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If you love your job, chances are your work makes you happy. Which is a good thing because happy healthy people not only work harder; they’re up to 12% more productive too.

But not everyone is in that happy@work space. When Gallup talks about the high level of disengagement in the modern workplace (67%), this is really about presenteeism, and it’s not just about turning up to work when sick. This is the “brown-out” zone. You’re at work, going through the motions, staying under the radar but not being effective, contributive or collaborative. You’ve lost that spark, the one that first lit you up in anticipation of your new role or position. Where you felt challenged and inspired, motivated to deliver on the promise of what you know you’re capable of.

Like a relationship that has run its course, feeling trapped in a job with no prospect of promotion or improvement, where you’ve lost sight of what your input provides the world, is the oft repeated story of wasted human potential.

Just as all emotions have had to fight for the right to be recognised as valuable contributors to our best cognition, acceptance of the vernacular of happiness in the workplace has stuck in the craw of those who see it as flippant, damaging the impeccable credentials of serious work.

Meanwhile every one of our 30000 or so decisions we make every day relies on access to our full spectrum of emotion. Whether you prefer the term joy or fulfillment, happiness is associated with a positive state of mind that determines your energy levels, discretionary input and outcomes.

Many workplaces now have chief happiness or engagement officers who provide a number of ways to elevate the collective vibe towards one that is more inclusive, accepting of difference, tolerant and less judgmental. This keeps the brain in what is called a “towards- state” minimising threat and enhancing collaboration and effective teamwork.

Around the world there is a global movement dedicated to raising awareness of how happiness at work is good for individuals, organisations and the community as a whole. A Dutch company called Happy Office has instigated the International Week of Happiness at Work (September 24-28th), encouraging others operating in this space to run “Happy events and workshops” during this time.

Can you elevate you own level of happiness?

For sure.

We all have what is termed our “happiness set-point.” While genetics and circumstance play a role here – we’ve all met those sunny souls and the miserable as sin rogues, it turns out we have a considerable influence on determining how happy we choose to be.

What will you choose? In the field of gelatology – that’s the study of laughter, I’d like the rib tickling double scoop of triple happy with extra chocolate and pistachios along with a sprinkling of calm, joy and contentment scattered on the top.

I talk about the role of our feel good hormones (that we can also give a little boost to) in an earlier blog I wrote about creating happiness@work.

It turns out that happiness isn’t something we pursue; it’s something we create with our own thoughts, actions and behaviours. Every time we tune into our “happy channel” we’ve chosen to consciously seek to elevate our own happiness. Feeling more positive has a number of cognitive and health benefits as well as helping to elevate someone else’s mood in the process by increasing cognitive flexibility which is a schmancy way of saying:

  • It helps us with better decision-making
  • It improves our working memory, so we learn more effectively and solve problems more quickly

This results from the positive mood boosting the amount of dopamine (the brain’s reward neurotransmitter) exerting its effect on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain housing our working memory.

After a presentation I delivered recently, one of the organisers came over and said “Jenny you come across as someone who’s always very positive. I’m from a family of catastrophisers, so clearly there’s no hope for me!”

He looked a bit surprised when I said, well actually no. My optimistic outlook and positive mood is something I’m continuing to work hard at because there have been a number of times in the past when I’ve been deeply unhappy and extremely anxious, which not only made me feel bad but consumed a vast amount of mental energy which could have been more wisely and purposefully invested.

No one is happy all the time, but we can through conscious choice increase our number of happy days experienced.

Here are some ways to boost your positivity level:

  1. Do something for someone else when you perceive their need, without seeking recompense or reward. Better than a bonus or promotion, adopting an altruistic approach and caring about others is our brain’s greatest reward.
  2. Do something nice for someone else. Shout someone a coffee, lunch or a small unexpected gift. The bonus again comes in the form of dopamine and motivates us to repeat that rewarding behaviour. We become more pro-social and generous.
  3. Do some form of aerobic exercise daily to get your heart rate up and trigger the release of yes, more dopamine along with serotonin and those lovely endorphins.
  4. Get enough sleep. We’re more irritable and cranky when tired and at greater risk of getting stuck in the negative groove.
  5. Spend time with people you like. Our ability to connect with others we consider like us elevates oxytocin our trust hormone, essential to the foundation of all positive and meaningful relationships.
  6. Be selective in who and what you spend time listening to. Our negativity bias can easily spiral down into deep grey unless we’re careful. We can’t always avoid those positivity sappers but we can minimise their impact by choosing not to buy into their negative language, reframing things to widen our bandwidth of perspective and applying a high level of critical thinking.
  7. Develop greater compassion for yourself and others. We are human after all; imperfect, fallible and vulnerable and that’s OK.
Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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