A Collection of Treats to Celebrate International Day of Happiness 2014

Fun things to do near you  -A day trip to Mars - Sue Ridge ©

Fun things to do near you -A day trip to MarsSue Ridge ©

In celebration of International Day of Happiness 2014 this week’s post contains mostly good things, starting with Sue Ridge’s magical imagining of a day trip to Mars.

This year is only the second time this day has been celebrated, but already I notice that there is significantly more media, social and international attention than the same day seemed to get last year.

One of the major themes this year has been about reclaiming happiness back from the advertisers who would tell us our happiness depends upon buying their thing.  Instead, today’s global celebration reminds us that it is our relationships that lie at the heart and soul of true happiness, and spending time enjoying being with our family, our fiends and our colleagues is about the surest way there is of getting a happiness boost.

In this spirit, I have collected together my favourites from this week’s array of offerings, with a bias on the treats that you can enjoy and/or use, and I really hope there will one or two things here that you can take to treat yourself with.

Happy Happiness Day.

On International Day of Happiness, UN urges action to end poverty, build harmony

Of course there is nothing frivolous about this global call to action by the UN as their press release makes abundantly clear…

20 March 2014 – Marking the International Day of Happiness with calls to promote social inclusion and intercultural harmony, senior United Nations officials today urged the global community to make real the UN Charter’s pledge to end conflict and poverty and ensure the well-being of all.

“Happiness is neither a frivolity nor a luxury. It is a deep-seated yearning shared by all members of the human family. It should be denied to no one and available to all,” declared Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day.

While acknowledging that happiness may have different meanings for different people, the UN chief said that all could agree that it means working to end conflict, poverty and other unfortunate conditions in which so many of human beings live.

“This aspiration is implicit in the pledge of the United Nations Charter to promote peace, justice, human rights, social progress and improved standards of life,” he said, adding: “Now is the time to convert this promise into concrete international and national action to eradicate poverty, promote social inclusion and intercultural harmony, ensure decent livelihoods, protect the environment and build institutions for good governance. These are the foundations for human happiness and well-being.”

In April 2012, the UN held a high-level meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” at the initiative of Bhutan, a country which recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product (GDP).

In July of that year, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness, recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in people’s lives and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives.

In that spirit, current General Assembly President John Ashe said the Day celebrates unity and called on the international community to support the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.

As the UN family sets out to identify the goals for an inclusive, people-centred post-2015 development agenda with the eradication of poverty as its overarching objective, he invited Member States, international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to raise public awareness of the aspirations of human beings around the world.

“Happiness is a fundamental human goal, and improving public policies in countries that can contribute thereto is essential to promoting equitable societies for all,” said Mr. Ashe.

Link to read the original article

In the UK, Action for Happiness provided an exuberance of provisions to help make the day fly, including these new research findings, and more social and participative, their #happinessday Let’s Reclaim Happiness Wall of photos inviting non-commercialise images of what happiness looks like for different people across the planet.

National Happiness Matters More Than National Wealth

87% choose happiness and wellbeing over wealth as their priority for society

Reducing inequality seen as most important for national happiness
Relationships seen as most important for personal happiness

 In a week that includes both the UK Budget (19 March) and the United Nations International Day of Happiness (20 March), a new survey has found that the vast majority of people think levels of happiness and wellbeing matter more than the size of the economy.

In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults were found to prefer the ‘greatest overall happiness and wellbeing’, rather than the ‘greatest overall wealth’ (8%), for the society they live in. This majority was found to be broadly consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.

When asked to select the three changes they thought would most increase the overall happiness and wellbeing of people in the UK, ‘more equality between rich and poor’ came out as the most selected factor, with 45% of people choosing this; the next highest response was ‘improved health services’ (39%). Of the choices offered, the least important were found to be ‘improved school standards’ (16%) and ‘improved transport and infrastructure’ (16%).

