Happiness At Work edition #133 – we are what we think

 

dreamstime_l_22898332Here is a guide to some the ideas and articles we’ve collected in the latest Happiness At Work edition #133.

Our theme this time is inspired by the excellent Get Happy Neuroscience for Business series of articles, including The 5 Neuroscience Lessons for Leaders and The 7 C’s of Change Management – making change easier with neuroscience.

What these ideas, and the stories that follow, all have in common is the growing understanding we are getting from contemporary research about how much the way we choose to think about things affects the experienced reality of the things themselves.

Never has the need for personal mastery been more vital or more richly informed, and I hope this collection will give you new approaches and techniques to try out and talk about with the people who matter to you.  Enjoy.

How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells and Genes

by Debbie Hampton Writer, blogger, hot yoga enthusiast, brain injury survivor

Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine…

Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results…

Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is showing that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.

The Surprising Scientific Link Between Happiness And Decision Making

by LAURA VANDERKAM

How do you make decisions? Some people want to find the absolute best option (“maximizers”). Others, known as “satisficers,” have a set of criteria, and go for the first option that clears the bar.

While wanting the best seems like a good thing, research from Swarthmore College finds that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers.

This is true for two reasons. First, people who want the best tend to be prone to regret. “If you’re out to find the best possible job, no matter how good it is, if you have a bad day, you think there’s got to be something better out there,” saysBarry Schwartz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Paradox of Choice

This happiness gap raises the question: Can maximizers learn to become satisficers? Can you learn to settle for good enough?

Possibly, but it takes some work. “What I believe is that it’s changeable and that it’s not easy to change,” says Schwartz. Here are some ways to make the shift…

Beyond Brain Basics: 5 Neuroscience Lessons for Leaders

In Brain Basics, we looked at many of the structures in the brain and how they function. In this section we will look more specifically at how they impact leadership and the workplace. Since these are complex issues, especially for people who are just learning about neuroscience, we’ve put together 5 neuroscience lessons for leaders, that will shed some light on the practicality of these notions.

1. The Brain is Plastic

…The brain continues to reform and rewire itself based on how much or how little the pathways are used. That means that we can always learn new things.

The way neurons share information is through sending and receiving neurotransmitters across the small gap. The neurotransmitters trigger a chemical process, which creates an electrical charge that travels through the neuron. This process of electrical charge, neurotransmitters, electrical charge, and so on is what creates the pathway of neurons. There is a saying “Cells that fire together, wire together.” That means that when learning a new task or about a new person, the best way to learn it is to do it multiple times, so that the neurons “fire together” and eventually “wire together”.

It is never too late for a leader or an employee to learn a new skill or a new way of doing things. Change is hard sometimes, but research tells us it is possible.

2. Our Brains Like Rewards

Emotions are an important aspect of how the brain changes and how we learn. Positive feelings activated through the reward system of the brain enhance the pathways and improve learning. The reward system is very complex and has pathways in many areas of the brain, but often it is regulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

There are two main reward systems in the brain that are related to attention and motivation: primary and secondary. Primary rewards are related to primary needs like food, water, and shelter. We feel good when we have those needs met. Secondary rewards help our survival but are not vital to it. They include things like information, power, trust, touch, appreciation, and community.

For leaders, rewards are often an effective way to motivate employees. Based on neuroscience, there are some rewards that seem to release more dopamine than others. You will see that money, or material goods, are not on the list. Many of the rewards are related to social interaction in some way.

Following the science, leaders can review their system of motivation and rewards to consider ideas that are proven to be rewarding to the brain. While each employee is different, there are many categories or rewards that would be useful to implement in order to truly activate an employee’s reward pathway. More dopamine means employees who are happier, more focused, and more motivated.

3. The Power of Mirror Neurons

In the early 1990s scientists discovered mirror neurons. They found that when one person watches another do some kind of action, the neurons of the first person fire as if they were actually doing it. There is a common example that has to do with yawning. Research has shown that yawning can be contagious. Why? Mirror neurons. When one person yawns and another observes, the neuronal pathways for yawning in the observer’s brain are activated, causing them to yawn too.

While this may explain why a yawn can seem to travel around an office, mirror neurons are really important for learning, emotional awareness, and empathy. When we watch someone do something, our brain is actually learning how to do it. When we see someone experiencing an emotion, our brain processes that emotion as well, increasing empathy.

Mirror neurons can be important aspects of leadership as we can see how our emotional and physical states as leaders are actually teaching our employees how to act and how to respond emotionally to us. When mirroring is connected to a certain need and when it is understood from a familiar viewpoint, the effect is stronger. Mirror neurons, again, prove how much humans are social animals. People are highly connected to the people and the environments around them.

Because of this connection, leaders can create environments where people can mirror others who create collaborative and cooperative learning and working atmospheres. Individuals are important to the team and the team is important to the individuals through the power or mirror neurons.

4. Emotions are Everything

Many people want to believe that they can make decisions based exclusively on free will and their rational minds. That is not often backed by science, as research has shown that there are many unconscious processes that influence and dictate why we behave in the ways we do.

Those processes follow brain pathways that were put into place when we were very young. In most cases we have already made a decision before we have actually thought about it. This happens in the limbic system. Our cerebral cortex then has to rationalize the decision through language and planning, leading to, what some may call, the illusion of free will. That is not to say that the cerebral cortex cannot influence the limbic system. This can be seen in people who practice meditation and mindfulness.

As a leader, it is particularly useful to know that when we are faced with stress or a threat, the executive functions of the brain shut down, leaving the unconscious processes of the limbic system in charge of decision making. These parts of the brain react on emotion and survival instincts.

Leaders also need to be aware that in terms of learning and team building, change happens not from the cerebral context but from the limbic system. With effective company rewards and interventions, the slow process of changing the limbic system can start to take place.

5. Creating a Brain-Based Work Environment

The information presented is a starting point for creating a work environment that is based around what is healthy for the brain. Leaders who ignore how the brain functions are leaving a lot to chance. Sometimes things might be great, but then something can happen and they might worsen. Having a brain-based work environment can help leaders effectively navigate the rises and falls in the economic climate.

Be a brain-based leader by helping the people improve the work environment, and the environment improve the people. Both influence the other and, in a working system, there will be an upward spiral of motivation, growth, and productivity. Overtime, this environment will actually change the brains of the people in it, making the team and the organization better able to adapt to change.

see also these articles in the series:

The Basis of Leadership Is Born in the Brain: Why Leaders Should Care about Neuroscience

The 7 C’s of Change Management: Making Change Easier With Neuroscience

11 Ways to Run Your Business with Neuroscience

Your Brain on Hormones: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Leader

Improve Employee Engagement Using Neuroscience

Brain Basics: Neuroscience in Business

Google’s Scientific Approach to Work-Life Balance (and Much More)

…Inspired by the Framingham Heart Study research, our People Innovation Lab developed gDNA, Google’s first major long-term study aimed at understanding work. Under the leadership of PhD Googlers Brian Welle and Jennifer Kurkoski, we’re two years into what we hope will be a century-long study. We’re already getting glimpses of the smart decisions today that can have profound impact on our future selves, and the future of work overall…

…The fact that such a large percentage of Google’s employees wish they could separate from work but aren’t able to is troubling, but also speaks to the potential for this kind of research. The existence of this group suggests that it is not enough to wish yourself into being a Segmentor. But by identifying where employees fall on this spectrum, we hope that Google can design environments that make it easier for employees to disconnect. Our Dublin office, for example, ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” which asked people to drop off their devices at the front desk before going home for the night. Googlers reported blissful, stressless evenings. Similarly, nudging Segmentors to ignore off-hour emails and use all their vacation days might improve well-being over time. The long-term nature of these questions suggests that the real value of gDNA will take years to realize.

…We have great luxuries at Google in our supportive leadership, curious employees who trust our efforts, and the resources to have our People Innovation Lab. But for any organization, there are four steps you can take to start your own exploration and move from hunches to science:

1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are.  Retention?  Innovation? Efficiency?  Or better yet, ask your people what those issues are.

2. Survey your people about how they think they are doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve.

3. Tell your people what you learned. If it’s about the company, they’ll have ideas to improve it. If it’s about themselves – like our gDNA work – they’ll be grateful.

4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you. Take two groups with the same problem, and try to fix it for just one. Most companies roll out change after change, and never really know why something worked, or if it did at all. By comparing between the groups, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t.

And in 100 years we can all compare notes.

How to Reset Your Happiness Set Point

by Alex Lickerman M.D. author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self

The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time. Habituation, a growing body of evidence now tells us, occurs even to things like career advancement, money, and marriage.

On the other hand, other research (link is external) suggests a few events—chief among them the unexpected death of a child and repeated bouts of unemployment—seem to reduce our ability to be happy permanently. Yet some studies also suggest that we can also fix our happiness set point permanentlyhigher—by helping others.

According to one such study (link is external) that analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey, a collection of statistics representing the largest and longest-standing series of observations on happiness in the world, the trait most strongly associated with long-term increases in life satisfaction is, in fact, a persistent commitment to pursuing altruistic goals. That is, the more we focus on compassionate action, on helping others, the happier we seem to become in the long run…

…just as exercise can actually provide us with energy by forcing us to summon it when we’re feeling tired (link is external), helping others can provide us with enthusiasm, encouragement, and even joy by forcing us to summon them when we’re feeling discouraged. “If one lights a fire for others,” wrote Nichiren Daishonin, “one will brighten one’s own way.” Thus, the moments in which we feel happiest aren’t just moments to be enjoyed. They’re also opportunities to increase the frequency and intensity with which we feel them in the future.

5 Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness

by David R. Hamilton, Ph.D. Author, ‘I HEART ME: The Science of Self-Love’ and ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’

When we think of side effects, the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects, too?

Well, it does! And positive ones at that.

…when we are kind, the following are some side effects that come with it:

1) Kindness makes us happier.

When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, … we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside us that says, “This is who I am.”

On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.

Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.

Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.

3) Kindness slows aging.

Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.

But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.

There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body in what is known as the inflammatory reflex. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist lovingkindness meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

4) Kindness makes for better relationships.

This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.

Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome.

Today, when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

5) Kindness is contagious.

When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.

A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a “pay it forward” type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The “domino effect,” as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.

The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think

by Carla Herreria

According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.

While all vacationers enjoyed pre-trip happiness, the study’s authors found that people only experienced a boost in happiness post-vacation if their trip was relaxing. If their vacation was deemed “stressful” or “neutral,” their post-trip happiness levels were comparable to those who hadn’t taken a vacation at all.

Pre-trip happiness, however, is a different story entirely. The study found that all vacationers experienced a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because, as the researchers suggest, the vacationers were looking forward to the good times ahead…

Is Artistic Inspiration Contagious?

by Scott Barry Kaufman

In a recent study, Todd Thrash and colleagues conducted the first ever test of “inspiration contagion,” using poetry as the vehicle. They looked at specific qualities of a text and the qualities of the reader. It’s a rich study, with 36,020 interactions between all of the variables! Here are the essential findings…

…The more writers privately reported that they felt inspired while writing, the more the average reader reported being inspired. This is despite the fact that there was no actual contact between the reader and the writer other than the text itself!

…Readers higher in openness to new experiences were more tolerant of the new and sublime. The more that the reader was open to new experiences, the more they experienced inspiration transmission, and the less the originality and sublimity of the text hindered transmission.

Reader inspiration was not the only outcome of writer inspiration. Writer inspiration also brought out feelings of awe and chills in the average reader. These feelings of enthrallment were transmitted particularly through the insightfulness and sublimity of the text.

…However, these findings suggest that good writing is more like talking, an expression of one’s inner state of being. Perhaps the most helpful way for aspiring writers to view writing is as a natural vehicle for capturing personal insights and expressing them.

New data science research shows how we manage our long-term happiness

by Colin Smith

Most theories of motivation have championed the pleasure principle, where our choices of daily activities aim to maximize our short-term happiness. However, it was not clear to researchers how to reconcile this idea with the fact that we all have to engage routinely in unpleasant, yet necessary activities.

To address this question a team of researchers, including an Imperial academic, developed a smartphone application to monitor in real-time the activities and moods of approximately 30,000 people.

The team found that, rather than following the pleasure or hedonic principle, people’s choices of activities instead consistently followed a hedonic flexibility principle, which shows how people regulate their mood. Specifically, the model shows that people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities such as playing sport when they felt bad. When they felt good they engaged in useful, but mood-decreasing activities such as doing housework…

The model revealed that firstly, people’s future decisions to engage in one activity rather than another are related to how they currently feel. Secondly, the interplay between mood and choices of activity followed a very specific pattern.

When participants were in a bad mood, they were more likely to later engage in activities that tended to subsequently boost their mood. For example, if people’s current mood decreased by 10 points, they were more likely to later engage in things like sport, going out into nature, and chatting. All of these activities were associated with a subsequent increase in mood.

see also:

Finding Happiness: Your Mood Decides Whether You Live In The Moment Or Focus On Future

By

…More or less, we can all be split into two groups; Those motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and those who prefer to secure their long-term welfare. A new study has attempted to understand the motivation between these two conflicting philosophies.

Our likeliness to live in the moment or prepare for the future is not a permanent feature of our personality and changes according to our mood at the moment. The study revealed that when a person is in a good mood, they are more likely to do housework and other unpleasant yet useful activities over the next few hours than when they are in a bad mood. When feeling bad, people tend to choose activities later that day that are more pleasurable, such as playing sports and spending time with friends, apparently in an effort to feel better…

25 Freelancers (Re)Define Success

Profundity by Col Skinner, a UK based Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist

…if we all take some time to review what success actually means to us and what we want from our working lives then we might find it doesn’t (have to) match the archetypal clichés in society. The archetypal perception is that success is something status led that is achieved through sacrificing your personal life in order to commit hundreds of hours to earning tons of cash in a ‘kill or be killed’ business environment. All very 1980’s Wall Street if you ask me. I think shows like The Apprentice / Dragons Den, along with business dinosaurs like Donald Trump, also have a lot to answer for.

