Quick question – do you routinely prioritise your happiness at work, or do you believe it’s called work for a reason, and is therefore synonymous with a hard, unhappy slog?
As a Positive Psychology Coach, it always amazes me how many clients place themselves in the latter camp. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a way of thinking that equates financial and professional success with stress, overwhelm and struggle. If you want to get ahead, you have to accept feeling constantly overburdened, with a racing mind and daily sense of dread, right?
Well, wrong actually. To the contrary, studies have shown that being happy at work is a tangible competitive advantage. You’ll certainly find you get a lot more done, as positively wired brains are 31% more productive than when they are negative, neutral or stressed. To get technical, this is to do with the way our brain’s dorso-lateral prefrontal and lateral parietal cortices function, regions that are involved in working memory and attention. However, you probably don’t need the neuroscience to intuitively know that when you feel happier, your day goes better, you engage more fully with the task at hand and you achieve more.
In the same vein, happier people have been shown to be better problem solvers, more energised by their work and significantly more creative. Again, if you think about it logically, it makes sense. A positive mindset opens us up to considering new opinions and experiences, a state which is highly correlated with increased creativity. And a liberal dose of the type of personal creativity that we need every day, the sort that helps us adapt to and deal effectively with unexpected situations as they arise, is in turn highly correlated to good psychological health.
Five Tenets of Wellbeing
One of the positive psychology frameworks I use with clients who are experiencing less workplace wellbeing than they would like is PERMA. This is an acronym for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments – the five different building blocks that contribute to our individual experience of happiness. It offers a robust structure to start drilling down and getting some clarity into what is going on for someone, helping assess the things that are working well (very often underrated and overlooked) and the things that need adjusting. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
One of the biggest misconceptions about positive psychology is that it focuses so exclusively on the brighter side of life that it ignores the emotional complexity of being human. It’s important to recognise that our mental wellbeing is not dependent on eliminating negative emotions entirely. Far from it. In fact, discomfort, anxiety, fear and the like play a crucial role in our lives by flagging up areas where we feel challenged and signposting what matters to us.
The goal is always about balance, which means not succumbing to our natural negativity bias and acknowledging that positive emotions play an equally important role. Regularly experiencing things like joy, gratitude, hope, inspiration, enthusiasm, pride or fun at work help build psychological reserves that will actually act as a buffer when and if things get tough, helping you reduce stress, persevere, come up with innovative solutions and cope more effectively.
Ever had that feeling when you are so absorbed in an activity that time seems to disappear? In positive psychology, we call this being in ‘flow’, a state in which people often feel at their most industrious and contented. Unfortunately, without conscious attention, the opportunities for this intense sense of engagement can get swallowed up by the automatic assembly line of life. Perhaps, for example, you started a business because you felt passionately about the service you were able to provide, but most of your day now revolves around admin and chasing new leads. If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that you might start finding motivation hard to come by!
To boost engagement at work, there are three key areas to concentrate on – using your strengths (the things you are naturally good at), managing your emotions (through self- and social-awareness) and checking your personal sense of purpose aligns with your employment of choice (see Meaning section below for more details). This is the way to ensure you feel energetic, enthusiastic and able to optimally performance whatever task you are carrying out.
Positive relationships play a central role in a happy, functional work environment. Friendship, emotional support and connectedness to others are strongly correlated with positive emotions at work, while strong social ties foster a sense of resilience, belonging and even attachment to the organisation you are working for.
So, having a collaborative work ‘tribe’ brings huge wellbeing benefits, both subjectively (by which I mean feeling positively about yourself and your life) and psychologically (by which I mean looking after your mental health). It means you should never consider a quick coffee and chat with a colleague a waste of time; it can dramatically affect your overall satisfaction at work.
In which ways does your work give you purpose? It could be the opportunity to personally grow and develop, the chance to help others in some way and contribute to a higher purpose, or the opportunity to earn money flexibly, allowing you more time to pursue other passions and hobbies.
Connecting with your ‘why’ adds a real sense of value and commitment to your work that again can help build your resilience, overcome challenging situations and keep you driven despite tedious tasks or long hours. In short, it is one of the most empowering things you can do. And if you are really struggling to identify why you are doing the work you do, it may well be time to start thinking about a change.
Setting goals and celebrating milestones on the way are the final component to PERMAs. Taking steps to reach these goals – big or small – can greatly increase our sense of self-efficacy and motivation to keep achieving, especially when you focus on what you did, rather than what you didn’t do.
Remember, this isn’t about getting caught up in a spiral of intense pressure and perfectionism, when you evaluate your unrealistic goals against other people’s achievements and find yourself lacking (comparison is the thief of joy, after all). Instead, it’s about progressing and evolving in ways that are personally meaningful to you, and savouring every step of the journey. You’ll also find that reflecting on your accomplishments give you a good idea of where your strengths lie. In turn, this builds the type of solid inner confidence and self-reliance that is an essential part of your roadmap to happiness, helping you secure that much coveted, long-lasting personal and professional success.
Adele Hawkes is a Positive Psychology Coach who helps people use their strengths to move from where they are now to where they want to be. Visit www.adelehawkes.com to find out more, or connect with Adele on Twitter @adele_hawkes