When asked to select the three most important factors for their own happiness and wellbeing, ‘my relationships with my partner/family’ was the most selected factor, with 80% of people choosing this; the next highest was ‘my health’ (71%), with ‘my money and financial situation’ a distant third (42%). The least important factors were found to be ‘my possessions’ (4%) and ‘my appearance’ (4%).

Commenting on results, Action for Happiness Director, Dr Mark Williamson said:

“The economy dominates our political and social discussions, but this survey shows that happiness is more important to people. The vast majority of people would prefer society to be happier rather than richer. So we need to spend less time focusing on the size of the economy and more time focusing on how to help people live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.”

LSE economist and co-founder of Action for Happiness, Lord Richard Layard said:

“Our national priorities are clearly out of touch with what really matters to people. Our top priority should be people’s overall happiness and wellbeing. Above all, we should be giving much more attention to mental health, supporting positive family and community relationships and creating a more trusting society.”

Link to read the original Action for Happiness press release

It’s Time to Reclaim Happiness

Director of Action for Happiness, Dr Mark Williamson writes in the Huffington Post…

In recent years I’ve asked hundreds of parents what they want above all for their children. Although their answers vary, nearly all of them say something like “I really just want them to be happy”. Happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most.

But the problem is that our happiness has been hijacked.

We’re bombarded with false and misleading images of happiness. Advertisers tell us it comes from buying their products. Celebrities and the media pretend it comes with beauty or fame. And politicians claim that nothing matters more than growing the economy.

Everywhere we look the story is the same: buy and achieve these things and then you’ll be happy. But remember, you’ll then need to keep getting more in order to stay happy and keep up with your peers. And if they start to get ahead then just keep consuming!

On and on we go in a mindless and seemingly endless cycle.

I could of course point to many studies confirming how wrong this all is – lasting happiness does not come from what we consume, how we look or how much we earn. But, let’s be honest, you probably knew that already!

So how can we put this right? Firstly we can each try to live more mindfully and avoid getting caught in the “I’ll be happy when…” trap.

But we can also reclaim happiness, by sharing a more authentic view of what really makes us happy. And this week is the perfect opportunity to start this together.

Thursday (20 March) is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. To celebrate this special day, Action for Happiness is running a global campaign, with support from over 40 organisations and many thousands of people around the world.

Their shared mission is to show the world what happiness really looks like – and in doing so, to reclaim happiness back from the advertisers, celebrities, media and others who try to manipulate us. Here’s how you can get involved…

  • Step 1: Find. Look through your photos right now for a picture of something that really made you happy.
  • Step 2: Capture. When something makes you happy today or in the coming days, remember to take a moment and capture it on camera.
  • Step 3: Share. Share your images of happiness with others using the #happinessday hashtag (e.g. via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc)

There are already lots of inspiring examples of people sharing #happinessday images: children playing in a garden, flowers outside an office, friends celebrating a birthday, a family walk on the hills, outdoor fun in the sun and many more.

Unlike the fake images in adverts and magazines, these authentic photos help to remind us of what really matters. We may not be able to change the world overnight, but together we can share a vision of happiness which is far more inspiring that the one we’re sold.

So why not take a moment to find (or take) a picture of something that makes you happy and share it right now. It might be profound, or perhaps profoundly silly. But however small and personal, the fact that you have noticed it makes it quite important enough.

Action for Happiness will be building a huge collection of these #happinessday images from around the world and, as well as taking social media by storm, the hope is to present a selection of these images at the United Nations later this year.

Let’s focus on the things that really matter. Let’s reclaim happiness together.

Link to  the #happinessday What makes You Happy photo wall

Reclaim your happiness at work on the International Day of Happiness

by Nic Marks, director of Happiness Works and on the board of Action for Happiness

The average Brit spends 100,000 hours at work and if we were happier at work, we’d be happier in our whole lives• Find out how happy you are at work compared to the national average

Thursday was the UN’s International Day of Happiness – a day set aside to raise global awareness that happiness is a fundamental human goal. Global issues such as human rights, peacekeeping and sustainable development are what we would expect the UN to have on its agenda. So why has it decided that the seemingly frivolous idea of happiness is worth championing?