I thought it would be interesting to hear how people who have quit the rat race, define success.  So I went and sourced a range of Freelancers who very kindly gave their personal definitions of SUCCESS. This may help give clarity to those who currently struggle to define their own goals…

You, and no one else, are the one that sets or defines what success looks like. Don’t fall for the cliché trappings of a successful life. Aim for goals that matter and make a difference to you or those around you. I will leave you with this great quote by Anne Sweeney:

“Define success by your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”

Happiness At Work edition #133

All of these articles and more can found together in this collection.

Seligman’s PERMA+1 Essentials for Flourishing

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Positive psychology is not yet twenty years old.  In the short time since Martin Seligman’s 1998 call to turn on a scientific inquiry into what helps human beings to flourish, rather than merely survive, we have discovered an enormous about what we can all learn and do and practice and master to increase and sustain our own and each other’s happiness.

And much more than a luxury, we are finding that our happiness is integral to our individual success, in terms of our performance and productivity, our creativity and learning, and our resilience and positive responsiveness to change and uncertainty.  And it is an equally vital aspect of making strong trusting relationships in our families and friendships, our teams and wider networks, as much as our societies and increasingly interconnected, interdependent global systems.

Martin Seligman

Human beings want much more in life than not to be miserable” Prof. Martin Seligman pictured with Prof Ian Richardson.   Photo source: Can you teach wellbeing? Martin Seligman thinks so Irish Times

 

Seligman is speaking across the UK at the moment and I am looking forward enormously to hearing him on 9th May at the Action for Happiness event in London.

In his Irish Times article, Can you teach wellbeing? Martin Seligman thinks soRonan McGreevy writes:

Introducing Seligman in Dublin, TCD professor of psychology Ian Robertson described him as a “polymath” engaged in nothing less than “a movement which is creating a paradigm change in how humanity thinks about itself”.

Seligman described himself as a self-confessed pessimist and depressive who tries out his own techniques first on himself before expanding them to his own family and then his students.

He was a relatively late convert to the concept of wellbeing and happiness. As a psychologist, he recalls, happiness was regarded as the “froth on the cappuccino”, immeasurable and irrelevant to his profession.

“Thirty years ago there was no theory of wellbeing which distinguished it from suffering and no interventions that built wellbeing. That has changed over the past 30 years.”

It might seem obvious given the recent emphasis on wellbeing and happiness, but the focus of psychology and psychiatry was, for so long, on alleviating suffering and examining mental illness rather than the pursuit of happiness.

He defines wellbeing as what “non-suffering, non-oppressed people choose to do”. It pertains not only to individuals but also to corporations and even nation states.

Seligman’s  understanding of wellbeing includes the notion of “flourishing”, where human beings create the conditions for making the best of themselves and their circumstances.

Seligman’s model for wellbeing is made up of five building blocks summed up in the acronym PERMA: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. These five concepts together represent a definition of wellbeing.

We add one more – Resilience – and use this framework in our programmes as a springboard to help people explore what they most and least satisfied with in their work and lives at the moment, and what they can do to keep strong their highest elements and build up their lowest scoring elements.

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Positive emotion is feeling happy or comfortable in a situation, what we think of when we think of happiness.

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Engagement is the process whereby a person is absorbed by something, whether it is their work, pastimes, making the dinner, and so on. Seligman talks about the concept of “flow”, which occurs when an individual is totally absorbed in what they are doing. Greater “flow” brings greater happiness.

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Relationships relate to positive and not negative relationships – the ones that bring us benefit. Human beings are “hive creatures”, he says, not just selfish individuals.

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Meaning is the idea of belonging to and serving something that you think is bigger than yourself, for instance, a union, church, charity or some club. “The more meaning people have at work, the more productive they are,” he says.

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Accomplishment would appear to be self-evident, he states, but it is startling how self-discipline trumps talent. It is twice as important as IQ for predicting academic success, he says.

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Seligman advocates simple techniques that will enhance one’s sense of wellbeing – one of which is to write down “three good things” that occur during the day.

“It turns out that when people do this, six months later they are less depressed and have higher positive emotion compared with a placebo.”

What works for the individual also works for larger organisations. Seligman pointed to research in the United States that showed a startling correlation between the type of language used on Twitter and incidences of fatal heart attacks.

One would seem ostensibly to have nothing to do with the other, but there was an unerring correlation between negative language used on the social media platform and increased risk of heart attacks.

“I think this is causal,” he says. “If you change the way people think and talk about the world, you can change things like the heart attack and death rates.”

The critical question, Seligman says, is whether PERMA can be taught. Can happiness be improved? Do these techniques work? Can the success or otherwise of such techniques be measured? He maintains the answer to all these questions is yes.

Studies in Bhutan have shown marked differences in schoolchildren to whom wellbeing was taught against a placebo group that was not taught wellbeing.

Bhutan has made national wellbeing a goal as distinct simply from gross national product. Children who were taught the techniques of positive psychology halve the rate of depression and anxiety as adolescences, Seligman says.

Similarly, Seligman was employed by US army chief of staff George Casey to teach positive psychology to drill sergeants. Casey wanted an army that was mentally as well as physically fit and has spent €150 million teaching resilience psychology to soldiers.

The result has been a notable decrease in incidences of suicide, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Governments should follow suit, Seligman says.

See also

Second Wave Positive Psychology: An Introduction

Learning to find light in the darkness…

Plus many more stories and articles in our eclectic collection:

Happiness At Work

What you’ll find in our February 2016 Happiness At Work collection #132

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Nuns from Tyburn Convent, Marble Arch perform a sponsored skip to rebuild the convent front, 17 August 1989. (Archive ref. GUA/6/9/2/1/1). Photo by Graham Turner from the Guardian story: Memorable shots: Moments from Graham Turner’s Guardian career – in pictures

Welcome to this month’s new Happiness At Work collection.

These are some of the highlights I have especially enjoyed and drawn ideas from during the last six week’s trawl for stories, research and practical tips about how to make greater relationships, happiness and resilience for ourselves and the people we work with.

As this burgeoning new field of inquiry expands and gains more and more momentum, it is becoming harder to slim down our selection rather than to find relevant material, and we really hope you will find something amongst this mix, and in the rest of the collection, to use to nourish your own aspirations, learning, leadership and flourishing.

some articles about Happiness At Work

The 5 Most Important Finding from the Science of Happiness that apply at Work

by Alexander Kjerulf

Happy workplaces are more profitable and innovative, attract the best employees and have lower absenteeism and employee turnover rates. Simply put, happy companies make more money.

But how do you create a happy workplace? We believe some of the answers are found in positive psychology…

Traditional psychology looks at everything that can go wrong with our minds – psychosis, neurosis, phobias, depression etc – and asks how it can be treated/cured. It’s an incredibly important field but positive psychology asks the opposite question: When are we happy? What does it take for people to live good lives  and thrive psychologically? The field has been especially active for the last 30 years and we are learning some really interesting and surprising things about happiness.

Here are the five findings from positive psychology that we believe are the most relevant in the workplace.

1: Positive emotions have many beneficial effect on us and on our job performance…

2: Emotions are contagious…

3: Small actions can have a large effect on our happiness…

4: Unexpected things make us happy…

5: Making others happy, makes us happy…

read this full article here

The Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Praise at Work

by Shawn Achor

I am now working with (my wife) Michelle Gielan and Amy Blankson from the Institute for Applied Positive Research to find out how long a happiness boost lasts from a single pay increase versus more frequent organic boosts like digital praise. Our hypothesis is that if a company gives a pay increase, the engagement bump is short-lived, as the new income level becomes the mental norm — necessitating another raise later to maintain the same level of engagement. This is in line with current research on extrinsic/intrinsic motivation as described in the HBR article “Does Money Really Affect Motivation?” But because the peer recognition program is ongoing, there is no indication of a tolerance point at which the engagement scores return to a baseline.

As our companies continue to grow and expand and technology advances, we are finding ourselves increasingly fragmented from our social support networks both at work and at home. The digital revolution has increased our speed of work dramatically. And this research suggests that technology may also be one of the keys to connecting us back together — creating the type of effective, organic and peer-based praise people need and deserve as they endeavor to lead their teams to greater success…and hopefully greater happiness.

read this article here

27 Insights for Creating and Sustaining Workplace Happiness

by PAUL JUN

Psychologist and author Martin Seligman posited that “authentic happiness” is a combination of engagement, meaning, and positive emotions. He studied people from all over the world and discovered that when a person exercises certain traits or virtues—like duty, kindness, and leadership—it promotes authentic happiness.

The two realms of life that are most likely to elicit engagement, meaning, and positive emotions are our social relations and the workplace. And yet, if you ask around, you’ll sadly come to the realization that most workplaces hinder engagement and positive emotions.

Here are 27 resources from great thinkers, researchers, and leaders on helping you hone in on happiness so that you can cultivate it within your team and your day-to-day activities.

some articles about Making Great Relationships at work

The Biggest Performance Management Mistake

by Jacob Shriar

Every employee has a desire to do great work. Companies need to create an environment where employees can achieve great work.

Most companies focus on improving employees’ weaknesses, when they should be focusing on their strengths.

Marcus Buckingham, who worked at Gallup for 20 years researching employee engagement, discovered that the best performing leaders were the leaders that focused on their employees’ strengths.

People produce the best results when they make the most of their unique strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses or perceived weaknesses…

continue reading this article here

How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

By 

This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.

read this article here

Your coworkers are more important than you think

by 

According to a meta-analysis by Gallup, one determinant of positive employee attitudes — in addition to having learning opportunities and adequate office supplies — is answering yes to the question “I have a best friend at work.” Perhaps company policies could include 45-minute lunch breaks, since American researchers found that this length of time spent in substantive conversation — not small talk — fosters a sense of closeness between mere acquaintances. Exchanging weekend war stories at your neighbour’s desk has more value than you might think…

read this article here

The Power of Treating Employees Like Family

“Parenting is the stewardship of the precious lives that come to you through birth, adoption or second marriages. Leadership is the stewardship of the precious lives that come to you by people walking through your door and agreeing to share their gifts with you.” This insight ultimately transformed how Chapman runs his company. In a new book Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, Chapman and coauthor Raj Sisodia explain how any company can integrate this perspective into their organization.

Here is the Knowledge@Wharton conversation with Chapman and Sisodia about their book.

some articles about Resilience and Personal Mastery

Resilience isn’t just a nice-to-have. Here’s why.

by Karen Liebenguth

‘How do I tend to respond to difficult or challenging times at work?’

The workplace throws up a steady stream of obstacles and challenges e.g. colleague relationships, organisational ways of working, workloads etc., and it’s our resilience or the ability to cope with the obstacles that come our way, to bounce back, learn from mistakes, to make amends when necessary, and most important of all, begin again without rumination or regret, which determines our wellbeing at work.

Resilience was once seen as a rare human feat – but now, research shows that within a well-functioning emotion system, resilience can be standard and that people’s levels of resilience are not set in stone, but can be improved through experience and training.

So how do you develop a resilient workforce?

read these five tips for developing greater resilience here

Why Resilience Is Good for Your Health and Career

by Laura Landro

Resilience is often defined as the capacity to adjust to change, disruption or difficulty and move on from negative or traumatic experiences in a positive way.

Studies find people with the most resilience tend to be more productive, less likely to have high health-care costs and less often absent from work. Now, some employers are offering programs to help employees become more resilient. They are providing webinars and group coaching to teach skills and habits that help people stay focused and functioning during stressful times at work or home…

A recent review of more than a decade of studies, led by researchers at the University of Nebraska and published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, found resilience training in the workplace can help improve employees’ mental health and subjective well-being, and offer wider benefits in social functioning and performance.

continue reading this article here

How People Learn to Become Resilient

by 

In December the New York Times Magazine published an essay called “The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience.’ ” It pointed out that the word is now used everywhere, often in ways that drain it of meaning and link it to vague concepts like “character.” But resilience doesn’t have to be an empty or vague concept. In fact, decades of research have revealed a lot about how it works. This research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught. In recent years, we’ve taken to using the term sloppily—but our sloppy usage doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been usefully and precisely defined. It’s time we invest the time and energy to understand what “resilience” really means.

read this article here

see also

Is Resilience Written in our DNA?

an examination of the different research findings…

The Only 7 Things You Can Control in Life

BY CATHERINE GOLDBERG

We make millions of little decisions all the time, and the result of each one is either net positive, net negative, or neutral. The more net positive decisions we can make (and the fewer net negative ones), the better. Net positive decisions—brushing your teeth before bed, eating healthy meals, and regularly going to the gym—help you feel good and bring you one step closer to your goals despite the effort they entail….

While the healthier choice may seem harder, it pays off bigger. And you’ll be surprised by just how easy these choices can be once you make the effort. By learning how to master the seven things that are within our control, you will start to make more net positive decisions, fewer net negative ones, and find that empowering, positive behaviors become second nature. So let go of all the stuff you can’t control and start using your time to master what you can control. Before you know it, you’ll be living your best life ever!

1. Your Breath…

2. Your Self-Talk…

3. Your Gratitude…

4. Your Body Language…

5. Your Mental and Physical Fitness…

6. Your Diet…

7. Your Sleep…

read more about these seven things here

some articles about Performance & Productivity

Multitasking is Killing Your Brain

by Larry Kim

Our brains weren’t built to multitask.

Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and bombarding them with information only slows them down…

New research suggests the possibility that cognitive damage associated with multi-tasking could be permanent.

A study from the University of Sussex (UK) ran MRI scans on the brains of individuals who spent time on multiple devices at once (texting while watching TV, for example). The MRI scans showed that subjects who multitasked more often had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex. That’s the area responsible for empathy and emotional control.

The one caveat is that research isn’t detailed enough to determine if multitasking is responsible for these effects, or if existing brain damage results in multitasking habits. Still, no matter how you spin it, multitasking is no good.

