Whenever a report comes out ranking the world’s happiest countries, I eagerly search for the United States and am always disappointed to find it never makes the top ten. The latest, the “World Happiness Report 2016 Update,” puts the United States in the 13th spot nestled between Austria and Costa Rica.
Many people study happiness, from psychologists to economists, and there are numerous theories as to what affects happiness most. Some say economic equality is the most vital factor; some point to strong social connections as primary. Surely both are important, but as a CEO and as a worker, I’m most interested in happiness at work.
Like most Americans, I spend the majority of my waking hours at work. So it makes sense to me that if I’m happy there, then my overall happiness level will be pretty high as well. Here are a few tips that I’ve used in order to cultivate workplace happiness:
In America, many people say they hate their jobs as if it’s a badge of honor to hate what you do. But this idea—that work is the natural opposite of fun or happiness—is not universal. In Denmark, ranked as the happiest nation on Earth, they not only focus on workplace happiness, they even have their own word for it—“arbejdsglæde.” There is no English equivalent and despite a dozen tries, I still can’t say the word, but it roughly translates to “happiness at work.” Perhaps if we had a word for it that we could pronounce, we’d start to look at it differently. But you don’t have to wait for a linguistic shift; instead, take a look at your own perspectives and expectations. Do you equate work with unhappiness? When you see people happy at work, do you assume they must not be working very hard? Research shows the opposite: happy people are consistently more productive.
A 2015 Gallup poll found that only 32% of American workers are “actively engaged” in their jobs. The majority (51%) reported that they are “not engaged” and 17% said they are “actively disengaged.” If you’re in that majority, you’ve got some changes to make. Part of the problem is boredom, and doing the same thing over and over again is a surefire way to stay bored. If you’re bored at work, seek out the chance to learn something new or take on a new responsibility. Denmark’s culture and institutions prioritize helping workers learn new skills if they so desire. Here in the United States, individual workers may have to take the initiative themselves, but becoming more engaged is worth the effort.
I insist on taking lunches out of the office and encourage everyone in my company to do the same. Just as you need food to fuel your body, the brain needs to recharge as well, and a change of scenery helps accomplish that. A 2013 study showed that eating out with friends is more relaxing than eating at your desk alone – no surprise there! Bonus points if you walk to lunch or engage in another physical activity, and double bonus points if you can squeeze in a nap.
It sounds trite, but smiling is directly linked to happiness. It may have started as a correlation but, over time, the brain linked the two. Don’t believe me? Try to smile (a great big smile) and not be happy. It’s impossible: either you will stop smiling or you won’t be able to hold a negative thought. No less a scientist than Charles Darwin himself first proposed this in 1872, then in the 1980s Stanford psychologist Robert Zajonc proved this out. Now you know, too!
This may be the toughest advice of all, but I firmly believe that if you don’t like what you are doing, you should stop doing it. Life is just too short not to have fun. I know that life often gets in the way (we all need jobs), but there are so many interesting things to do in this world. Everyone should be able to find something rewarding to do that pays enough money. Personally, I love what I do and when I stop loving it, I do something else. No matter your industry, you’ll be in high demand if you are good at what you do and you can do it with a smile on your face.