If we could create a world that was more inclusive, equitable, and balanced, a world where all people were happier, most of us would agree that this would be progress. When understood like this, happiness suddenly seems a much more serious issue, one that belongs on the global agenda. The UN is so serious about it that in a 2012 resolution it called for a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes … the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.

All too often, the concept of happiness is hijacked by advertisers and the popular media and then sold back to us in the form of materialism and glamour. In reality, the important things for our happiness are rarely even things at all. They are more about the quality of our relationships and whether what we do in our home and working lives feels purposeful.

The London-based campaign group Action for Happiness is co-ordinating many global events this year under the banner of “reclaiming happiness”. Falling on a Thursday, this year’s International Day of Happiness is a workday for most of us. Let’s ask ourselves the question: how would the world be if we were all happier at work?

It is quite a radical question. For many, work has come to signify the exact opposite of happiness. It’s where we go to earn the money to buy the things we hope will make us happy. We don’t expect to be happy at work; we expect to endure it until we clock out or log off and return to our real lives – a life outside of work.

But hang on a minute. The average Brit spends 100,000 hours at work during their lifetime – that’s more than 11 and a half years. Work is part of our real life and if we were happier at work we would be happier in our whole lives. We’d be better partners, better parents, better people. So happiness at work is good for us, as individuals.

But what about business? Let’s ask another question: what happens to a business if its employees are happier at work?

Far from spending the day lolling about and chatting with colleagues, as some sceptics might assume, happier employees are more creative, more innovative and more focused on their work. Every day they make more progress with their work than their unhappy colleagues. They also are much less likely to leave – who leaves a job they love?

When we do the maths, the costs of ignoring happiness at work are substantial. An average UK company will employ about 250 people. If it is average in all aspects, then about 40 of them will leave each year and over 1,000 days will be lost due to absenteeism. If the company had a really happy, engaged workforce, then staff turnover would typically halve, absenteeism would be cut by 25%, and productivity would increase by about 20%. The cost of ignoring happiness in an average UK company, paying average wages, works out to be in excess of £1m every year. Happiness at work is not a threat to business; it’s an opportunity.

Creating happy profitable businesses may work for the few but surely the world will continue on its current path towards an inequitable, unbalanced, and unsustainable future, regardless?

This is where the happiness perspective gets really interesting. Most of us feel happier when we work for an organisation that is seeking to make a positive impact in the world. In fact, many of us forgo higher salaries to work for organisations and on issues that are aligned with our personal values and sense of purpose. Organisations that create products and services that make the world a better place will surely be rewarded with employees who are happier, more engaged, and genuinely proud to work there. There is a win-win-win here for individuals, business and society.

So today, let’s reclaim our happiness – at work as well as at home. Let’s follow the example of the UN and put happiness at the core of everything we do and we can work together to a make a better world for all of us.

Link to the original article

Happy Habits: how do you score?

Another offering from Action for Happiness is this short quiz that will let you check out your own happiness level, and quite possibly give you some gentle insights in to those areas that are most and least strong for you at the moment.

Happiness. All of us want more of it, but how many of us know how to make it happen – not just for ourselves, but for those around us too.

Scientists have discovered the habits that tend to make people happy. Now, the nice folks at Do Something Different and Action for Happiness have got together to help you explore these and see how you’re doing.

Take our simple 10-question quiz to get your Happy Habits Score and discover ways you could boost the happiness in your everyday life. Just answer each question as honestly as you can…

Link to take the Happiness Quiz

Pharrell Williams song Happy was chosen by the UN to be the anthem for this year’s celebrations, and people from across the world used this as the soundtrack to make their own videos, revealing the wonderful universality and singularity of being human.  I loved noticing the different inflexions and cultural qualities that are hinted at in these different performances of the same some by people in different countries.