The lesson? Multitasking is not a skill to add to the resume, but rather a bad habit to put a stop to. Turn off notifications, create set email checking time slots throughout the day (rather than constant inbox refreshing), and put your mind to the task at hand.

read the full article here

some articles about Making a Better World

The World’s Happiest Man on Altruism

by Oliver Haenlein

Matthieu Ricard, also known as ‘the world’s happiest man’, spends much of time now  trying to teach the world how to be happy, and how to show empathy, kindness and compassion to one another.

His latest book, Altruism, provides a complex look at a remarkably simple approach to solving the ills of the world. Ricard’s work has always revolved around positive transformation, and now he has published an 800-page guide to using one of the traits most inherent to human nature to overcome the challenges of the 21st century.

Ricard summarises his work: “I used everything I could learn through 70 years, and I researched for five years to point out that altruism is not a luxury or utopia, but the only answer to the challenges of our times.”

The book took him five years to write, and contains an impressive 1,600 scientific references, providing a convincing argument on how important the widespread adoption of genuine concern for the wellbeing of others could be for changing the world.

He takes a three-pronged look at the world’s main challenges: the economy in the short-term, life satisfaction in the mid-term, and the environment in the long-term.

“People are basically good. If you look at evolution, one of the difficult points was how evolution can explain altruism; now you see all the great evolutionists like Martin Nowak with ideas that actually say cooperation has been much more creative to evolution than competition. Those are not just eccentric guys; they are the core of the science.”

Ricard believes that we are perfectly placed to start tapping into what is already a part of us, to create something better: happier societies, a more compassionate business environment, and a less damaging approach to the environment.

read the original article here

some articles about Stillness, Solitude and Mindfulness

13 untranslatable words for happiness

by Elsa Vulliamy

In order to widen the scope of the psychology of happiness, Dr Lomas gathered a list of hundreds of what he said were “untranslatable” words for positive sensations.

Some of the best are listed below:

  1. Sobremesa (Spanish): time spent after finishing a meal, relaxing and enjoying the company
  2. Tepils (Norwegian): drinking beer outside on a hot day
  3. Remé (Balinese): something both chaotic and joyful
  4. Desbunar (Portuguese): shedding ones inhibitions while having fun
  5. Sabsung (Thai): being revitalised through something that livens up one’s life
  6. Feierabend (German): the festive mood at the end of a work day
  7. Tilfreds (Danish): satisfied, at peace
  8. Geborgenheit (German): protected and safe from harm
  9. Flâner (French): strolling leisurely on the streets
  10. Shinrin-yoku (Japanese): relaxation gained from ‘bathing’ in a forest
  11. Gökotta (Swedish): waking up early with the purpose of going outside to hear the first birds sing
  12. Suaimhnaes croi (Gaelic): state of joy after the completion of a task
  13. Tarab (Arabic): musically induced state of ecstasy

read this article here

The End of Solitude

by William Deresiewicz

Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.

What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone…

continue reading this article here

How Easily Distracted Are You? Here, Distract Yourself With This Game to Find Out

By  and 

Overall, the link between creativity and distractibility ties in nicely with one of the main assertions Kaufman and Gregoire make in their book: that a creative mind is an open mind. This may even help explain why experiments since at least the 1960s have discovered a link between creativity and mental illness. “Being open to and curious about the full spectrum of life — both the good and the bad, the dark and the light — may be what leads writers to score high on some characteristics that our society tends to associate with mental illness,” Kaufman and Gregoire write, “at the same time that it leads them to become more grounded and self-aware.” Having an open mind means a lot more stuff is going to wander on in there, for better or for worse. “Everything is interesting, and you want to pay attention to it all,” Carson said.

But in the annoying, everyday scenarios, this can be a problem, for the obvious reasons. Sometimes you do have to filter out distractions. Alas, it’s not yet clear from the research whether it’s possible for a person to temporarily improve their latent inhibition. Instead of trying to train yourself to ignore distractions like email or texts, it may be better to avoid them completely, at least while you’re trying to get creative work done. Marcel Proust is said to have worked while wearing ear plugs; the 19th-century novelist Franz Kafka once said, “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.” Both men have a point.

take the test and read the full article here

articles about Contemporary Trends in Work & Organisations

Time to say goodbye to the open plan era?

‘We shape our buildings, afterwards our buildings shape us.’ Winston Churchill

Most employees spend around 40 hours a week in the workplace. It’s the space in which they reason, react, collaborate, build relationships and think creatively…

With employee wellbeing moving up the organisational agenda it isn’t surprising to find businesses re-examining how their workspaces affect employees, for good or for bad.

But other forces too are pushing them to think differently. There has been much discussion about the impact of the multi-generational workforce and of the complications that arise as the requirements and preferences of different generations play out in the modern workplace.

Nor is it just generational differences; different kinds of job roles, work patterns, skill sets and perhaps even personality types also need to be taken into consideration. There is a growing appreciation of the need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace design, towards one that appreciates the diversity of employee needs.

As businesses seek to gain and maintain competitive edge and remain agile in a world of increasingly flexible work patterns, the need to rethink the working environment is almost inevitable.

With more organisations recognising this, it’s becoming clear that the office of the future is going to look very different from the workplace of the past.

read this article here

10 Job Skills You’ll Need in 2020

The world of work—and the world in general—is changing. People are living longer, new technologies are emerging, and we’ve never been more globally connected. That means the skills we use now in the workplace are not necessarily the skills we’ll need in the future.

To get a sense of what skills you might want to start investing your time into developing, check out the infographic here.

Holacracy: The System To Make Your Team More Productive

by by Jacob Shriar

Holacracy is a management framework that not only makes things more transparent, but empowers employees and fully utilizes their strengths.

Holacracy is so far removed from a traditional way of running an organization that it takes a while to understand and you need to have an open mind…

Holacracy is a management framework focused on self-management. It’s a way of running your company in a very organized way, with clear roles and responsibilities.

With Holacracy, I can play multiple roles and have multiple functions depending on what my skills are.

To fully understand why this is such a powerful system, we need to look at the main differences between Holacracy and traditional company setups.

  1. Roles Instead Of Job Descriptions…
  2. Decisions Are Made At The Team Level…
  3. Constant Optimisation…
  4. Incredible Transparency…

read this article in full here

for more about this radical new organisation framework, watch on youtube:

Frederic Laloux on Reinventing Organisations

Brian Robertson’s Google talk on Holacracy

Jos de Blok l Organisation without management l Meaning 2015

The Positive Organization: Time for HR to leave the ‘bandage business’

In this three-part series, Professor Robert Quinn looks at how HR can stop being in the ‘bandage business,’ and how they can harness the findings of his research on Positive Organizations to emerge as a strong strategic business partner. This is part one. Read part two and part three too.

…in a world where 70% of the global workforce is unengaged and 52% of the management workforce is unengaged, how do we create cultures where people flourish and exceed expectations?

Leadership development and cultural vitality are big HR challenges that face every organization.

Part Two: The Positive Organisation

Do you aspire to survival, or to flourish?

The questions that drive positive organizing are these:

  • What are people, teams, organizations and communities like when they are at their best?
  • How do we learn from excellence and spread that excellence?
  • Instead of engaging in managerial problem solving how do we engage in organizational purpose finding?
  • How do we continually recognize the reality of constraint while we simultaneously orient to the reality of possibility.

Part Three: The Positive Organization: Doing the impossible – Amy’s courageous story

…the story of a Chief People Officer who got out of the bandage business. She altered the culture of a major business school. In the process she reinvented herself and became invaluable to her organization.

Happiness At Work edition #132 – February 2016

You can find all of these articles, and many more, in our new HAW collection…

Happiness At Work #128 ~ all about how we use our minds

Clouds Floating Along ID: 257779 © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime Stock Photos

“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.” 
― Steve MaraboliLife, the Truth, and Being Free

“The mind is a powerful thing. It can take you through walls.” 
― Denis AveyThe Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz: A True Story of World War II

“What we believe is what we see.” 
― Sukant RatnakarOpen the Windows

These are just three quotes that illustrate the extraordinary power of our minds.

And this same idea of the importance of how we choose to think about things is central to our increasing intelligence about what helps to make and keep greater happiness, resilience, relationships and personal mastery in our work and lives.

This month’s collection of Happiness At Work articles reverberate this theme and I have brought together some of the top stories here.

Read The Poem Bringing Happiness To People Across The World

This uplifting poem is opening hearts all over the world, from the Hasidic Jewish community of New York to the streets of London. Its cross-cultural message? That we can choose happiness each and every day by adjusting our point of view.

And its journey from a high school girl’s pen to viral fame by way of a London bar and a downbeat Facebook status is pretty cool too.

A snapshot of the poem went viral on TwitterReddit and Imgur, where it was viewed 1.3 million times.

Here it is the poem by Chanie Gorkin, an 11th Grade girl from Crown Heights Hassidic Jewish Community, making the point about the power of our thinking brilliantly…

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in every day

Because when you take a closer look,

This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be obtained

Only if one’s surroundings are good

It’s not true that good exists

I’m sure you can agree that

The reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control

And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that

Today was a good day

Now read from the bottom up

Three Cognitive Biases That Alter Your Thinking

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
~Norman Vincent Peale

From this quote, Bob Dempsey provides this really helpful outline of how subjective our judgements and decision making really are…

Cognitive Bias is defined as a pattern of deviation in judgement, whereby influences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Cognitive bias is a general term used to describe many observer effects in the human mind, some of which can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation.

In layman’s terms: A gap in between how we should reason and how we do reason.  Thinking irrationally – judging or favoring a person, group, or thing in an unfair way.

As much as you may not notice them, biases are ingrained into our decision making from birth. Biases are one of the more interesting phenomena of evolved mental behavior.  The brain has evolved to make us believe that we’re special, valuable, and capable.  Biases help you to feel unique and overcome the strains, struggles, and challenges of your life.  Biases help you to avoid second guessing yourself or feeling like a fool.  We are biased in a variety of areas: from bias to live in certain climates and temperature ranges, to seeking out certain types of foods and tastes.

You can imagine the potential time pressures that our ancestors faced.  The ability to make split second decisions is essential for survival.  The speculation is that biases evolved in part to help us decide quickly and effectively; to quickly sample the information available to us and to focus on the bits relevant to our current task or situation. In short, biases help guide us and keep us safe.

Research into human judgment and decision making over the past 60 years in cognitive science, social psychology, and behavioral economics has established an ever increasing and evolving list of cognitive bias.  There is a non exhaustive list of over 100 cognitive biases on Wikipedia. Although cognitive biases help us to feel amazing about our capabilities and self image, they also have their drawbacks.  They lead to poor choices, bad judgments, and erroneous insights.

Cognitive Biases Effect:

  • Memory
  • Motivation
  • Decision making
  • Probability judgments
  • Perceived causes of events
  • Group evaluation and selection
  • Having a positive attitude towards oneself

Biases emerge from a diversity of mental processes that can be challenging to pinpoint. These mental processes include heuristics (problem solving mental shortcuts ), framing (presentation), mental noise, moral and emotional motivators, and social influences.

The goal is not to completely remove your biases, but to become aware and adjust for them.  By recognizing that you’re thinking is subject to influence, you can work towards a higher level of control.  You can simultaneously correct and broaden your perspective.  It’s actually quite amusing when you start noticing and challenging your own biases and untwisting your perceptions.  The danger of not becoming aware of your biases is to think that you’re always right.  It is vital to notice that the world looks different for other people.  Dropping our biases enable us to listen and connect to each other much more effectively.

Three Predictable Cognitive Biases.

While this is slightly tongue-in-cheek, these are a few biases that are fairly consistent among people. It doesn’t take long to spot yourself using these and adjust for them.

1) Confirmation Bias

The tendency to look for or interpret information that confirms your preconceptions.

You want to be right about how you see the world.  Your opinions are a product of constantly seeking out information that confirms your beliefs, while disregarding contradictory information that does not.  You like to be told what you already know, so you apply a filter called confirmation bias. Your brain is helping you confirm that you’ve made the correct choice. (and you have by reading my blog) Focusing on certain things can help prevent us from being lost. Confirmation bias it is essential to piece together a coherent world.

Visiting political websites that hold the same opinions, watching a news channel that tells you what you want to hear, keeping company with people that hold the same beliefs as you – are all examples of confirmation bias.  These preferential behaviors keep you comfortable and avoid cognitive dissonance.  The internet has increased this behavior.

If you’ve ever purchased a car, you may have started to notice the brand you’ve chosen everywhere you looked.  While researching and after purchasing an Infiniti G35, I was seeing them everywhere!

2) Priming

“An implicit memory affect in which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus.”

Priming is an exposure to something that effects your later behavior in some way, without you being aware of the earlier influence.  Unconscious priming effects can be very noticeable and last long after you’ve consciously forgotten.

Craving Italian food after watching “The Godfather”, walking slower after thinking about the elderly, being more argumentative after seeing “A Few Good Men”, having more patience after reading words that have to do with politeness – are all examples of priming.

Priming can be as simple as you reading the word table in your news feed, and if asked later to complete a word starting with tab, you’re more likely to answer table because you have been primed. This is also why when someone asks you for a word related to blackboard, you’re likely to choose classroom.

3) Framing Effect

“Reacting to a particular choice in different ways depending on whether it is presented as a loss or a gain.”

You routinely come to different conclusions about the same problem, depending on how it’s presented. Perception of loss or gain drives human decision making in every aspect of our existence. You avoid risk (risk aversion) when a negative frame is presented, but seek risk (risk seeking) when a positive frame is presented.

Language plays a key role in framing and can evoke completely different reactions to something. Responding differently after hearing “Obama Care” as opposed to “The Affordable Care Act” or “Global Warming” as opposed to “Climate Change” – are examples of the framing effect.

