that micromanaging kills motivation and makes us feel stifled. We need the freedom to pursue what we think is right, and make our own mistakes.
Many people choose to go freelance or launch their own business for exactly this reason. But even in the self-employed world, autonomy can be an elusive quality. More often that not, in the fight to survive, you pick up any work going rather than the projects that really chime with who you are.
For this reason, it’s vital to find your voice and assess whether what you’re doing fits well with your values. If you can develop the ability to step back and tune into your sense of purpose on a regular basis, you’ll likely be happier for it.
3. Take Regular Breaks
Your willpower and energy are both muscles that deplete over time. So, it’s simply not feasible to sit at your desk for 12 hours straight, barely stopping to eat or even go to the bathroom. In fact, that’s a one-way road to burnout.
If you want to fire up your creativity and develop great ideas, it’s important that you take regular breaks. Many entrepreneurs swear by the pomodoro technique, whereby you work in short, intense bursts of 20 minutes at a time and then take a quick break to recover. This fits with the 80/20 rule, which says we get 80% of our most meaningful work done in 20% of the time. The rest is just a waste.
More time won’t enhance your work. Instead, you need sharp focus and a clear head: something that only comes from allowing yourself regular time off. Leaving work on time and taking a full hour’s lunch break also fit within this rule.
4. Create Boundaries Where You Need Them
The 21st Century office is a slave to the concept of open-plan. The same goes for freelance co-working spaces. But we’re like cats on an airplane when it comes to our working environment: we register and react to every flicker in altitude.
In her best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, American author Susan Cain argues that our infatuation with teamwork means we’ve become blinded to the advantages of solitude.
Whether or not you are an introvert, it’s important that you set boundaries and change your workplace setting depending on how you feel. Sometimes, you’ll really need the stimulation of other people around you. And at other points, you’ll want to nix the background noise and get focused and creative with time alone. Listen to those instincts, and take action accordingly.
5. Surround Yourself with Greenery
Research shows that just five minutes in nature is enough to significantly lift our mood. Half a day or longer can cause a shift in the way that we think, and soothe our overloaded minds.
It’s not practical to pop out to the park every five minutes while you’re at work. But you can bring nature inside. Time and again, surveys have shown that office plants have a startling effect on wellbeing.
Surrounding yourself with palms and vines is so much more than likeable content for the ‘Gram. Greens can reduce stress, boost creativity, improve air quality and help you feel more productive and engaged. They’re basically happiness in a pot, and a good example of how office design can supersize your productivity.
6. Simplify The Way That You Communicate
In an age where messaging apps rule supreme, our attention bandwidth is in tatters. We struggle to concentrate, and feel stressed and angsty: and all because we’re trying to process too much information at once.
Never underestimate the impact that having too many apps open has on your mind. It may feel easy enough, but every time you hear a bleep on your phone, it’s distracting. Just reading a message on Slack or WhatsApp, even without responding, is enough to open an attention loop in your brain. It lingers in your mind, and nags away at you as you try to focus on something else.
And that’s not even counting the pressure that comes from switching between platforms, or trying to track down the thread to a particular conversation. As a freelancer, you might find yourself communicating with multiple clients in multiple apps, which is the perfect recipe for insanity. Do yourself a favor and focus all your communication – tasks, messages, files – in one place: your email. No distractions, no aggravation: just everything you need unified and available.
7. Get a Dog to Keep You Company
Any dog owner out there will tell you that our four-legged friends are a boon for physical and mental wellness. Sure, they might chew up or furniture or bark at random intervals–but having furry friends around is a reminder not to take life (or work) too seriously.
Studies show that having a dog in the office helps to improve communication and reduce stress. But the benefits reach beyond that, too. Working from home as a freelancer can be a lonely, and sometimes, an anxious experience. Having a dog eases these feelings, and it also encourages you not to become self-isolated.
When you have a dog, you *have* to get up and out – it’s an incentive to take a break outside, and get those endorphins pumping with a walk. It’s also your cue to look up from your computer, and out to the world at large.
8. Remember to be Playful
Most of all, work gets stressful when we forget what it’s about. Instead of enjoying what we do, we simply plough through it–simply looking forward to the time when it will somehow feel less manic.
The pressure to love your job and have a great work-life balance can make this situation worse. You don’t have to adore what you do, but you shouldn’t be drained by it, either. And balance is more a state of mind: some people work intensely, and yet feel quite happy about it. Others have a better pay-off between work and life, but still feel unfulfilled.
If you’re feeling trapped and looking at how to be happy at your job, it’s important to gain a little perspective. Introduce elements of fun and play to your day. This can be something as simple as creating a playlist of 80s ballads, and busting a few power moves to go with them. Or you can decorate or goof around; have a laugh with your co-workers on email.
Work shouldn’t consume your life, but it can be fun. A bit of lightness and silliness–both so underrated–can make all the difference when it comes to how we can be happier at work.