THE BLOG
08/27/2014 02:55 pm ET | Updated Oct 27, 2014

Want to Move From Functioning to Flourishing at Work?

Olivia Bell Photography via Getty Images

Do you ever feel like there's a blanket of greyness snuffing all the color out of your life? Instead of feeling full of energy, enthusiasm and enjoyment most days you drag yourself around feeling deflated, disillusioned and disappointed. And you can't help but wonder if: "Surely there's more to life than this."

For many years this was my daily mantra as I found myself hitting the snooze button on my alarm each morning again and again and again.

Despite all the advantage we have of better education, better health, better standards of living and better technology to save us time, the Gallup Research Organization report less than a quarter (22 percent) of American employees are engaged in their jobs and thriving in their overall lives.

Like you probably have, I tried to make it better. I practiced counting my blessings, letting things go, not focusing on comparisons, meditating at lunch time and even taking walking meetings. And while these changes offered moments of color, like dappled light they quickly faded when the every day reality of my job invaded.

Until I had three big a-ha moments that forever changed my life.

My first a-ha moment came while I sitting in my masters class with Professor Martin Seligman -- the founder of positive psychology -- and he told us that he was replacing his theory of happiness with a theory of well-being instead. You see I'd spent most of my life chasing happiness. The problem was no matter what I seemed to try or how many happy experiences I collected, the feeling just never seemed to last.

Rather than happiness being the goal of life, Marty's new theory proposed our goal should be to flourish individually and together and that wellbeing was the path to get there. This has proven to be a far more robust path to creating a life I love.

My next a-ha moment came when I met Professor Barbara Fredrickson who cautioned that just like going for run won't make us fit, or eating one piece of broccoli won't make us healthy the same is true when it comes to our wellbeing. Instead we need to use the tested practices of positive psychology to build life-expanding habits that little by little remake our lives from the inside out.

Well-being comes from consistent choices and actions day in and day out.

My final aha moment came when I stumbled across the research of Professor Sonja Lyubomirksy and her colleagues who were exploring what it takes to make wellbeing changes last. Unfortunately, it appears we adapt to almost all the good things that happen in our lives because of the creeping toll of normalcy and our ever-increasing expectations which is why we often grow bored with our wellbeing practices. The good news is studies suggest we can head off or at least slow down adaptation by practicing gratitude, keeping things novel and not comparing ourselves to others.

I can't tell you what a relief this was. For years I'd been wondering if there was something wrong with me for feeling everything around me was grey even though I had what looked like an incredible life. To know that I wasn't going mad or even just being ungratefully bad, but that I'd simply adapted to the good things I had and could reignite my interest, passion and joy with a little bit of effort.

Of course the next trick was figuring out how to bring these a-ha moments together into a practical, busy-proof plan I could follow no matter what was happening at work.

I started with the five pillars of Seligman's well-being theory -- positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment -- as the path to flourishing. Practically this gave me five steps:

  • Feel good -- Given studies suggest your mood could impact 20-30 percent of your performance at work, try creating more jolts of joy in your day -- like spending time in nature, listening to a favorite song, finding something to laugh about -- to spark heartfelt positive emotions and fuel your resilience.
  • Be engaged -- When you have a chance to regularly use your strengths - those things you like doing and are good at - it can boost your level of engagement by up to six times, making your goals easier to achieve and improving your sense of satisfaction with life. Spend ten minutes taking the free strengths survey at viame.org and then fuel your confidence by finding small ways to put these strengths to work each day - no matter what your job description says.
  • Get connected -- You have a deep biological need for social support and each time you joyfully connect with another person, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into your bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving your concentration and focus. Make the time to genuinely connect with other people -- by expressing gratitude, asking appreciative questions or showing kindness -- and savor the feelings of warmth and trust that well up with others.
  • Live purposefully -- When we have a sense of meaning in our jobs a growing body of evidence shows we're happier, more motivated, more committed, and more satisfied, which enables us to perform better. One of the simplest ways is to complete this sentence: "Everything I do is to _______, so that ________."
  • Keep growing -- While 89 percent of us believe tomorrow will be better than today, only 50% believe we can make it so. Accomplishing what matters to you most starts by igniting hope. Create a hope map by noting down: the "want-to" goals you're hoping to achieve; the pathways that can move you from where you are to where you want to be; the obstacles you're likely to encounter on these pathways; what you can do to maintain your motivation and willpower to reach the desired result.

Now I had the steps all figured out, surely flourishing would come easily. Well not quite.

To ensure I had the energy to consistently execute the five steps - no matter what was happening in my life I added three guiding practices to keep me on track:

  • Be well -- Everything from how well we sleep at night, the foods we put in our mouths, and how much we're moving particularly while we're at work, has a profound effect not only on our own levels of energy, happiness and productivity but on our colleagues as well. So it's vital we eat well, move regularly, meditate daily and sleep deeply each day to ensure we have the energy to consistently flourish.
  • Value habits -- To build life-expanding attitudes and behaviors that little by little remake your life from the inside out try creating small, busy-proof habits throughout the day - using the simple loop of cue, routine and reward -- to keep your wellbeing on track.
  • Keep it fresh -- Slow down and head off the creeping toll of normalcy and ever-increasing expectations by practicing gratitude, keeping things novel and not comparing yourself so much to others, so you don't become bored by your own wellbeing practices.

When I put these five steps together with the three guiding practices I was finally able to embrace the raw, messy, magic that is life and shape it in ways to authentically and consistently bring out the best in myself and others.

And while I'm always happy to share my story, perhaps it's more compelling to know that a growing body of data shows that when wellbeing is cultivated within and amongst employees through these kinds of steps they are found to have higher levels of productivity, produce more sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. Now that's what I call flourishing.

What are the steps you take to maintain the color and wel-lbeing in your life? If you'd like help with practical ways you can apply these steps and measure and monitor your progress download my free e-book to help you move from functioning to flourishing.