For most of us, more of our waking hours are spent at work than anywhere else. In fact, the average American spends approximately 100,000 hours at work over the course of his or her lifetime. That stat alone is a pretty sobering reminder about just how important it is to be happy at work.
The novelty and excitement of starting a business tends to wear off after the first year, as we become focused on the less-than-optimal aspects of running a business. However, there are some simple things you can do to change this mindset and have a more positive outlook at work this summer:
1. Make Time to Exercise
You’ve probably heard that exercise can reduce stress, improve your mood and increase your mental focus. Physical activity helps your body pump out more of those feel-good neurotransmitters, known as endorphins. Yet with today’s busy schedule, getting to the gym often slips further down the to-do list. No matter how hectic your schedule gets this summer, make time for your favorite kind of exercise. Treat a trip to the gym (or pick-up basketball game, bike ride, swim, etc.) just as you would an important meeting for work. Schedule it into your smartphone and stay committed.
2. Take Control of Your Time
Time management isn’t necessarily about downloading the latest calendar app. For most of us, good time management is more an issue with prioritization than organization. It’s hard to feel happy and satisfied at work when you’re constantly pulled in too many directions. Start each week and each day with your own set of goals for what should be accomplished, and then avoid letting busy work (such as instantly responding to a non-critical email) distract you from these priorities.
There will always be more tasks than available time, so the key is to fill your work hours with the important things, and you’ll naturally have less time for the busy work. In some cases, this means setting clear expectations for you and your team. Saying "no" may not come naturally to everyone, but you’ll be happier and healthier if you manage your time on your own terms.
3. Appreciate Others
Numerous studies demonstrate the effects of gratitude on mood and overall well-being. For example, one study divided college students into groups where each group was asked to either write down experiences for which they were grateful or annoyed. The “grateful” group reported significantly greater life satisfaction and greater optimism for the upcoming week.
When you feel particularly stressed or over-extended, try to remember the hard work of a colleague or employee. Praise someone else (in a casual way—for example, "you had a great idea in the project meeting") and you’ll most likely both get a small boost in mood and motivation.
4. Challenge Yourself
Boredom is one of the biggest obstacles to job satisfaction. After a year or so of coming in to work and doing the same thing, we get stuck in a rut. Get some of that startup enthusiasm back by doing things differently, challenging yourself and making an effort to learn something new this summer. We tend to be happiest when we’re working right at the limits of our abilities.
5. Start Something Outside of Work
An interesting article explains that the route toward happiness at work is to create something outside of work, such as a new company or side project. While that might seem counterintuitive, it actually makes a lot of sense. The enthusiasm for your outside project will carry over into the workday. You’ll find that the inevitable workplace annoyances won’t seem as significant. Any progress in the side project will fuel you with a greater sense of accomplishment and confidence.
In addition, a side venture might just be the start you need to find your next great business (and it can even sometimes help you lower your overall tax obligations).
6. When All Else Fails, Smile
A nice big smile can actually trick your brain’s neurotransmitters into thinking you’re happy. When things are particularly grueling, try smiling for 10 seconds, and your negative thoughts should dissipate.
What are your pick-me-up tricks to be happier at work?
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Photos from top: Getty Images, Thinkstock