You probably won’t want to watch all of these versions in line sitting, but I recommend you pop back to this playlist for another one any time you feel like you need a bit of a boost to your energy or spirits over the coming days and weeks.  I’ve set this playlist to start with Santiago’s video.  Chile has been topping the Happiest Planet Index over the last year or so and maybe you can detect why from this showreel of their streets…

I hope you will enjoy as much as I have the simple delight and fun in these dances…

Ice Breaker Games: How To Get To Know Your Office

After listing out those games that are cringe-worthy or just plain embarrassing to have to do (see if you most loathed is on the list), Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, offers up his favourite activities for breaking the ice for new team members and loosening up relationships at work.  Maybe there’s one or two here that you might want to try – even just for fun…?  The Trust Walk, for instance, requires people to be willing and up for it, but if they are it is a very special experience to be guided blind through the world, giving up all control into the trust of your partner.

The Good Icebreakers

The next list of 10 ice breaker games are great for getting to know your new colleagues. Feel free to split your group up into smaller teams to make it easier (and faster) to play these games.

  1. Two Truths And A Lie: This is one of the more popular icebreakers and is pretty easy to play. It doesn’t require any equipment or anything which is good. The way it works is each person is supposed to tell three quick stories, with one of them being a lie. The object of the game is for whoever is listening to the story to guess which is the lie. It’s a fun way to get to know one another.
  2. Lost On A Deserted Island: This is a really fun icebreaker, and is also a cool way to see what really matters to people. The way this one works, is if they were stuck on a deserted island, name one thing that they would bring, and why. If you want to get really advanced with this game, ask people to pair up into teams, and to figure out how they can use their one object together to increase their chances of survival on the island.
  3. The Trust Walk: This is a great activity for building trust among your team, and learning how to listen to your coworkers. The way this one works is people are paired into teams of two, and one of the team members is blindfolded. Then the person who isn’t blindfolded leads the other one around by following their voice and listening for cues. The only bad part about this activity is it required a decent amount of space, so maybe do this one outside.
  4. The One Word Icebreaker: This one is great, because it requires everyone to be creative. Split the group into teams of four or five people, and get everyone to come up with one word to describe something. What topic you have them describe is up to you, but my advice would be make it something about their work. For example, if you could describe your company culture in one word, what would it be?
  5. The Five Favorites: This icebreaker is simple, and is a really good way to learn more about coworkers. The way this works is you ask each person to list their five favorites of anything, whether it’s movies, songs, TV shows, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to get some discussion started, and see where people have things in common. For an advanced version of this game, make the question more professional, like the five best qualities of a leader, or the five ways managers motivate employees.
  6. Speed Dating: It’s not “dating” in the sense that you’ll go for a fancy dinner, but it’s modeled after speed dating. The way speed dating works is each person has a few minutes to chat and get to know someone else before being moved to the next person, to get to know them. This works very well in a corporate setting, because it gives everyone a chance to have a quick one-on-one with someone new.
  7. The Interview: Think of this one as a more structured version of the speed dating example above. The way this icebreaker works is people split into teams of two, and they interview each other, asking each other questions about anything. At the end of the interview, each person has to come up with 3 interesting facts about the person they just interviewed. It’s a nice way to get to know someone.
  8. What’s My Name: I’m not that good at remembering people’s names, especially if it’s in a large group. This is a really simple, fun way to learn people’s names. The way it works is, each person says their name out loud with an adjective that begins with the same letter as the first letter of your name. Ideally, you call the person by that name for the rest of the day. Joyful Jacob? Jazzy Jacob?
  9. Would You Rather: This is one of my favorite games to play, and I play this one even when I’m not icebreaking. You go back and forth asking creative questions (often nonsensical) about whether the person would rather do X or Y. For example, would you rather eat nothing but insects for 3 meals straight, or not be able to watch TV for a year. It’s funny and light, which is always nice for relaxing the mood.
  10. World Geography: This ice breaker game really challenges people to think, which is always fun. I’m sure many of you reading this have played this game before, but the way it works is you say the name of a country, and then the next person has to say another country, starting with the last letter from the previous one. For example, Canada → America → Afghanistan → Nigeria…

Bonus Icebreaker – Twenty Questions: This game is so much fun, and I’ve played this one a lot on a long drives. The way it works is someone thinks of something, whether it be a person, place or thing, and everyone can ask Yes or No questions (for a total of 20) to figure out what it is.

