It’s probably not a surprise to you that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of your life, including health, friendship, community involvement, creativity and, specifically, your job, career and business (Lyubomirsky, 2005). Happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay.
However, happiness probably feels like an ephemeral fairy tale. There’s a global pandemic. Kitchen tables and sofas are the new work cubicle. Interactions with co-workers, vendors and clients are completely virtual. Zoom is now both a verb and a noun. The movie Groundhog Day describes your life.
In this environment, is it even possible to be happy at work? Yes! Here are three things you can do.
Build more certainty in your workday. Your brain craves certainty. It wants to know the pattern occurring moment to moment so it can predict what is next. Anything that is unexpected or does not follow a pattern can make you anxious, fearful or stressed. Think about the roller coaster of emotions you’ve experienced during this pandemic as work and life norms were radically disrupted. Now think about how you feel when you hear a familiar song on the radio and sing along with the lyrics. It brings a smile to your face. You’re happy because your brain immediately recognizes the pattern.
If you want to be happier at work, build more certainty in your workday. Turn off new email notifications and decide when you will check your inbox. Ask for a meeting agenda for all meetings on your calendar. Clarify due dates for all tasks and projects. When you join a new project team, discuss and agree to project working agreements, explicitly outline how you will manage project meetings, and establish what you will do if the project derails. Decide in advance how you will address the roadblocks and problems that are inherent in any project. You and your brain will relax once you know what to expect.
Override your brain’s negativity bias. When your brain’s stuck on an endless repeat of your mistakes and bad work experiences it can be hard to be happy at work. It’s easy to get trapped in the vortex of negative ruminations. Why? Because of the brain’s “negativity bias.” Your brain is simply hardwired for a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news (Rozin, 2001). While this may have served us well thousands of years ago when we had to avoid rampaging predators and rival tribes, today this negativity undermines your happiness at work.
It’s time to override your brain’s negativity bias.
Negativity Bias Strategy #1: Rehearse Good News and Share It You log off your computer at end of the day, and the first thing out of your mouth is what went wrong today. The internet went out during your Zoom call with your boss, the dog barked throughout your presentation to the team and your client received the wrong order. Before you know it, you’ve spent most of the evening telling anyone who will listen everything that went wrong during your day. You’re fixated on the negative.
Simply flip your brain’s negative script and instead share only the good things that happened to you during the day. Your mind needs practice focusing on the positive. Let the first words out of your mouth be the three positive things that happened during the day.
Negativity Bias Strategy #2: Share Two Roses and a Thorn At the end of your workday, share two roses and a thorn. The roses are positive events, experiences, or feelings from our day, and the thorn is the negative. Use this simple framework to help you identify your successes or enjoyable events from your day. Ask your family, a friend, or a colleague to do this with you so you have the accountability and support to do this daily.
Create more opportunities for positive, successful work experiences by asking for feedback. Real-time, specific feedback is one of the most effective ways to create more affirmative, successful work experiences. When you feel capable, confident, and valued, you are happier at work.
However, feedback can be stressful. To reduce and eliminate feedback anxiety, ask for it and use my S.E.E. framework.
Be specific. Ask for the specific type of feedback that you want to receive. Share an example. Provide an example of the type of feedback you want to receive.
Explain. Ask the person you requested feedback from to explain what you did or did not do.
When you ask for feedback, you put yourself in a psychological state that is ready to receive negative news. You also have more certainty because you focus the conversation where it will be the most useful for you.
Here’s an example of how my executive coaching client, Annette, used my S.E.E. feedback model with her manger, John. She asked him for specific feedback on her ability to communicate clearly and succinctly during her presentations to the senior leadership team. Annette shared an example of the type of feedback she wanted to receive by asking him to tell her when he did not hear her central point within the first three sentences of her presentations. Finally, she asked John to tell her at what point he did hear primary point during her presentations.
It is possible to be happier at work. You can reduce anxiety and stress by building in more certainty throughout your day. You can override your brain’s “negativity bias” when you practice focusing on the positive. And you can create more opportunities for positive, successful work experiences by asking for feedback. Don’t let external circumstances undermine your happiness at work.
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