I’ll leave you with the following experiment on framing by Amos Tversky:

Participants were offered two alternative solutions for 600 people affected by a hypothetical deadly disease:

  • Option A saves 200 people’s lives
  • Option B has a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 people and a 2/3 possibility of saving no one

72% of participants chose option A

They offered the same scenario to another group of participants, but worded differently:

  • If option C is taken, then 400 people die
  • If option D is taken, then there is a 1/3 chance that no people will die and a 2/3 probability that 600 will die

In this group, 78% of participants chose option D (equivalent to option B)

The above experiment showcases the nature of framing.  The two groups favored different options because of the way the options were presented.  The first set of participants were given a positive frame (emphasis on lives saved), whereas the second set were given a negative frame (emphasis on lives lost).

Why This Matters.

It is beneficial to be aware of the processes influencing our judgments. Having background knowledge on how the mind actually works is essential for logic, reasoning, argumentation, and critical thinking.  It also allows us to be aware of manipulation and influence by others on these biases. (marketing firms, political campaigns)

Cognitive biases are also related to the persistence of superstition, to large social issues such as prejudice, and they also work as a hindrance in the acceptance of non-intuitive scientific knowledge by the public.

How To Have a Better Commute

Shawn Achor, one of our favourite happiness at work experts, on how we can harness the power of our minds to turn our travel to work time to greater advantage…

Are there ways to make your commute happier? Research says yes!

The question is how to choose happiness when life is stressful. The key is to redefine the drive toward happiness. After spending 12 years at Harvard University studying the connection between happiness and success, I realized I had been pursuing it wrong. While modern society tends to define “happiness” in terms of pleasure, the ancient Greeks defined it as “the joy we feel growing toward our potential.” This definition changes the pursuit of happiness. Joy is something you can experience even when life is difficult or unpleasant — including on your often-stressful morning commute.

Now nearly two decades of research show that, scientifically, happiness is a choice, and happiness is an incredible advantage. When we choose to focus on the positive and pursue joy even when life is challenging, our business, educational, and health outcomes improve.

Here are five positive habits you can develop to ensure you have a happier commute:

1. Slow down.

We think we’ll be happier once we get to work, but research shows it’s actually the opposite. If you speed, and feel unconsciously stressed and less safe, you arrive at work more fatigued and LESS happy. Avoid the urge to speed! And pick a car that makes you feel safe. If you feel safe, your negative stress drops, which means that your body has time to recover and recharge in the car rather than feeling exhausted by the time you get home.

2. Travel in company.

If possible, bring along a passenger! Social connection drives happiness. The greatest predictor of happiness is the breadth, depth, and meaning of our relationships. Social connection is as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure or smoking. And people who feel high social connection are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.

3. Shift your mindset.

Our brains crave novelty and save extra energy to use on new tasks. So when possible, try taking another route to get to your destination. Instead of trying to minimize your commute, try to maximize the energy and happiness you feel when you get there. If you arrive at work with a positive brain, your productive energy rises by 31 percent, so you can actually get home earlier!

4. Make sure you are comfortable.

There is a great connection between our minds and our bodies, so if our bodies feel comfortable in the car because of good design, then our brain can devote more resources to the positive — even taking time to perfectly adjust your seat matters. Otherwise you waste valuable resources unconsciously trying to decrease the uncomfortable feeling.

5. Invest wisely.

Research shows your brain’s happiness adjusts to a bigger house in six months, but it never fully adjusts to traffic because it is different each day. So, if you are going to be in traffic, it is crucial to be in a car that makes you happy. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. In fact, if you feel like you got a good value for your car, you may feel happier for longer with that choice. And ultimately, if your car makes you feel calm, that will help short circuit the anxiety of traffic.

The bottom line: Quite simply, happiness lies in the journey — not the destination! By following these five simple ways to increase your happiness during your morning commute, you’ll be setting a great foundation to be prepared for happier, more successful, and more rewarding experiences once you arrive at work in the morning and at home at the end of the day.

Watch also on Huff Post Live:

Happiness Expert Shawn Achor on Positive Thinking

Five Powerful Lessons Gratitude Can Teach You

Jeff Charles outlines how and why practising gratitude benefits us…

The Science Of Gratitude

The evidence for the impact of gratitude isn’t just anecdotal. There is scientific evidence for the benefits of gratitude. There have been numerous studies on the effects of gratitude. It’s been scientifically proven to improve the lives of those who practice it…

Gratitude leads to greater relationships

When you express heartfelt gratitude to someone else, you are showing them how important they really are. You’re drawing attention to an action they took that made your life better.  When someone hears that something they did had a positive effect on someone else, it makes them feel important. It shows them that they matter.  By showing the people around you that they matter, you could literally make their day!  Additionally, since you know that you’re brightening someone else’s day by making them feel important, you’re also doing something important as well. This is why expressing heartfelt gratitude to someone who isn’t expected doesn’t just benefit them, it benefits you too…

Gratitude makes you mentally stronger

Living a grateful lifestyle can make you mentally tougher. It doesn’t mean you won’t still have to deal with stress. It just means that you’ll be able to deal with it much easier. Stress won’t have as debilitating an effect if you’re practicing gratitude regularly…

Gratitude makes you healthier

Gratitude is not only great for your mental health, it can help you physically too. It can boost your immune system and make it easier for you to adopt healthier habits. It’s been shown that those who practice gratitude also participate in other healthy activities such as exercising and eating healthier….

Gratitude makes you more productive

Robert A. Emmons, one of the leading authorities on the science of gratitude said this about one of his studies:  “Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”…

Gratitude makes you happier

Finally, gratitude makes you much happier.  Gratitude enables you to really see how much you have to appreciate and feel positive about. Not only that, expressing gratitude draws more attention to this because reactivate it…

It’s actually been shown that people who live a more grateful lifestyle become 25 percent happier than those who don’t. Want to be happy? Become more grateful…

The Lies your Tired Brain Tells You

by Dan Waldschmidt

If you’re not tired, you’re not working hard enough.

And if you are working hard enough, your brain is tired.

How you feel, how quickly you figure things out, how you interpret what happens to you — that is all computed, calculated, and configured by your brain.

Sometimes it’s a lie.

What you think is true is really just a complicated deception orchestrated by your mind to make you feel better about your current situation. It’s done to protect you.

But in the process you’ll feel pretty convinced of some outrageous nonsense.  You’ll find yourself buying into lies that will cripple your ability to amazing.

Here are a few of those lies:

  • “My life is so much harder than everyone else…”
  • “It doesn’t matter what I do. Nothing works…”
  • “My life would be so much better if I only had more money…”
  • “I can’t get ahead because everyone is always picking on me…”
  • “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not doing anything wrong…”
  • “No one would understand anyway…”
  • “That won’t work. I already tried it once…”

Lies. Damn lies.

All of them. And you’ve probably found yourself using a few of those lies to justify staying in a funk. To justify staying demotivated, uninspired, and angry at the world.

Instead of telling you that hard work and doing hard things is just what needs to be done, instead of telling you to “suck it up and get back to work” — your brain automatically gives you a sophisticated way out.

A one-way ticket to more frustration. A fast path to a life of staying stuck.  All because you listen to the lies that your overworked brain creates in order to try to protect you from more pain, sweat, blood and tears.

Don’t let lies destroy you.

Fight the urge to give in, give up, or go away.

Just because you “think it” doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because you have a good reason or justifiable excuse doesn’t mean it’s true.

Just because you’re worn out, beaten down, and not sure you can make it doesn’t make the lies you tell yourself true. They’re still lies.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself something else, like “what’s the one thing I could do right now that would make things a little better…?”.

Four Steps to Freedom from Negative Thinking

Elisha Goldstein outlines a process she has developed to help us to shift our thinking away from negative spirals and mind traps…

Mind traps are styles like catastrophizing, blaming, exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive or just your most common negative thoughts.

When you first notice a mind trap or common negative thought, first stop, take an intentional deep breath and from this more mindful space, move through these next four steps (Name, Feel, Release, Redirect):

  1. Name it – Actually name the style of thinking or behaving that isn’t serving you in your mind or say it out loud (e.g., overeating, catastrophic thinking, grumpiness, etc.). This not only creates more awareness for you, but also has been found to bring more activity to the part of your brain that has to do with emotional regulation.
  2. Feel it – Recognize how this moment feels in the body. This grounds us to the reality of the moment and gives us access to a choice point.
  3. Release it – Practice this phrase in concert with the breath, “Breathing in, I acknowledge the feeling that’s here; breathing out, I release it.”
  4. Redirect it – Shift your attention to something that is healthier and/or more important to pay attention to.
    Bring this awareness into the moments of your day, dropping into what really matters.

Remember, most importantly, this is a learning process. That  means don’t measure success by whether “it works” every time or not, instead you’re training your brain to name, recognize, release and redirect. 

Mastery is only created with a learning mindset. Like learning how to ride a bike, as you practice and repeat this over time, your brain will start making this more automatic.

Eight Ways To Turn A Horrible Day Into A Positive Day

by Theo Ellis

What’s the first thing you do when you’re having a horrible day?

Do you become so negative you infect anybody who comes into contact with you? Only to regret it or apologize later?

Do you over think the situation, say horrible things to yourself, beat yourself up and over exaggerate everything?

Do you fall into self pity, self hate, turn off your phone and shut everybody out?

There are better ways to handle horrible days. We all experience them, and I’m no exception.

Here’s how you can turn  a horrible day into a positive day.

1. Change your perspective.

When you wake up every day, you have two choices. You can either be positive or negative; an optimist or a pessimist. I choose to be an optimist. It’s all a matter of perspective. – Harvey Mackay

Perspective is defined as the way you see something. Your life and your attitude is a reflection of the way you see the world.

If you want to turn a bad day into a good day, all you’ve got to do is change the way you see it.

Instead of seeing it as horrible, negative, bad or ugly, see it as nothing more than a life lesson.

See it as nothing but an experience that’s going to benefit you in the long run. Whether that’s by making you a stronger, smarter, or wiser person.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. – Friedrich Nietzsche

2. Get out of the “thinking zone”.

You see when things go bad, horrible, and straight up ugly, we put ourselves in a mental prison.

And when we’re in this mental prison, we do nothing but think, think, and think some more.

We think about how awful the situation is.

We think about how stupid we are, or how naive we are.

We think about how much of a failure we are, or how things just aren’t going “right”.

And we think about what we could of done better, and how we could of changed it.

In 4 words, we stress ourselves out. Because we’re too busy sitting in the thinking zone!

The solution is simple. Get out of the “thinking zone” and stop stressing yourself out.

What’s done is done. Winding yourself up like a clock isn’t going to make your day any better. Only worse.

3. Look at things that have gone well.

What’s gone well for you today? If today hasn’t gone too well for you?

Don’t say “nothing” because that simply isn’t true. You’re just focused on the wrong things so you’re not able to see it.

If somebody reached out to help you today, that’s something positive.

If an opportunity has come your way, an opportunity you’ve been expecting, that’s something positive.

If you’ve received good news about that job you applied for, that’s good news.

If your business has picked up all of a sudden and your seeing growth, that’s good news. Am I right?

There’s always something that’s gone well within 24 hours, you just need to acknowledge it.

4. Slap some uplifting music on.

There’s no better drug than music. I say drug because music is not only that addictive, but the feeling it gives you has no comparison.

Not only that, but music has the ability to improve your mood within such a short time.

Plus music has the power to make you happy, and release endorphin’s in your brain (backed by science).

5. Avoid negative people.

You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind. – Joyce Meyer

And you can’t have a positive mind If you’re around negative people. The last thing you need when you’re having a horrible day is to be around negative people.

Whether that’s family, friends, associates, or naysayers.

You want your day to be as  positive as possible, not negative. And being around negativity won’t solve your problem, it’ll worsen it.

6. Be productive.

Being productive gives people a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that loafing never can. – Zig Ziglar

When I’m productive, even If I’m having a “bad” day, I feel so much better. You know why? Because I’m not focused on the negative.

All I’m focused on is producing, creating, reading, and working towards my goals. Nothing else.

The same thing works for anybody. When you’re focused and productive, you don’t have time to be stressing, worrying, and complaining.

The aim is to be more productive than unproductive.

That way, when you are having a bad day, it won’t phase you as much. And you’ll feel much better.

7. Do what makes you happy.

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When you’re doing what makes you happy, what you love, and what you’re passionate about, everything else gets blanked out.

You know the feeling when you’re doing something you enjoy so much that you forget what time it is?

That’s what I’m talking about. Do that, and commit to doing that everyday.

Then it’ll be harder for you to ever experience a “bad” day.

8. Get out of the past.

The first recipe for happiness is: avoid too lengthy meditation on the past. – Andre Maurois

If you’re not careful the past will swallow you whole like an anaconda feeding on its prey.

Regardless of when your “bad day” started, it’s now in the past. Even if the day isn’t over yet.

Remember, the past is defined as something that’s already happened. So If it’s already happened, why bother with it?

Get out of the past and start focusing on something more meaningful. The past can’t help you, won’t help you, and doesn’t care if you dwell on it.

8 Ways to Vacation Right and Recharge Your Health

Corinne Ruff provides tips from the experts for how to optimise our time off for our health, wellbeing and happiness…

Experts say overloading without taking time to recharge isn’t healthy. “It might seem counterintuitive when you have a lot of work to take time off,” says Karen Osterle, a psychotherapist and marriage counselor in the District of Columbia. “But the problem is we’re not working efficiently if we’re in a constant state of stress. We need to break away from that in order to feel replenished.”

How do you know when it’s time to get away? It’s all about understanding the needs of your body, Osterle says. The body is like an ecosystem that wears and tears if it’s not taken care of, she explains. “When one part of the system is knocked out of balance, the rest of our physicality suffers,” she says. “That includes eating, sleeping, exercise, relationships, sex and affection.”

In general, she recommends taking a three-day weekend at least once every two months and a real vacation, of a week or more, once a year. But simply booking a vacation isn’t enough. Whether you’re taking a day or a week off, here’s how experts say you should spend your vacation days to prioritize your health.