Link to the original article

12 Most Effective Time Management Principles

We are getting more and more requests for training in time management and balancing multiple priorities across multiple roles in an increasingly always turned on world.  And much of our potential to enjoy time with the people most important will be ruined or hijacked completely if we are unable to make the time and space to fully with them in the first place.

This list by  creams some of the best techniques out there for making time work better, and if this is an issue for you, I hope you will find something here that you can add to your existing repertoire to help you feel more in control and on top of things…

1. Determine what is urgent and important

We’re all faced with a lot of different tasks that fight for our attention and time each day. How do you decide what is most worthy of your time? The best approach is to prioritize those tasks that are both urgent and important.

A task that is highly time sensitive is urgent. Important tasks may not be time sensitive, but they are valuable and influential in the long run.

Stephen Covey’s time management grid can be extremely helpful for seeing what tasks should be prioritized. A common mistake is to get bogged down with things that are urgent, but not necessarily important. By using the grid you can be sure that you’re focusing on things that will have a real impact.

2. Don’t over commit

If you’re someone that tends to say “yes” to every request for your time, you may find that all of these commitments prevent you from making effective use of your time. Make an effort to only commit to things that you can realistically accomplish with the time that you have available. You’ll also want to be sure that committing to something won’t prevent you from being able to do other things that are important to you.

3. Have a plan for your time

Each of us is different and not everyone works in the same way. I prefer to have a detailed to-do list that keeps me on task for each day and each week. Someone else may feel overwhelmed by a list of things to check off each day. Regardless of your approach or preferences, you need to have some method of planning your time. Not having a plan leads to a less efficient use of your time as you’ll wind up getting off task or working on things that really aren’t important. Find a system of planning that works for you and use it in your daily routine.

4. Allow time for the unexpected

It never fails that something unexpected will come up and demand your time and attention. No matter how well you plan your time, things are bound to come up — so make sure that you leave some time in your daily schedule. When I’m creating my to-do list for any given day, I tend to assign myself tasks that I anticipate will take about 75% of my time for the day. That leaves another 25% for tasks that take longer than anticipated or for unexpected things or emergencies that need to be addressed. Avoid the temptation to plan your time so full that you won’t be able to deal with important issues that arise.

5. Handle things once

Rather than dealing with something several different times before completing a task, make an effort to handle it only once. Email is a great example here. If you read through an email, make an effort to respond and take care of the issue at one time. I’ve found myself at times reading through emails and then deciding I’ll get back to it later. When I do get back to it, I have to read the email again and it winds up taking more time. Multiply that by several times throughout the day and it adds up. Whenever possible, handle it once and be done.

6. Create realistic deadlines

You may have deadlines for your work that are set by a boss or a client, but it’s also important to set deadlines of your own. If you do have deadlines from bosses or clients, it can be helpful to break up the project into smaller chunks and set deadlines to keep yourself on track. If you don’t have anyone giving you deadlines for your work, try setting your own deadlines.

In addition to simply having deadlines, it’s also important that these deadlines are realistic and will give you enough time to do your best work. If your boss or client is pushing for a deadline that isn’t realistic, explain why you need more time and the possible consequences of the project being rushed, and suggest a more realistic deadline.

7. Set goals for yourself and your time

Setting goals is an important part of achieving maximum efficiency. Your goals can include things that you want to accomplish in a particular day, week, month, or year. Goals can be used with major accomplishments or smaller tasks that are important to you. Whenever you’re setting goals, it’s best to set a date or deadline for achieving the goal.

