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5 scientifically proven ways to be happier at work

Tone down the workplace competition and be nice, for once, and see yourself get happier.
By Kim Lachance Shandrow |


Google “How to be happier” and, before you even finish typing, “How to be happier at work” is the first suggestion to pop up.


Happiness at work is evidently on a lot of people’s minds, considering that search term's popularity on Google, a company that so happens to employ a chief happiness officer.



Why would not feeling happier at work be at the top of our collective consciousness? After all, most of us spend a third of our days working. Our time on the clock might as well be pleasant and fulfilling.


If it is not, if you are a sad, sullen downer of a worker— studies suggest that you are significantly more likely to slack off and be less productive. On top of the emotional toll on your own well-being, your blues could also be a costly drain on your company’s bottom line and seriously bum-out those who work around you.


On the upside, a growing body of data-based evidence suggests that being happier at work can make you more engaged, less likely to quit and better at collaborating, among many other benefits. Generally speaking, the happier you are, the better your brain works and the better you feel and perform at work, says Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, a veteran neuroscientist and the science director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center.



 “When workers are happier, they’re healthier and accomplish more,” she said. “They tend to enjoy their relationships at work and elsewhere. They work better on teams. They’re more well-liked by their co-workers and they’re more immune to burnout. So, if I’m an employer, helping them feel happier on my watch isn’t even a hard sell. Putting happiness where the vision and mission are, it’s a given.”


While earning her doctorate in brain cognition and behavior at the university, she focused on how negative states such as fear and aversion influence thinking and decision-making. Now, she mainly studies happiness and the behaviors that bring the feel-good emotion about.


Simon-Thomas is also the co-creator and co-teacher of an eight-week EdX online course titled “The Science of Happiness.” I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that I am currently enrolled in the free class.


I spoke with her recently about her top five tips for being happier at work, for both employers and employees. Here they are:




1. Bring your personal baggage to work.

While the norm has been to leave personal baggage at home, Simon-Thomas suggests otherwise.


"Our research showed that separation of professional and personal is a poor model. It minimizes workers that makes it more difficult for them to be happy, to feel valuable, connected, trusted and cared-for at work,” she said.


The Happiness expert said it is time to promote empathy in the workplace and encourage deep bonded relationships among co-workers.


“A good starting place is to have off-site play days for your staff, when they can talk about who they really are, what they’re really about and where they really come from. Knowing that information about your co-workers—like if they’re in the midst of a challenging personal situation—can be helpful in understanding where the person is coming from. It promotes compassion and happiness, and it puts money in your company’s bank in terms of trust and social connections."




2. Stop competing with co-workers. Work is a team sport.

While competition could be healthy, most of the time, it develops jealousy and envy among the team.


“Work is often framed as being something you earn. Maybe others think you were the lucky one who got a new position, or a raise, or maybe you’re the most qualified one. It’s very competitive and people get jealous and harbor resentment,” she said.



The expert said workplace competition is counter to cooperation, as it creates a sense entitlement to some selected members of the team.


"In actuality, mentality is not as productive. It doesn’t lend itself to happiness, nor to the type of achievement that stems from the cooperation of your teammates. Instead, break down departmental silos. Don’t act like rivals. Help each other and make it the norm. People naturally work together much better when they’re not pitted against each other.”   



3. Take a breather and pause when things get hot.

“Taking a deep breath as often as you can at work, or having some kind of extra awareness of what’s going on in your own psychological milieu, is so important. Engaging in mindful habits, like breathing deeply before meetings or on break or whenever you can fit it in, can reduce the toxic rumination and racing thoughts that often lead to stress and anxiety—the things that ultimately take our minds off of work and render us less productive,” she said.



She suggested focusing on your breath when you are tempted to burst when something irritates you. Doing so can actually become a more fulfilling activity especially when you realize how you have successfully let go of your anger.


"Take that inhale and breathe it out slowly and notice where your urges are. If you have the urge to lash out, consider the possibilities. You probably won’t feel better after and lashing out won’t work at work. Breathing will.”




4. Express gratitude for the people you work with.

Something that most of us forget is expressing gratitude, a big no-no if we really want to pursue happiness.


“There are lots of opportunities at work to be grateful for the people you work with. Expressing thanks to your co-workers brings about a deep, mutual sense of belonging and cohesion. It also creates empathy and trust in the workplace, which is essential to accomplishing collective work goals together. The giver and the receiver will feel a sense of purpose, a sense of camaraderie and like they matter in the bigger scheme of the enterprise,” she added.


"This one especially applies to bosses, who often feel, ‘I don’t have to thank my employees because I’m paying them.’ Thank each other, no matter where you are on the organizational chart. It goes a long way, starting at the top, where leaders can model gratitude, and not with employee-of-the-month programs that can cause animosity."




5. Play nice with your co-workers and show mutual respect.

A recent study and intervention done in the nursing industry showed nurses are not burning out because of long hours and compensation issues, they are tired because they fail to be nice.


"To the surprise of the researchers, the nurses weren’t burning out because of the long hours and pay and compensation issues. What was really heard loud and clear: There was a culture of incivility that everyone was grappling with—a habit and culture of being unkind, competitive, snarky and hostile to each other. In working through those systemic causes of unhappiness, and learning to be simply nice to each other, the nurses were eventually able to come to a place of well-being,” she said.




Copyright © 2016 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editors.



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