Like most people, I grew up believing that if I worked hard, then I'd be successful and then I'd be happy. It was only after spending more than a decade of my career chasing the next goal, earning the next promotion, and convincing my boss I was worthy of the next pay rise, that I realized I had trapped myself on a treadmill of stress, exhaustion and discontentment.
And then I hit the wall. It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed each morning.
No wonder, given researchers in neuroscience and psychology have discovered that I had the formula for success completely backwards. It turns out, happiness -- not hard work -- fuels our success. You see, studies are finding happier employees are more creative, more engaged, more productive and more likely to be promoted. They're also less likely to experience symptoms of fatigue.
How does happiness produce such results?
Scientists have discovered positive emotions -- like joy, interest, awe, pride, gratitude, hope, amusement, serenity, inspiration and love -- flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin helping us to process new information, to think more quickly and creatively, to see and invent new ways of doing things and to connect better with others at work. When our mindset and mood are positive, we're smarter, more motivated and thus more successful.
So how can you be happier at work -- no matter what your job description says, or who you're working for?
"There are five key researched habits we recommend people try practicing to improve their happiness at work," explained Michelle Gielan of Good Think Inc. when I recorded this interview with her recently.
- Counting Gratitude - Write down three new and unique things your grateful for each day. This will help train your brain to constantly scan your environment looking for new and good things.
- Journaling - Each day spend two minutes writing down everything you can remember about the most meaningful moment you've had in the last 24 hours. Relive this moment in detail noting down what you saw, heard and felt. By really savoring this experience you can essentially double the number of meaningful moments in your day.
- Mindful Activity - Spend 15 minutes each day exercising. Studies suggest this can be the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant.
- Commit A Conscious Act Of Kindness - Reach out to someone new and different each day in your social circle by taking two-minutes to praise or thank them by email or phone. This activates your social network and reminds your brain of the support you have around you. This is particularly helpful on more stressful days at work.
- Attention Training - Practice taking your hands off your keyboard and for two minutes just watch your breath go in and out. This trains your brain to have laser-like focus on one activity when you return to your work, rather than slipping into a multi-tasking mindset that wears you out and slows you down.
"Try each of these brain training approaches for positivity for at least 21 days to get started, but persist with whatever works best for you to build the neural wiring that supports these behaviors through both the good and challenging times at work," suggests Michelle. "Have patience it does take time."
Based on the results she's seen from teaching these brain-training habits in organizations around the globe and through her popular online course she observes: "When you prioritize happiness in the present moment, you see this incredible ripple effect in the future in terms of your levels of success and connectedness to others."
Since discovering happiness shaped my success at work I've prioritized the development of many of these habits in my own work over the past few years. And while each seems so small, it's hard to imagine they could make a real difference, not only am I less stressed, more energized and far more satisfied with my life, but the success that followed at work and at home is beyond anything I dared to imagine.
It turns out that happiness is the pathway to working working smarter, rather than harder.
Could happiness unleash your potential for success? You can discover how to create and maintain these habits in Michelle's next online course starting in September at www.goodthinkinc.com.*
(*The author has no paid affiliation with this program)