8. Develop routines

Habits and routines can be quite powerful. When used effectively, routines can help you to get more done and to make better use of your time.

I use routines to take care of several small tasks that I need to do each day. First thing in the morning, I go through a routine that includes checking email and responding to messages received overnight, a few minutes of networking via social media, moderating comments on my blogs, publishing new content that has already been written and prepped, and a few other small tasks. The result of my routine is that I can get a lot of small tasks off my daily to-do list in a small amount of time right at the beginning of the day. After that, I can have the most productive part of my day for essential tasks that require more of my time and concentration.

9. Focus on one thing at a time

Multitasking is overrated. Sure, in theory it would be awesome to be able to do several different things at once, but the problem is that you won’t be able to do your best work when multitasking. If you focus on one thing at a time you can move through tasks quicker and the quality of your work will be better. Multitasking can lead to a lot of mistakes that you have to go back and correct later, which is wasted time.

10. Eliminate or minimize distractions

Distractions are all around us. If you’re working at home you may have distractions like kids, other family members, house guests, television, phone calls, and all kinds of personal responsibilities and tasks. If you work in an office you’ll probably have plenty of distractions from co-workers.

While it’s impossible to totally eliminate distractions, you can improve your situation by minimizing them or avoiding them whenever possible. For those who work at home, you can set up a dedicated office space with a door that you can close. In an office, you may want to go in to work early to get some distraction-free time before co-workers arrive, or maybe shift your lunch time so that you can get some peaceful time while most of your co-workers are away at lunch.

The key is to recognize the most significant distractions that are hurting your productivity, and then you can work towards solutions that will minimize their impact.

11. Outsource tasks or delegate when possible

Part of being efficient with your time involves deciding what tasks require your own attention. There may be things that could be done by someone else. Outsourcing work is a great option for freelancers and small business owners. Delegating responsibilities may be an option if you’re in management or if you’re part of a team.

Resources like Elance and oDesk are great for finding freelancers when you need to outsource some of your work. You can typically find qualified workers with very affordable rates, which allows you to dedicate your own time to tasks that may be more important to you.

12. Leave time for fun and play

While the purpose of time management is to use your time wisely and to improve efficiency, it’s also important that you don’t burn yourself out by working too much or too hard. Be sure to leave some time in your schedule to do things with friends and family, or even on your own. Getting time away from work is essential for dealing with stress, for refreshing your energy, and for living a balanced life.

Making efficient use of your time is important regardless of what type of job or career you have. If you can make even small improvements in your own time management, you’ll see noticeable results in terms of how much you can get done, the quality of your work, and your stress levels.

Link to the full original article

Living in “flow” – the secret of happiness

And here is a free ebook from Australia’s Think and Be Happy.  If you’re not already familiar with Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s groundbreaking work this is great introduction.  Csikszentmihalyi’s research investigates the conditions of optimum performance, from which he has given us the idea of FLOW ~ that state of complete absorption when we are totally immersed in what we are doing and time seems to both stand still and fly by, and we feel delightfully and rewardingly stretched to our finest capabilities…

You probably know what it’s like to not be in a state of flow. This can be when there’s a lot going on and you have to focus on many things at once. For example, if you’re cooking dinner and trying to help your teenager do their homework and catch up on some emailing all at once, chances are you’re not having a flow experience. How can you when your attention is so fragmented? Or maybe you’ve had a hectic day at work and are now zonked out semi comatose in front of the TV too tired even to switch channels even though you can’t stand reality TV shows. The point is none of these activities are engaging you fully. Not even close. Worse, in doing them you’re most likely feeling bored, distracted or irritated.

On the other hand, to be in flow is to be so engrossed in what you’re doing – and this can be in any activity although we often tend to associate this state with creative pursuits and elite sport – that literally nothing, not the passing of time, your full bladder or the fact that you haven’t eaten since breakfast, impinges on your awareness. And yep, as anyone who’s been in such a condition of single-minded immersion knows, you feel fabulous not least because it’s not about YOU for once, it’s about the thing that you’re doing.