1. Tune in to relieve stress. Start ​the day by improving your relationship with yourself. A few minutes of “me time” on a morning walk can improve productivity throughout the day, Osterle says. “If you’re going to take a day off, take a few minutes to look around and say, ‘Whoa, ​[I’m] out of balance here, but not here. … What is that I keep saying ‘yes’ to, or I should say ‘no’ to?’” she says. Meditation ​can also help you concentrate on abdominal breathing, which reduces stress and anxiety, according to The American Institute of Stress.

2. Plan to alleviate anxiety. When you take a day off, don’t expect to completely catch up on paying bills, cleaning the house, working out and going out with friends. Instead, Osterle says to be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day, given the number of distractions​ you may face (like making the kids an after-school snack or taking the dog for a walk). “Much of the time when we take a step back, it increases productivity, and we feel agency over our schedule and our flexibility,” says Dr. Jennifer Wolkin, a psychologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center​. Wolkin adds that it’s important to​ balance work and time off to decrease anxiety about the internal conflict between the two. For example, she says it’s OK if you need to spend a few hours working during your vacation, but wait until the kids go to bed to make sure you don’t miss out on family time.

3. Set boundaries to feel calmer. Before going on vacation, decide how much time you’re going to spend working and when you’re going to do it. That way you’ll feel calmer about going offline for a few hours, Wolkin says. Turning your phone off may not be realistic for everyone, but turning off your ​email and social media notifications is one way to limit screen time while trying to relax at the beach and spend quality time with friends and family​.

4. Sleep more to re-energize. Little sleep ​mixed with high stress is a recipe for burning out. Besides making you irritable and tired, sleep deprivation can have negative consequences on your cognitive performance and efficiency, says Max Hirshkowitz, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation​. “Catching up on sleep is good for your health, spirit and happiness,” he says. “Evidence shows people perform better when they get adequate amounts of sleep.” To feel rested and productive, the NSF says adults should aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night. “Reserve that time,” Hirshkowitz says. “Make it an important thing you need.”

5. Be present to revitalize your relationships.​ A few days off can rekindle relationships that have suffered because of your working life. A survey by Project: Time Off published in July found that not taking time off can hurt close relationships. Of ​the 1,214 U.S. adults surveyed​, the average worker misses about three events a year, the most common being a child’s activity. ​About 43 percent of people surveyed said they spend less than 20 hours a week with their family, yet 73 percent said spending time with family is important for a fulfilling life. “We’re cheating on our families with work,” says Katie Denis, senior director of Project: Time Off. She adds that it’s critical to make time for meaningful conversations while on vacation.​ ​Even a few hours of face-to-face time with your spouse or kids can make a difference, Osterle says. “Vacation is about connection above all else, the self-connection to nature and the earth and the connection to your loved ones,” she says. “It’s about getting present.”

6. Balance choices to relieve food guilt. Most people are going to drink on vacation — that’s a given, says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and contributor to the U.S. News Eat + Run blog​. But​ setting a goal to avoid drinks with mini umbrellas​ will prevent you from feeling guilty about your choices later. “Stay away from the sweetened cocktails, the frozen drinks, the strawberry daiquiris,” she says, adding that it’s better to stick to drinks that don’t have a lot of added sugar. ​Gans also recommends planning healthy meals so you don’t settle for greasy fast food.​ But you’re still on vacation, so it’s OK to indulge in moderation. “Whether it’s at breakfast, lunch or dinner, allow yourself one more decadent choice than usual per day,” Gans writes in “7 Tips for Healthy (Enough) Eating on Vacation.”

7. Stay active to feel rejuvenated. Vacation should be relaxing, but Gans recommends people do more than lie on the beach and drink piña coladas all day. “It doesn’t mean you need to run every day if you’re clearly not a runner, but try new, fun activities like kayaking or going for a hike or checking out a new yoga studio,” she says. Exercise can also improve ​your mood and make you more energized throughout the day, according to the American Psychological Association. That extra energy will come in handy so you can take the kids sightseeing around town. 

8. Cultivate other interests to improve happiness. Branch out. “It’s essential to have outside hobbies from work,” says Phil Shils, physician assistant at Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group​. To feel refreshed and happier at the office, Shils recommends ​trying new activities​ on vacation that you can continue throughout the year​, such as biking or playing tennis. “Any time you’re out of your routine, your brain remodels itself and refreshes,” he says.​ When the weekend rolls around, Clarke makes time for softball games in a local league. Even if it’s only for a few hours, she says getting away from her desk helps keep her mind off the stress of long days filled with back-to-back calls.

With all the calls, emails and high stress, it doesn’t take long before work starts to take a toll on your health. “If we get into a work vortex, it’s too easy to adopt a default stance of saying ‘no’ to people and activities that are replenishing for us,” Osterle says. “[Vacations] give us a chance to recalibrate.”​​

Vacation and the Art of Presence: Anais Nin on How To Truly Unplug and Reconnect Your Senses

by Maria Popova

Three decades before Susan Sontag lamented the “aesthetic consumerism” of vacation photography, which commodifies the experience by prioritizing its record over its livingness, and more than half a century before we came to compulsively catalog every private moment on the social web, Nin writes:

I am lying on a hammock, on the terrace of my room at the Hotel Mirador, the diary open on my knees, the sun shining on the diary, and I have no desire to write. The sun, the leaves, the shade, the warmth, are so alive that they lull the senses, calm the imagination. This is perfection. There is no need to portray, to preserve. It is eternal, it overwhelms you, it is complete…

Faced with the radically different disposition of the Mexican locals, she considers what they know about living with presence that the society from which she escaped does not:

The natives have not yet learned from the white man his inventions for traveling away from the present, his scientific capacity for analyzing warmth into a chemical substance, for abstracting human beings into symbols. The white man has invented glasses which make objects too near or too far, cameras, telescopes, spyglasses, objects which put glass between living and vision. It is the image he seeks to possess, not the texture, the living warmth, the human closeness…

Fifteen Simple Things You Can Do To Stay Happy At Work

Chloe Bryan & Vicky Leta outlines the simplest things we can do to increase our happiness at work, from beautifying our workspace or taking a walk to setting tiny goals or taking a break…

One Woman Photoshopped by 18 Countries: Beauty Standards Revealed

Here is further evidence of what most of us suspected that although ‘beauty might be in the eye of the beholder’ the beholder is subject to some pretty strong cognitive and cultural biases…

The same portrait of a woman was sent out to 18 freelance designers in 18 countries around the world with these simple instructions that were given by the market agency Fractl, which was commissioned for this project:

Photoshop her form. The idea is to Photoshop and retouch this woman to make her more attractive to the citizens of your country. We are looking to explore how perceptions of beauty change across the world. Multiple designers are involved. You can modify clothing, but her form must be visible. No nudity. All other changes, including those to her shape and form, are up to you.

“We focused on female designers, as we wanted a woman’s view of what her culture finds attractive and to understand more about the pressures they face,” the project says. Here are the Photoshopped images that were sent back…

“The goal of this project is to better understand potentially unrealistic standards of beauty and to see how such pressures vary around the world,” the project says.

The experiment found that…

Some of the designers kept the woman largely looking like herself, while others made her look like a new person altogether.

Some countries gave her an exaggerated hourglass figure, while others gave her an apparent BMI of 17.5, or near anorexic.

China and Italy returned the thinnest Photoshopped figures (China’s had an estimated BMI of 17), while Spain returned the heaviest.

“Beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person finds beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another,” the experiment concludes. “And the range of depictions found in our study appears to confirm this notion.”

Happiness At Work edition #128

You can find all of these and many more ideas in this collection …

I hope you find things here to use and enjoy.

“There are two kinds of people.  One kind, you can just tell by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more suprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing… They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard against congealing.” 
― Gail Godwin

Happiness At Work #125 – What is the work you can’t not do?

Untitled (Alice Cunningham, installation and performance 2009)

Untitled (Alice Cunningham, installation and performance 2009)

The title of this post is taken from Scott Dinsmore’s call to action at the end of his TEDxGoldenGatePark talk:

How to find and do work you love

In this passionate oration Dinsmore recounts his own refusal to accept a life of deferred happiness at work, which he decides is like “putting of having sex until your old age…” and resolves instead to saturate himself in everything he needs to learn about how to build a flourishing work life for himself.  His experience and his distillation of 300 books results in this 3 step approach to finding and making your own happiness at work…

1.  Self-Mastery: become a self expert

Create your own compass by finding out what defines your success by

  • finding out what your unique strengths are – for example from the VIA Character Strengths self-assessment;
  • finding out what your priorities for making decisions are by knowing what your values are – “what your soul is made of”; and
  • finding out what defines positive emotion for you, by learning to recognise what you love to do

Once you have this framework you can start to identify what makes you really come alive.

2.  Mindset: push your limits and do the impossible

Everything was impossible until someone did it.  The things we have in our heads holding us back are just milestones waiting to be achieved.  Strengthen your bravery and push your physical limits: what’s the worse that can happen?  Make little incremental pushes of what you can do.

3.  Relationships: surround yourself with inspiring people

Help yourself by surrounding yourself with passionate people – because the people around you really matter.  Be with people who inspire possibilities.

What is the work you can’t not do?

Discover that…

It’s about doing something that matters to you and making the difference that only you could make.”  Scott Dinsmore.

Here are 8 Top Tips from happiness at work expert, Shawn Achor:

1.  Quieten some of the noise

2.  Believe success is possible

3.  Practice gratitude

4.  Create a positive ripple

5.  Involve others

6.  Strengthen relationships

7.  Re-think stress

8.  Use negatives to grow from

And these are CEO of Switch & Shift, Shawn Murphy’s 11 Characteristics of Meaningful Work

  1. Basic needs are met
  2. Work is perceived to be fulfilling
  3. Seeing clear connections seen own work fits and the bigger picture
  4. Feeling included – informed and in on things
  5. Feeling respected by peers and managers
  6. Feeling valued by organisation and managers
  7. Being able to regularly play to your strengths
  8. Deepening self awareness & personal mastery
  9. Strong united team relationships and helping others to flourish
  10. Balanced autonomy (independence) and collaboration (interdependence)
  11. Efforts and accomplishments are recognised

And here are our top tips for increasing your sense of accomplishment – pride and recognition – which we have built and adapted from Tony Schwartz’s Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live

  1. Pursue what you love.
  2. Do the hardest work first.
  3. Prioritise – and then work to your top priorities.
  4. Get started…
  5. Practice intensely. Work iteratively.
  6. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses.
  7. Take regular renewal breaks.
  8. Ritualise your practice.

Happiness At Work edition #125

You can find more ideas and stories on this theme in our new collection…

Happiness At Work #124 ~ Happy UN International Day of Happiness 2015

For the International Day of Happiness 2015 we’re inviting everyone to focus on their connections with others.

This campaign is a global celebration to mark the United Nations International Day of Happiness. It is coordinated by Action for Happiness, a non-profit movement of people from 160 countries, supported by a partnership of like-minded organisations.

A profound shift in attitudes is underway all over the world. People are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.

March 20 has been established as the annual International Day of Happiness and all 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal” and called for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.

In 2012 the first ever UN conference on Happiness took place and the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which decreed that the International Day of Happiness would be observed every year on 20 March. It was celebrated for the first time in 2013.

For the very first International Day of Happiness in 2013, events took place all over the world and we celebrated hundreds of “Happy Heroes” – those people in our communities who do so much to bring happiness to others.

The 2014 Day of Happiness campaign asked people to share authentic images of what makes them happy to “Reclaim Happiness” back from the fake commercial images of happiness that we are so often bombarded with. Many tens of thousands of people shared images and the social reach was estimated to be over 13 million people globally.

International Day of Happiness, 20 March 2015 – 7 Billion Others

“Once you start listening to music, you’ll feel happiness deep down your heart.”

Video portraits from Italy, India, South Africa, Algeria, Cambodia, Chad, and the USA to mark the International Day of Happiness.

On selected international days the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC), in partnership with the Good Planet Foundation, shares clips from the ‘7 billion Others’ project to communicate the dreams, hopes, and fears of citizens from all over world.

International Day of Happiness: Just how happy are you?

BBC News

Have you ever thought about what truly makes you happy?

It is a question the United Nations is asking us to think about, because it has branded Friday 20 March the International Day of Happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is in fact a very serious business, with experts claiming that loneliness can be twice as deadly as obesity.

See the video of Tim Muffett’s report for the BBC here

How to use staff happiness to boost your business

by Margaret Harris for The Sunday Times Business Times

Research by executive search company Korn Ferry has found that happy employees are good for business: happy staff generate more sales and are better at taking on challenges than those who are miserable in their jobs.

Michelle Moss, director of assessments at Korn Ferry’s alliance partner Talent Africa, said of the research: “Traditionally, staff members worked seriously hard on the job and had fun after hours, at the weekend or in retirement. Today, you are encouraged to be happy in your work and have fun making your workaday contribution.”

Moss has the following advice:

To increase their staff members’ happiness, some big companies provide on-site gyms, hair salons and other services. “The aim is higher staff retention, but the essential building block is employee happiness at the workplace,” she said;

Give staff “happiness injections” to motivate them when the job threatens to overwhelm them. These may take the form of support services, perks or efforts to make work more satisfying;

This process can sound manipulative, but it benefits the workers and the company: people feel good about themselves because they feel valued by their employer;

Celebrating wins, no matter how small, can help raise team spirit and lift morale;

and

Companies with happy employees are likely to be rewarded with increased productivity, lower absentee rates, contained recruitment costs and an easy flow of ideas.

read the original article here

Happy – 2015 UN International Day of Happiness – Pharrell Williams

UN to Create a Playlist of Happiness

What is happiness? The United Nations is teaming up with pop stars to create a playlist that asks, in musical form, that eternal question.

A campaign launched Monday is asking listeners around the world to post through social media the songs that make them happy, with the playlist to be revealed Friday on the UN-declared International Day of Happiness.

