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4 Ways to Be Happy at Work

What to focus on if you want to emphasize the “living” in “earning a living.”

Happy at work

Not all of us head to work happily humming “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go” like Snow White’s friends in the famous Disney movie. But most of us do our jobs because of some connection to an activity that makes us happy. We might enjoy our using our skills. Or we might enjoy working with people—or working alone. 

Whatever the job, there’s always room to do more “living” along the way. Researchers at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley have created an online course that explores evidence-based ways to be happier at work. Significant and consistent evidence suggests that those who are happier at work are also healthier, more creative and more motivated.

The Greater Good website offers a taste of the four most important keys to the pursuit of happiness at work. Their approach forms the sweetly inspiring moniker PERK, which stands for “Purpose, Engagement, Resilience and Kindness.”

Use PERK as motivation re-assess how you can increase your workplace happiness. Here are the four components to a better work life: 

1) Purpose
“Our purpose is a reflection of our core values, and we feel more purposeful at work when our everyday behaviors and decisions are aligned with those values,” writes Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, the science director at the Greater Good Science Center.

What are your core values? How do your daily activities at work highlight those beliefs? From asserting yourself to expressing gratitude to broadening your collegial relationships, there are always ways to add more purpose into your workday

2) Engagement
“Staying on task” is the stuff of grade school report cards…and the working world. There are myriad distractions in today’s tech-heavy environment that can take our eyes off the ball. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the parade of meetings, emails and deadlines at work that can disrupt the flow of focused engagement during the workday. 

Simon-Thomas recommends taking the time to integrate some relevant “play” into the work place, offering the pithy announcements flight attendants make on Southwest Airlines as an example. (My favorite: “Please be careful when opening overhead bins because, you know, shift happens.”)

Flexible scheduling—and encouragement of offline “deep work” sessions—can also help foster more engagement at work. When given the time and space they need to think deeply and focus intently, employees can work more effectively and satisfactorily.

3) Resilience
Simon-Thomas’ definition of resilience is similar to my definition of how to live a positive life: it must be done in a way that acknowledges the full range of emotions and experience that impact our lives. 

She says, “Resilience doesn’t mean trying to prevent difficulties, stifle stress or avoid confrontation; it means being able to manage challenges at work with authenticity and grace.” 

Cultivating mindful habits, like noticing when stress is getting too high and taking steps to calm down, can help build resilience.

4) Kindness
Kindness is a quality that is healthy to give and to receive. “Orienting our thoughts, feelings and actions towards care for others and genuinely supportive social bonds” is how Simon-Thomas articulates this attribute. 

She recommends incorporating gratitude and empathy into the workplace, practicing good listening skills, and even learning to offer a genuine apology when warranted as ways to work toward a kinder, happier workplace.

Are you happy at work? What, ahem, works for you?

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