Of course there’s a lot more to the psychological state of flow than that which is why we’ve dedicated an eBook to the topic.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about flow … based on the work of world leading psychologist Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Enjoy and share!

Link to download the free ebook

The complete guide to listening to music at work

By Adam Pasick

It has never been easier to tune in to your own customized soundtrack—or more necessary to tune out your open-office coworkers, cubicle mates, and fellow coffee-shop denizens. But not all music is created equal, especially when there’s work to be done. How should you choose the best office soundtrack for a given task? Which songs will help you get energized, focused, or creative—or even just through a very long day?

Let’s start with the basics.

Listening to music affects your brain

Putting on those headphones provides a direct pipeline from iTunes or Spotify into your auditory cortex. As the music plays, many different brain centers can be activated, depending on whether the music is familiar or new, happy or sad, in a major or minor key, or—perhaps most importantly for work purposes—whether it has lyrics or not.

Some tasks are easier with music playing…

Research shows that music goes best with repetitive tasks that require focus but little higher-level cognition. A landmark 1972 study in Applied Ergonomics found that factory workers performed at a higher level when upbeat, happy tunes were played in the background.

…and some are harder

Don’t fool yourself: Listening to music means that you are multitasking. Any cognitive resources that your brain expends—on understanding lyrics, processing emotions that are triggered by a song, or remembering where you were when you first heard it—won’t be available to help you work.

Studies have shown that reading comprehension and memorization both suffer when music is playing, for example. And just try putting numbers into a spreadsheet while listening to this:

Find the right balance

The downside of listening to music at work is that it places demands on your attention. The upside is it can make you feel more energetic and improve your mood. It’s also useful to drown out distracting background noises. The trick is to choose your music carefully, and match your tunes to the task.

For a cognitive boost, pick music that doesn’t have lyrics…

This makes intuitive sense to anyone who has listened to music at work, especially if your task is word-related. Your brain’s language centers can’t help but decipher the words you’re hearing, which makes it much harder to concentrate on, say, composing an email.

If you simply can’t find music without lyrics, you can pick something in a language that you don’t understand—like the invented “hopelandic” language used by the band Sigur Rós:

…and has a steady rhythm and mood

Your brain is a prediction machine, making a endless series of guesses about what’s going to happen next. When it comes to music at work, you don’t want your brain to spend cognitive resources predicting what it’s about to hear.

Listening to constant, relatively unchanging music—songs that don’t have a lot of emotional peaks and valleys, or changes in mood—has been shown to enhance some simple cognitive skills. Other research has shown that “low-information-load” music—simple tunes without a lot of complexity—have the strongest positive effect.

For instance, check out the steady, phased repetitions of “Music for Airports 1/1″ by Brian Eno:

Some studies suggest that major-key music (a song that sounds more happy than sad) makes time seem to pass more slowly. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how much you have to get done before you go home.

Don’t play music all the time

The widely cited 1972 study found that the benefits of music disappeared when it was constantly played. And sometimes your brain just needs all the cognitive resources it can get. One 1989 paper wryly noted that “complex managerial tasks are probably best performed in silence.”

Music as a pick-me-up

There’s an one category of workplace listening that has a totally different set of rules: the kind of listening you do when you’re tapping into the power of music to trigger an emotional response. Try playing a rock anthem or an action-movie soundtrack to jump-start your mood, or listen to a favorite song as a reward for a job well done. This gives you many of music’s cognitive benefits but without any of its distracting downsides.

Here’s one to play before a big meeting:

Hit shuffle for a dopamine rush

As mentioned above, your brain thrives on predicting the future, so throwing some randomness into the mix can reward you with a surge of the pleasurable neurotransmitter dopamine. To harness this neurological pharmacy, use a streaming music service like Spotify, Pandora, or Rdio to automatically serve up songs you might like.