The curators who will assess the responses and determine the playlist include the British singer-songwriters Ed Sheeran and James Blunt, US singer-songwriter John Legend, French DJ David Guetta and the Portuguese pop star David Carreira.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is not generally known for his rock star persona, announced the initiative in an MTV-style video in which he offered his vote for Stevie Wonder’s 1970 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”

Ban said that the song – also known to be a favorite of US President Barack Obama – represented his hopes for a successful agreement on climate change at a UN-led conference in Paris later this year.

The United Nations in 2012 declared an International Day of Happiness – which coincides with the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere – after an initiative by Bhutan, the Himalayan land that measures a “Gross National Happiness” instead of a standard economic indicator.

“On this day we are using the universal language of music to show solidarity with the millions of people around the world suffering from poverty, human rights abuses, humanitarian crises and the effects of environmental degradation and climate change,” Ban said.

Last year, the International Day of Happiness invited music fans around the world to dance to Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” creating a viral sensation.

The campaign, which did not specify restrictions on genre, asked music fans to post songs on social media with the hashtag #HappySoundsLike. The playlist will be released by streaming service MixRadio.

read the original article here

Five Ways Music Can Make You Healthier

You might use music to distract yourself from painful or stressful situations, too. Or perhaps you’ve listened to music while studying or working out, hoping to up your performance. Though you may sense that music helps you feel better somehow, only recently has science begun to figure out why that is.

Neuroscientists have discovered that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centres of our brain, stimulating hits of dopamine that can make us feel good, or even elated. Listening to music also lights up other areas of the brain — in fact, almost no brain centre is left untouched — suggesting more widespread effects and potential uses for music.

Music’s neurological reach, and its historic role in healing and cultural rituals, has led researchers to consider ways music may improve our health and wellbeing. In particular, researchers have looked for applications in health-care — for example, helping patients during post-surgery recovery or improving outcomes for people with Alzheimer’s. In some cases, music’s positive impacts on health have been more powerful than medication.

Here are five ways that music seems to impact our health and wellbeing.

Music reduces stress and anxiety

Research has shown that listening to music — at least music with a slow tempo and low pitch, without lyrics or loud instrumentation — can calm people down, even during highly stressful or painful events.

Music can prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and decrease cortisol levels—all biological markers of stress. In one study, researchers found that patients receiving surgery for hernia repair who listened to music after surgery experienced decreased plasma cortisol levels and required significantly less morphine to manage their pain. In another study involving surgery patients, the stress reducing effects of music were more powerful than the effect of an orally-administered anxiolytic drug.

Performing music, versus listening to music, may also have a calming effect. In studies with adult choir singers, singing the same piece of music tended to synch up their breathing and heart rates, producing a group-wide calming effect. In a recent study, 272 premature babies were exposed to different kinds of music—either lullabies sung by parents or instruments played by a music therapist—three times a week while recovering in a neonatal ICU. Though all the musical forms improved the babies’ functioning, the parental singing had the greatest impact and also reduced the stress of the parents who sang.

Though it’s sometimes hard in studies like this to separate out the effects of music versus other factors, like the positive impacts of simple social contact, at least one recent study found that music had a unique contribution to make in reducing anxiety and stress in a children’s hospital, above and beyond social contributions.

Music decreases pain

Music has a unique ability to help with pain management. In a 2013 study, sixty people diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a disease characterised by severe musculoskeletal pain — were randomly assigned to listen to music once a day over a four-week period. In comparison to a control group, the group that listened to music experienced significant pain reduction and fewer depressive symptoms.

In another recent study, patients undergoing spine surgery were instructed to listen to self-selected music on the evening before their surgery and until the second day after their surgery. When measured on pain levels post surgery, the group had significantly less pain than a control group who didn’t listen to music.

It’s not clear why music may reduce pain, though music’s impact on dopamine release may play a role. Of course, stress and pain are also closely linked; so music’s impact on stress reduction may also partly explain the effects.

However, it’s unlikely that music’s impact is due to a simple placebo effect. In a 2014 randomised control trial involving healthy subjects exposed to painful stimuli, researchers failed to find a link between expectation and music’s effects on pain. The researchers concluded that music is a robust analgesic whose properties are not due simply to expectation factors.

Music may improve immune functioning

Can listening to music actually help prevent disease? Some researchers think so.

Wilkes University researchers looked at how music affects levels of IgA — an important antibody for our immune system’s first line of defence against disease. Undergraduate students had their salivary IgA levels measured before and after 30 minutes of exposure to one of four conditions — listening to a tone click, a radio broadcast, a tape of soothing music, or silence. Those students exposed to the soothing music had significantly greater increases in IgA than any of the other conditions, suggesting that exposure to music (and not other sounds) might improve innate immunity.

Another study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that listening to Mozart’s piano sonatas helped relax critically ill patients by lowering stress hormone levels, but the music also decreased blood levels of interleukin-6 — a protein that has been implicated in higher mortality rates, diabetes, and heart problems.

According to a 2013 meta-analysis, authors Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel Levitin concluded that music has the potential to augment immune response systems, but that the findings to date are preliminary. Still, as Levitin notes in one article on the study, “I think the promise of music as medicine is that it’s natural and it’s cheap and it doesn’t have the unwanted side effects that many pharmaceutical products do.”

Music may aid memory

My now-teenage son always listens to music while he studies. Far from being a distraction to him, he claims it helps him remember better when it comes to test time. Now research may prove him right—and provide an insight that could help people suffering from dementia.

Music enjoyment elicits dopamine release, and dopamine release has been tied to motivation, which in turn is implicated in learning and memory. In a study published last year, adult students studying Hungarian were asked to speak, or speak in a rhythmic fashion, or sing phrases in the unfamiliar language. Afterwards, when asked to recall the foreign phrases, the singing group fared significantly better than the other two groups in recall accuracy.

Evidence that music helps with memory has led researchers to study the impact of music on special populations, such as those who suffer memory loss due to illness. In a 2008 experiment, stroke patients who were going through rehab were randomly assigned to listen daily either to self-selected music, to an audio book, or to nothing (in addition to receiving their usual care). The patients were then tested on mood, quality of life, and several cognitive measures at one week, three months, and 6 months post-stroke. Results showed that those in the music group improved significantly more on verbal memory and focused attention than those in the other groups, and they were less depressed and confused than controls at each measuring point.

In a more recent study, caregivers and patients with dementia were randomly given 10 weeks of singing coaching, 10 weeks of music listening coaching, or neither. Afterwards, testing showed that singing and music listening improved mood, orientation, and memory and, to a lesser extent, attention and executive functioning, as well as providing other benefits. Studies like these have encouraged a movement to incorporate music into patient care for dementia patients, in part promoted by organisations like Music and Memory.

Music helps us exercise

How many of us listen to rock and roll or other upbeat music while working out? It turns out that research supports what we instinctively feel: music helps us get a more bang for our exercise buck.

Researchers in the United Kingdom recruited thirty participants to listen to motivational synchronised music, non-motivational synchronised music, or no music while they walked on a treadmill until they reached exhaustion levels. Measurements showed that both music conditions increased the length of time participants worked out (though motivational music increased it significantly more) when compared to controls. The participants who listened to motivational music also said they felt better during their work out than those in the other two conditions.

In another study, oxygen consumption levels were measured while people listened to different tempos of music during their exercise on a stationary bike. Results showed that when exercisers listened to music with a beat that was faster and synchronous with their movement, their bodies used up oxygen more efficiently than when the music played at a slower, unsynchronised tempo.

According to sports researchers Peter Terry and Costas Karageorghis, “Music has the capacity to capture attention, lift spirits, generate emotion, change or regulate mood, evoke memories, increase work output, reduce inhibitions, and encourage rhythmic movement – all of which have potential applications in sport and exercise.”

read the original article here

Pharrell reminds kids to be happy on U.N. International Day of Happiness

Singer Pharrell Williams urges kids to seek happiness during the United Nation’s program for the International Day of Happiness.

Your Happiness Is Part of Something Bigger

by , Director of Action for Happiness

This Friday is not just the first day of spring, it is also the International Day of Happiness – a day to celebrate the things that contribute to human wellbeing and a flourishing society.

One of the strongest findings from all the research about wellbeing is the vital importance of our relationships. We are a deeply social species and we thrive when we’re closely connected to others. But modern society is undermining rather than enhancing these connections.

Our cities and public spaces are increasingly crowded, but more of us are living alone and fewer of us know our neighbours. The digital age promises endless connectivity, but we have fewer face-to-face interactions and often find ourselves paying more attention to the smartphone in our hand than the people we’re with.

The effects of this are devastating. Loneliness has been shown to be twice as deadly as obesity and is now becoming an epidemic among young adults as well as older people. Social isolation is as likely to cause early death as smoking.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways we can start to put this right. In particular, we need to give much greater priority to helping people at risk of loneliness and isolation and supporting the many excellent initiatives that address these issues, includingcampaigns, befriending services, social prescribing, helplines and more.

But this is also about how we treat the people around us in our daily lives. We can each play our own small but meaningful part in helping to create a happier, more connected world.

The theme for this year’s International Day of Happiness is “Your happiness is part of something bigger” – highlighting the importance of these small, everyday connections with others. The aim is to encourage people, wherever they are in the world, to reach out and make more positive connections with the people around them.

This can include simple everyday actions – like chatting to a neighbour, reconnecting with an old friend or sharing a few friendly words with a stranger in the supermarket.

Or it could be something more unusual. For example, Action for Happiness activists (or ‘Happtivists’ as they like to call themselves) are planning Positive Flash Mobs in various major cities, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bucharest, Kiev, London, Milan, Perth and Washington DC. The aim is to transform places where we normally ignore each other – like busy streets or train stations – into places of friendliness and connection.

And in the online world, many thousands more people will be supporting the day by sharing inspiring personal messages and images using the#InternationalDayOfHappiness hashtag. Our online relationships will never be quite as valuable as those we have in person, but the internet can still be a great tool for creating more positive connections.

Of course, just one day focused on spreading happiness is not enough by itself; it needs to be the trigger for wider and more sustained changes. That’s why Action for Happiness, the non-profit movement behind this campaign, is also working to encourage on-going action across society, through initiatives like Happy Cafés and theAction for Happiness course.

So if you’d like to help transform our disconnected society into a friendlier, happier and more connected place, visit www.dayofhappiness.net and download your free Happiness Pack which has lots of suggestions for how to get involved.

The International Day of Happiness will be more than just a fun celebration, it will also help to remind us all that the world is a better place when we connect with and care about the people around us.

As Mark Twain once said: “The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up”.

read the original article here

The Key To Our Happiness Is Connection, Not Competition

There are two different sides to human nature. Both are important, but the balance between them has huge implications for our wellbeing, culture and future.

One side of our nature is self-interested. This is our in-built instinct to do whatever we can to survive and thrive, often at the expense of others. The other side is co-operative and leads us to help others even when there is no direct benefit for ourselves.

Although Charles Darwin is normally associated with the “survival of the fittest” theory, he also believed that our natural instinct was to care for others. In The Descent of Man he wrote that the communities most likely to flourish were “those with the most sympathetic members”, an observation backed up by research that we are wired to care about each other.

But we have such a strong cultural narrative about the selfish side of humanity that we adopt systems and behaviours that undermine our natural co-operative tendencies. This starts in schools, where the relentless focus on exams and attainment instills in young people the idea that success is about doing better than others. It continues in our marketing culture, which encourages conspicuous displays of consumption and rivalry.

It’s found at the heart of our workplaces, where employees compete with each other for performance-related rewards. It’s behind the self-interested behaviour that makes it so hard to overcome major societal challenges such as climate change.

This “get ahead or lose out” ethos not only fails to promote the better side of our nature, it’s also deeply flawed. In schools, helping young people to develop social and emotional skills doesn’t just enhance their wellbeing, it’s also been shown to boost their performance.

In workplaces, research from Adam Grant, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School shows that “givers” – people who help others without seeking anything in return – are more successful in the long term than “takers” – who try to maximise benefits for themselves, rather than others.

For society as a whole, the World Happiness Report 2013, a major global study, found that two of the strongest explanatory factors for national wellbeing are levels of social support and generosity. Our success as a society directly depends on the extent to which we see each other as a source of support rather than a source of threat.

Today is the International Day of Happiness and this year’s theme is “your happiness is part of something bigger”, focusing on the importance of connecting with and caring about the people around us. This matters for sustainability for three significant reasons.

Firstly, it is a timely reminder of the importance of collaboration and the need for systems thinking, both within and across organisations. This is the only way we can solve the major challenges in our increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Secondly, it links to the growing body of evidence including a recent paper from the University of Warwick that shows when people feel happier and more connected they are more productive at work. Dr Teresa Belton, researcher and visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, has also shown it leads people tobehave in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Thirdly, the deeper message behind the International Day of Happiness is the need for a radical shift in the way we measure progress. This moves us away from chasing GDP growth at all costs and towards a more holistic view of wellbeing as the ultimate goal, taking future generations into account too.

This doesn’t just matter for business leaders and policy makers, it relates to the way that we each behave as individuals and how we treat others in our communities and working lives.

Today people all around the world are taking small actions to create more positive connections with others around them, whether at the office, in the shops, on the train or in their neighbourhood. These tiny moments of friendliness and co-operation aren’t trivial and meaningless; they are the vital lifeblood of a good society.

read the original article here

RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilisation

Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. Taken from a lecture given by Jeremy Rifkin as part of the RSA’s free public events programme.

Happiness At Work edition #124

You can find all of these articles and many more in our latest collection here

Happiness At Work #123 ~ Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Take the next step…

This post collects together some different ideas about why pausing and making time for quietness and simply to breathe is essential to our happiness at work, along with some practical approaches and techniques for doing this.

When did you last think about your breathing?

For as long as we are alive, we are guaranteed to keep breathing whether we think about it much or not: no matter what we do or do not do, think or do not think, we will keep right on breathing. But just as with any other aspect related to our normal body function, most of us are likely to only really think about what is happening to us when we notice a problem or difficulty: we are out of breath or having to breathe extra hard or feel our breath racing away on us or need to stop and catch our breath or to get our breath back.