Some of the best genres to work to

If you’re ready to experiment with what music best suits your work style, here are some suggestions (links to songs via Spotify):

  • Jazz: A massive variety of moods and tempos are available, most of them without lyrics. Try Miles DavisAlice Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk.
  • Classical: An even larger variety here. Many people swear by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for its elegantly mathematical processions and variations.
  • Minimalist composers: Repetitive by design, at their best they can induce just the sort of trance-like flow that you’re looking for. Try Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
  • Chill-out: The name is self-explanatory. Try Bonobo and Cinematic Orchestra. 
  • Ambient: You will barely know it’s there. Listen to Brian Eno or Aphex Twin.
  • Movie soundtracks: Use these to get your heart thumping, like the Top Gun theme song above; or find a particular mood with Daft Punk’s score for Tron or Trent Reznor’s for The Social Network.
  • Video game soundtracks: As one redditor observed, these are designed to keep you engaged without being too distracting. The London Symphony Orchestra recently recorded nearly two dozen, or there’s this spare, beautiful music from the game Minecraft.

Try the Quartz work playlist

And here is a playlist of songs, again via Spotify, that the Quartz staff picked as some of their favorites to listen to as they work (A version of the playlist in Rdio can be found here

Link to the original article 

UN International Day of Happiness: These people are way happier than you

Metro ran this story to celebrate the day with a series of looped videos that highlight moments of happiness in perpetual foreverness that we know of course is just not an option with real happiness.  But see if at least one of these doesn’t make you smile…

Today is the United Nation’s second International Day of Happiness. The UN wants us to remember that it’s friends, family and emotional well-being that actually make us happy, not cars and handbags. And then to share what makes us really happy with everyone else.

Which, if you’re not a fan of cute kitten pics, multiple exclamation marks and mega LOLs, might be making you consider shutting down your Instragram/Twitter/Facebook account and hiding in a dark place for the rest of the day.

Not a fan of organised happiness? Feeling a bit meh? Yep, these people are way happier than you today…

Link to see the gallery of stupidly happy people

Chemists discover secret to dark chocolate’s health benefits

by Monte Morin

Could this be the best news story yet…?

For years, chocolate lovers have remained blissfully unaware of the precise reason bittersweet dark chocolate seems to improve cardiovascular health. At least until, now that is.

On Tuesday, researchers at meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas said they had solved the confection conundrum: Specific chocolate-loving microbes in the gut convert an otherwise indigestible portion of the candy into anti-inflammatory compounds, they said…

“These little guys say, ‘Hey —   there’s something in there that I can use,’ and they start to break it down,” Finley said.

The smaller molecules that result from this fermentation can travel through the gut wall and be used by the body, researchers said.

“These materials are anti-inflammatory and they serve to prevent or delay the onset of some forms of cardiovascular disease that are associated with inflammation,” Finley said.

A number of short-term studies conducted in recent years have suggested that dark chocolate can cause blood vessels to dilate, and thus lower blood pressure, although this is not the case with white chocolate and milk chocolate.

Finley said that the amount of cocoa powder that appeared to produce beneficial effects was about two tablespoons a day.

One of the issues involving dark chocolate, Finley said,  was the amount of sugar and fat that chocolate candy contained. He said you could avoid those substances by putting cocoa powder on oatmeal, as he does…

Link to the original article

Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The long reach of reason

And lastly, here is a rather wonderful animation of a debate about relative importance of our intuition and feelings or our reason for the successful flourishing of our species.  It’s packed with ideas but in this heightened pictorial representation, the ideas sing.

Here’s a TED first: an animated Socratic dialogue!

In a time when irrationality seems to rule both politics and culture, has reasoned thinking finally lost its power? Watch as psychologist Steven Pinker is gradually, brilliantly persuaded by philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein that reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold. The dialogue was recorded live at TED, and animated, in incredible, often hilarious, detail by Cognitive.

Enjoy.  And see if you agree with their final confusions…?

Happiness At Work edition #89

All of these stories – and many more – are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #89

Link to the Happiness At Work collection

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