Perhaps normal breathing is a bit like the way we tend to think about silence and not talking, a kind of nothing, or, at best, a neutral state that is primarily inactive and passive. But, just as silence and not saying anything can be one of the most potent, active and consciously vital actions we can bring to our encounters and the people we engage with, so, too, can breathing be one of the most enlivening, empowering, sustaining, and rebalancing actions we can take.

Rather than an absence of action, our ability to be silent effectively and productively demands that we learn how to be skilled, alert and attentive listeners.

We also need to learn how to become expert at breathing.

And If we become more conscious, deliberate, flexible and skilled at breathing we will get from this to . . .

  •  …feel more confident and more truly ourselves;
  • …grow and continually renew our sense of capability and influence over the world we inhabit;
  • …quiet, calm and control feelings of anxiety, stress or terror in times of panic or unsureness;
  • …fire our inspiration into life and trust our unconscious minds to bring us the ideas and solutions we need;
  • …radiate an animated, dynamic and receptive presence and come across to people as bright, charismatic and attractive;
  • …and take us across a creative leap from our personal breathing practices into something more profound and collective that can affect the vibrations and creative possibilities of our encounters in groups.

Simply by becoming better at breathing opens up for us a myriad of fresh possibilities around us. If we practice even very simple breathing exercises over time, we will build a stronger, more resilient sense of confidence, ease and energy that can lead us to feel more intensely open, enlivened by and connected into the world and its people.

And better breathing not only makes us feel more alive and vital, it significantly adds to our overall and long-term health and well-being.

As the mainstream scientific community begins to assimilate the growing body of research that points to our ability to re-wire our brains, breath practices are emerging as one important methodological family from which we can draw in order to actively co-create ourselves and influence the flavour of our life experience.  So breathe, breathe, breathe!  Whether it’s a slow change in a habitual thinking pattern or an ecstatic experience of divine union that you are seeking, the breath can take you there.  (Rev. James Reho)

As well as the articles that follow, you can also find practical ways to develop your breathing awareness and expertsie in our toolkit: Six Ways Of Breathing, which link breathing practice to:

  • Breathing to Feel More Alive, Whole & Connected ~ Everyday Breathing Exercises
  • Breathing for Renewal ~ Exercises for Taking Time Out to Breathe
  • Breathing for Recovery ~ Building Resilience and Regaining Balance
  • Breathing Ideas Into Life ~ Exercises to Ignite New Ideas and Trust Unconscious Thinking
  • Breathing for Presence ~ Exercises to help Build Confidence and Presence
  • Breathing for Creative Collaborations ~ Exercises to Help Unleash and Harness your Creativity in Groups

10 Places To Find Time To Think

by Time Management Ninja

Once your day gets going, it never seems to stop.

Busyness. Interruptions. Noise.

You feel like you can’t get a moment to think, time to plan, or even a moment to collect your thoughts.

If only you could find a place to stop and think about your day.

Finding Time to Think

It’s just run, run, run… all day long.

In the hurried pace of your day, you find it difficult to stop and think.

Wouldn’t things be easier if you could stop for a moment to plan what you are doing? Prioritise your work? And even decide what you shouldn’t be doing?

With noise and interruptions in the workplace, it can be hard to get time to think. Even harder to find a place to get some peace and quiet.

You need to ask, “Where can I find a place to think?”

Even in the busiest environments there are locations to get away and plan for a few minutes.

Here are 10 Places to Find Time to Think:

  1. In Your Car – The next time you are driving in your car, try the following experiment: Turn off your radio. Put your cellphone out of reach. (You shouldn’t be using it in the car anyway.) Then, listen to the silence. I bet you won’t be able to drive more than a quarter of a mile before you start to hear the thoughts in your head.
  2. Before Everyone Wakes Up – OK, this is a time, not a place, but the early morning before the world gets up is a great time to think for yourself. Whether it is just you, or you are getting up before the morning kid chaos, find time for yourself before the day begins.
  3. In Your Office – If you are fortunate enough to have an office for your job, shut the door and get some planning done. (Yes, you can shut the door.) Then when you are done, you can open the door and re-engage your team.
  4. Go Outdoors – Going for a walk outside is a great way to get some peace. You don’t have to go deep into nature. (Although that can be great, too). Many workplaces have walking paths or simply sidewalks where you can go for a quick walk and recoup your thoughts.
  5. At the Coffee Shop – Personally, I am not the Starbucks type. However, many people find isolation in the public noise of coffee shops. Find a table in a secluded corner and get some work done. (Or bring the coffee shop to you with an app like Coffitivity.)
  6. In Your HeadphonesUse your headphones to create your own privacy. Shut out the noise. Play your favourite music. Even silent headphones can bring privacy and the expectation that you are not to be disturbed.
  7. In the Library – There is a reason why libraries have a “quiet rule.” Go there to find a silent place to think and plan. And if someone is making noise, you are justified in saying, “Shhhhh!”
  8. The Unused Conference Room – If your workplace has unused meeting space, make a meeting with yourself. Take advantage of empty meeting space to get work done.
  9. At Lunch – It’s nice to go out to lunch with the gang, but sometimes it’s helpful to book lunch with yourself.  Feed your body and your mind with a lunch date alone to think and plan the rest of your day or week.
  10. The Secret Place – Every workplace has one. The secret room, hidden nook, or unknown alcove that only a few people know. Find your own secret corner to hide away and get some quiet time

A Place for Your Thoughts

You can find a place to take the time to think about and plan your day.

Depending on your circumstances or work place, you might need to get creative. However, getting some “think time” for even a few minutes can boost your productivity in a big way.

Today, go find your quiet place and take time to gather your thoughts and ideas.

read the original article here

12 Totally Unexpected Ways to De-stress

by Aja Frost for The Muse

Have you ever heard exercise helps you de-stress? What about meditation or deep breathing? We don’t know about you, but we’re a little tired of being told the same de-stressing techniques over and over. So here you go: 12 relaxation suggestions that (we hope) you haven’t seen before.

  1. Go on: Drop an F-bomb or 10. Just not where your boss can hear.(Scientific American)
  2. Make a beeline to the office kitchen and sniff an apple. Not only will the scent ward off headaches, it can make you less stressed. (Eating Well)
  3. Massage your ears. No, seriously: The action releases endorphins! (Zen Habits)
  4. Start pacing. That’s what one super successful entrepreneur does when he’s deep in thought. (Tech Co.)
  5. If you’re at your computer, try shutting it down and working on a task that doesn’t involve a screen. (Psych Central)
  6. There are actually foods that calm you down. We suggest eating them.(NPR)
  7. Green is the new black! Turns out having a plant on your desk relaxes you.(Forbes)
  8. You might want to close your office door for this one, but listening to head-banging music and rocking out will help you release all that nervous energy.(Inc.)
  9. If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, looking at fractals (like a picture of snowflakes or ocean waves) will make your brain happy. (Everyday Health)
  10. What have you accomplished today? Whether it’s big or small, tell yourself—out loud—what an awesome job you did. (Reader’s Digest)
  11. Blowing up a balloon forces you to practice deep breathing, so make a run to the drug store. Or just take a deep breath. (U.S. News & World Report)
  12. conceptualise stress as a good thing. It’s your body’s way of preparing your for a challenge. (The Muse)

read the original article here

Letting Your Mind Wander Can Make You More Productive

It’s estimated that we spend nearly 50 percent of our waking lives in a state of daydreaming.

For something we do so often, mind-wandering sure has a bad reputation. It’s often described as a mindless activity – one that makes us more lazy, unproductive and dissatisfied with our lives. A Harvard study even concluded, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

But why would we so readily spend half of our lives engaged in a fundamentally purposeless activity? The answer is that we don’t – a wealth of new research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that daydreaming is anything but purposeless.

In fact, these self-generated thoughts might make us more creative and productive, and may even bring meaning to our lives.

“We (and others) have been arguing that daydreaming serves a function — evolution would have not let so much metabolic energy go to waste,” Dr. Moshe Bar, cognitive neuroscientist and author of a new, surprising study on the subject, told The Huffington Post. “It helps us prepare for the future, plan, think about self and others, and generally engage in mental simulations that facilitate our interaction with the environment.”

But in addition to staving off boredom and giving us the opportunity to reflect, Bar’s research suggests that daydreaming might make us more productive at the task at hand – even as it offers us an opportunity to allow our minds to run wild.

Bar and his colleagues were able, for the first time, to induce mind-wandering in study participants… Participants reported daydreaming most when stimulation was focused on the frontal lobe of the brain. While daydreaming and control might seem antithetical – mind-wandering seems to involve a lack of attention, while executive function plays a role in regulating attention — the researchers hypothesised that there might be a connection between the two. Both brain regions are involved in organising and planning for the future, for example.

But the researchers made another, more surprising finding: Rather than distracting the participants from the task at hand, when researchers induced mind-wandering in the participants, it actually improved performance on the number-tracking task. Mind-wandering seems to enhance the participants’ cognitive ability, helping them to succeed at the task while also allowing them to enjoy some pleasurable mental diversions.

Bar suggested that this improvement is due to the fact that mind-wandering combines the thought-controlling activity of the executive network, and the thought-freeing activity of spontaneous daydreaming, which occurs across the brain’s broad default mode network. The activation of multiple brain regions during mind-wandering, Bar says, “may… contribute to the ability to stay successfully on-task while the mind goes off on its merry mental way.”

“What I think is cool about this study is that it’s possible that the stimulation simultaneously increased activation of working memory (allowing for greater focused attention) and increased mind-wandering,” psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who specialises in daydreaming and creativity but was not involved in this study, told The Huffington Post. “If true, this would suggest that attention and mind-wandering need not be at odds with each other and can even facilitate each other.”

As Kaufman suggested, the study points to a harmony between mind-wandering and mindful mental states, which we tend to think of as being at odds with each other. In fact, mind-wandering may not be defined by the inability to pay attention so much as the ability to draw attention inward – to our own thoughts, reflections and dreams.

read the original article

What Mindfulness and Daydreaming Have to Do with Getting Things Done

“You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” (David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.)

This podcast on productivity tips for the 21st century conditions we are now working in includes:

  • Why it’s increasingly important to find ways to keep your head clear and stay productive
  • The addictions that constant updates via smartphones are causing
  • The myth of multi-tasking (it doesn’t work when trying to be productive)
  • The 2 Minute Rule – any email you can answer in 2 minutes or less, you should reply to right away
  • How to focus on only what you are doing instead of being distracted by all your other to-dos
  • The importance of day dreaming after doing something productive
  • How to have a “mind like water” and how that helps you react properly to situations
  • The difference between having direction and having discipline

read the original article here

Making happiness count at the workplace

An organisation that proactively creates and spreads happiness at work is better off

adapted from an article by Carole SpiersBBC Guest-Broadcaster and CEO of a business management consultancy based in London.
March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, now celebrated throughout the world and confirmed as such by the UN in 2012. The day recognises that ‘happiness is a fundamental human goal’ and calls upon countries ‘to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all people’.

Being happy at work is one of the keys to being truly happy in life as most people spend 20 to 30 years working, which is about 30 per cent of the average human lifespan.

There are, of course, many factors that impact professional happiness, including business relationships, professional development, work-life balance, environment and organisational culture. Obviously, you have no control over whether your employees are happy at home, but you do have some control as to how happy they are at work.

And if you don’t know if your employees are happy, then why not ask them? If your team is working in a positive atmosphere, this will be reflected in their performance levels, and while the additional cost to you is zero, gains can be substantial.

So let’s look at small actions that can make big differences:

Value and Appreciate

This is top of my list. Make sure that the company’s culture values its human resource and that employees don’t feel as if they are just an insignificant part of an impersonal system. Bosses and team leaders should tell their team that they are appreciated. A simple ‘thank you’ Post-It note left on someone’s computer will probably be kept for many years.

Celebrate

Strengths-based leadership is proven to bring huge increases in productivity, creativity, engagement, commitment, confidence and risk-taking.  Focus on what is already working especially well – successes and achievements – at least three and even five times as much as any negatives and performance weaknesses.  Celebrate team triumphs, employee of the month, as well as birthdays, births, etc. There are always reasons for a celebration … so why not share in someone else’s joy? And doing with this something special to eat helps to make it even more of a shared experience.

Quiet room

Sometimes people need to speak in confidence with someone else. A small room with comfortable chairs and a coffee table could provide this staff amenity.  But even more than this, a lovely space where it is legitimate and valued for people to go and ‘just think’ for a bit can add miracles to what people then go on to do.

Smiling co-workers

A smile costs nothing but has immense value. Any day seems to go better when you are surrounded by colleagues who smile and are willing to help you.  All emotions are contagious and spread from person to person – so you may as well increase the spread of happiness across your team.

Welcome

Care about people’s experience in activities you lead as much you care about the results they need to achieve.  Be a friendly host. Welcome visitors or staff members to your department with a smile. It is sometimes difficult to summon up the courage to go and see someone in a large department, but if each office had a list of names of people and their pictures on the wall outside, then this could encourage people to come in.

Getting to know you

You may have worked with your colleague for many years but I wonder if you know what they do when they go home? Once a month, individuals could give a talk, at lunchtime, about their favourite hobby or interest.

Brainstorming sessions

Set time aside each week to get your team together to have brainstorming sessions. You will be amazed by the mountain of ideas of hidden creativity, just waiting to be unleashed. Have a suggestion board where employees’ ideas would be considered and constructive feedback given. Appoint an ‘ideas champion’ to follow through accepted ideas.

Meet the Management

Maybe once a month, managers could attend a lunch arranged by different members of their team. One month it could be Asian style, another month Indian or Iranian, etc. Whoever is responsible for the meal could give a few minutes of presentation on their individual culture and the food that has been prepared.

A unique benefits package

This could include staff discounts or free gym membership, or free parking.

Flexible schedule/hours

Being able to leave the office by arrangement when you have personal business to take care of, is something that makes any company position, extra special.

In the current economic climate, many companies struggle to gain market share. Fortunately, leaders are beginning to realise that the smartest way to gain competitive advantage is through employee engagement — that means ensuring an environment where it is pleasurable to work.

read the original article here

3 Reasons Why Today’s Leader Needs Mindfulness Meditation

Marketing and business development expert, Deborah Holstein, highlights just three of the benefits of mindfulness for business…

Many people hear the term mindfulness meditation and instantly their eyes narrow with alarm or roll back into their heads. I think I can see the thought bubble over their head flashing “Yes, I know, I know…but I’m trying to build a career here! I don’t have the time!” Because in the busy life of today’s leader (or rising leader) there never seems to be enough time for anything, much less 15 minutes a day for mindfulness meditation. That’s a mistake.

If you do not practice mindfulness, you may be short shrifting your career because you are neglecting to develop critical skills you need to grow and thrive in your career — and in the rest of your life.

Here are 3 reasons why cultivating mindfulness through meditation is necessary for your success.

Mindfulness changes your brain – for the better

You may already be aware of the many health benefits of meditation: lower blood pressure, less inflammation, pain management, to name a few. You may not yet have heard that research has also shown that mindfulness meditation also benefits your brain.

In fact, with a regular meditation practice, the source of your “lizard brain” (the amygdala) actually begins to shrink. And as this primal region of your brain shrinks, the area of your brain associated with higher order thinking (the prefrontal cortex) — awareness, concentration and decision making — becomes thicker. These brain benefits were visible within just 8 weeks and correlate with the amount of time devoted to meditation.

Leaders need take on bigger and ever more complex business challenges, so you need every edge. Starting your regular mindfulness meditation practice now — whether you’re already an executive or plan to be one someday — is like money in bank because the brain benefits will be there when you need it.

Your stress hurts your team

A leader’s stress is contagious. Your team members who see you under stress – tired, frazzled and unfocused – will experience empathic stress responses including increased cortisol. And if you allow your stress to progress into full fledged burnout your team is far more likely to mirror your negative attitudes. This is especially dangerous in today’s open workspace environments because there isn’t an office door to shut to prevent your team from “catching” your stress or burnout.

For all leaders, a big portion of your day-to-day is about motivating and inspiring your team. You don’t want to increase your team’s stress or hurt their health or productivity so you need to be in control of your emotions and proactively managing your stress – all things that stem from a practice of mindful meditation.

Leaders need more soft skills

As a leader, your role – and your value to the organisation – changes from being the one “doing” the work, to being the one ensuring the “right” work gets done. And all the work gets done by and with other people. This means that as you rise in an organisation more and more of your success depends upon your ability to effectively communicate, motivate and mediate.

A mindfulness meditation practice teaches you to be present and more aware of the meta messages inherent in any interpersonal exchange. Truly listening to your team and colleagues and staying aware of their emotional responses — both expressed and not — will help you to most effectively adapt your communications and responses for the best result.

read the original article here

Work hard, work harder: How we’re screwing up the pursuit of happiness.

by GLAIN for The Executive Roundtable

Once upon a time, in a work galaxy far, far away, there was a mantra that companies used to use. It went like this: work hard, play hard. Over the past decade (or possibly more), the mantra has changed to work hard, work harder as companies move their focus from why they do what they do, to a single minded drive to make money and increase shareholder value. Sure, there are a few bright sparks on the horizon. A handful of companies are bringing back the drive for purpose – Zappos, G Adventures, Whole Foods to name a few – but they are overwhelmingly few and far between. In my observation, this quest for the almighty dollar is wreaking a boatload of misery into our work lives… and our homelives…

If you’re feeling like you’re in a never ending numbers grind at work, try changing the focus. Here are a few very simple ways I do this at The Executive Roundtable:

  1. I open our weekly team meetings asking people to share something great that happened to them the week before – personal or work related. Whatever makes you feel good.
  2. We celebrate progress… even when we’re behind on budget. We look at what we’ve accomplished.
  3. We take time to appreciate each other’s contributions by sharing peer feedback.
  4. I make a list of 5 of our members that I haven’t spoken to in a while and reach out to see how they’re doing and share a laugh.
  5. I get inspired by reading an inspiring book, watching a TED Talk or writing a blog post like this one that I think might help others.

As many of you head into the March Break week with your families, think about how you can bring more happiness and balance into your life by taking the emphasis off money and material objects and putting it onto the things that ultimately matter most: love, relationships and community.

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Nine Steps To Work-Place Happiness

To achieve greater happiness at work, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in the Cotswolds. The biggest obstacle to happiness is simply your belief that you’re the prisoner of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to you. We create our own experience. Here are nine steps to happiness at work:

1. Avoid “good” and “bad” labels: When something bad happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, when you make an error, be aware of it without passing judgment. Do what you have to do, but don’t surrender your calmness and sense of peace.

2. Practice “extreme resilience: Extreme resilience is the ability to recover fast from adversity. You spend too much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others. You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you’re resilient, you recover and go on to do great things.

3. Let go of grudges: A key to being happy at work is to let go of grudges. Consciously drop the past. It’s hard, but with practice you will get the hang of it.

4. Don’t waste time being jealous: When you’re jealous you’re saying that the universe is limited and there’s not enough success in it for me. Instead, be happy, because whatever happened to him will happen to you in your current job or at another company.

5. Find passion in you, not in your job: Sure, you can fantasise about a dream job that pays you well and allows you to do some kind of social good, work with brilliant and likable colleagues and still be home in time for dinner. But be warned against searching for that perfect position, or even believing that it exists. Instead, change how you think about your current situation. For example, instead of thinking of yourself as a human resources manager at , identify yourself as someone who helps other bank employees provide for their families, take advantage of their benefits and save for the future.

6. Picture yourself 10 years ago and 10 years from now: Most problems that kept you awake ten years ago have disappeared. Much of what troubles you today will also vanish. Realising this truth will help you gain perspective.

7. Banish the “if/then” model of happiness: Many of us rely on a flawed “if/then” model for happiness. If we become CEO, then we’ll be happy. If we make a six-figure salary, then we’ll be happy. There is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy.

8. Invest in the process, not the outcome: Outcomes are totally beyond your control. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you focus too much on what you hope to achieve rather than how you plan to get there.

9. Think about other people: Even in Britain, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, it’s better to inhabit an centred universe. If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he may still succeed in less tangible ways. He may rise later, and stronger. Challenge the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.

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Riding the Breath: Breath As A Spiritual Praxis

by The Rev. James Reho

Breathing is never really simple.  Our breath bears our emotional history and is a playing field for our flirtations with both Eros and Thanatos.  While our relationship with our breath is often barely conscious, the quality and form of our breathing enhances and communicates much about our emotional state.  As children, we hold our breath to get what we want; breath steels and expresses our will.  When we are frightened, we gasp for breath sharply with the upper chest; breath influences and expresses our anxiety level.  When we sleep, exercise, concentrate, make love, or meditate, our breath takes on again other patterns to support our activities…

Tradition as well as experience and research indicates that conscious work with the breath can help heal emotional and even physical pain and disease, and can vitalize our body/mind complex in ways that are so extraordinary that I hesitate to describe them… you simply wouldn’t be likely to believe me…

The words for “breath” and “spirit” in several scriptural languages are related:  ruach in Hebrew, ruh in Arabic, pneuma in Greek, and spiritus in Latin.  From this last, we have in English words like “inspire/inspiration” and “expire/expiration” that carry dual meanings relating both to breath and to spirit in various forms (creativity, vitality)…

Why breathe?

In the fifth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad (8th – 7th century BCE) the faculties of speech, hearing, seeing, thinking, and breathing have an argument concerning which of them is primary for the human person.  These bodily functions[xvii] ask Father Prajapati (the uber-person) which of them is the finest.  He answers that the one whose departure leaves the body in the worst case is the primary function.  Speech, hearing, seeing, and thinking each in their turn leave; upon their return, they all discover together that the body can still function, albeit with some deficit.  When breath determines to leave, however, all the other faculties find they are dragged along with it; indeed, breath is the most important of these.

Aside from its obvious necessity for physical life, the breath expresses and influences our emotional and mental states.   The various techniques of working with breath—from traditional pranayama and hesychastic breathing to more modern practices such as breathwalk[xviii] and holotropic breathwork—we can utilise this often-unconscious process to affect our lives physically, mentally, and energetically:

“Life is not under your control and the mind is not obedient, but there is something the mind does obey.  That is the rate of the breath…” [xix]

Yoga and the Transformational Power of Prānāyāma

Prānāyāma, the control of the breath (really, of the life essence which is carried upon the breath) is one of the eight traditional limbs of yoga.  There are hundreds of methods of prānāyāma, devised to enhance very particular aspects of one’s being and/or address very particular weaknesses in the physical, emotional, intellectual, or psychological being of the yogi.  Practitioners claim that directing the breath in particular ways can build and enhance cross-hemispheric functionality of the brain as well as optimise the function of glandular systems and mental and physical performance…

Mastery of various forms of prānāyāma is an endeavour requiring years of practice and study.  One learns to exercise precise control over inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka), and breath retention (kumbhaka): through building stamina and extremely sensitive muscular control, one can “move” the breath with precision into various areas of the lung, retain the breath for extended periods with fine control over air pressure, and also finely tune the nature, rate, and form of the exhalation, creating a nearly infinite array of possible breath patterns.

The benefits and effects of prānāyāma are nearly unbelievable to those who have not experienced them. Directing the breath into various bodily energy centres can bring about experiences of expanded consciousness or incredible bliss; slow alternate nostril breathing can calm and balance the mind and emotional self; and strong, mouth-based prānāyāma such as is done in breathwork can open levels of experience and consciousness typically thought accessible only through hallucinogens or years in a snowy cave in the Himalayas or upon Mt. Athos.  Sound interesting?  Here are some starting points to begin gathering your own data on the power of breath…

Getting Started: Jumping into the Experience of Breath 

Here then are three entry-level prānāyāma exercises that can give you a first taste of what is eventually possible through the control of breath.  I am a certified yoga instructor, but am not a healthcare professional: please check in with your doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any of these practices, and if you become dizzy or ill… stop and rest.

Deergha Swasam (Three-part Yogic Breath):

Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, either cross-legged on a cushion (making sure knees are lower than the hips) or in a chair with feet on the floor.  Rest the hands in the lap.  Eyes are closed. Begin by inhaling slowly through the nose into the diaphragm/abdomen.  Once the abdomen is full, allow more breath to come into the chest, expanding it forward and outward (i.e., both the front and sides of the chest expand).  Finally, bring in even more breath so that the collarbones slightly rise.  Let this long inhalation be smooth and gentle-but-firm.  Now exhale the same way: let the air come out from the collarbones, from the thoracic cavity, and finally from the abdominal cavity.  Fully empty the lungs by bringing the navel in toward the spine.  Repeat for ten minutes.

This breath builds lung capacity in a pleasant way (there are really tough prānāyāmas that do so in a less-than-pleasant way!).  Our typical, unconscious breaths usually involve inhaling about 500 cubic centimeters of air; through a full deergha swasam breath, you will inhale (and expel) about 3000 cubic centerimeters of air.  Six times the air means offers six times the oxygen.  Aside from fuller oxygenation and removal of toxins, deergha swasam helps steady the emotional state and create a peaceful, alert focus of the mind.

Kapalabhati (Skull-shining Breath, or Breath of Fire):

Sit as above.  Here you focus on the exhale, which is sharp and brought about by quickly “snapping” the navel in toward the spine.  The inhalation will occur naturally as the abdomen relaxes.  Build this up so that you can accomplish two or three cycles per second.  Both exhalation and inhalation occur through the nose.  This breath can be practiced with arms raised to the side at 60 degrees, elbows straight, palms up.  Bring the focus of the closed eyes to the point between the eyebrows.  Practice for three minutes, then inhale and hold the breath.  Finally, exhale and rest for two minutes with hands sweeping down at the sides and coming to rest in the lap.  Let the breath return to normal.

According to practitioners of kundalini yoga, this breath builds the aura and cleanses the blood and the lungs.  It invigorates the whole body and is great to do as part of your wake-up routine.  Although in the early stages of learning this breath we focus our energy and concentration on the exhale, there should be a balance between the exhalation and inhalation so that you do not become breathless.

Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing):

Nadi sodhana is really a family of prānāyāma techniques that focus upon balance and opening of the nadis, energetic channels that are said to exist in the subtle (pranic) body.

To perform nadi sodhana, sit again as outlined above.  Allow the left hand to rest on the left thigh or lap.  The right hand forms a two-pronged pincer, with the index and middle fingers bent into the palm.  The extended thumb forms one end of the pincer and the ring finger and pinky, kept together as one finger, form the other.  Take a few preparatory deergha swasam breaths, and then after an inhalation, use the thumb to close off the right nostril.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Now use the ring finger-plus-pinky to close off the left nostril and remove the thumb to allow the exhalation to pass through the right nostril.  Inhale.  Now again block the right nostril and open the left.  Exhale and inhale.  Continue, gradually working to lengthen the inhalations and exhalations.  Once you are comfortable, you can work on having the exhalations last for twice as long as the inhalations.  To complete a cycle (let’s say, ten minutes to start), let the right hand return to the lap and the breath return to normal after an exhalation through the right nostril.

This nadi sodhana practice calms the mind and the heart and balances the hemispheres of the brain.  It builds strength in the lungs as well, especially when one pauses to retain the inhaled breath and then pauses again when the lungs are fully evacuated as part of the practice.  Yoga teaches that we alternate which nostril is dominant roughly every 90 minutes (experiment with this; you’ll see it’s about right), corresponding to our natural “switching” between hemispheric brain dominance.  Through the practice of nadi sodhana, we simultaneously active both hemispheres of the brain, bringing both balance and deeper connectivity between the hemispheres.

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Happiness At Work #123

All of these articles are gathered together in the new Happiness At Work collection along with many more more that give ideas, tools and techniques for increasing greater leadership, balance, productivity, creativity, learning, resilience and flourishing at work and in our lives….

see the full collection here