5 Ways to Be Happier at Work

September 17, 2014

4:30 pm

When former Zappos culture consultant Jenn Lim climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Tony Hsieh, it was one of the most meaningful experiences of her life.

When we’re young, we often idealize work, as if our ascent to success will be as clear and rewarding as a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. But as we get into the working world, the reality sets in: there is boredom, apathy, and resentment. We’re not so sure we’re heading in the right direction, and we have no idea if we’ll ever make it.

As CEO of Delivering Happiness, Lim’s goal is to provide resources and information on how to find more happiness and meaning in the workplace and beyond. Beginning as a book by Hsieh, Delivering Happiness has flourished into a movement that brings together like-minded individuals online and offline, provides coaching for businesses, and works with schools to teach happiness to students.

Delivering Happiness promotes the idea, backed by positive psychology research, that happier people are more productive. Research has shown that happiness can boost our intelligence, creativity, and energy. It can increase our job security, job retention, resilience, productivity (by 31 percent), and sales skills (by 37 percent). Happiness reduces rates of burnout and turnover.

We caught up with Lim to hear some of the lessons they’ve learned about how to make work happier and more meaningful. Here they are:

Choose happiness

Psychology studies suggest that 40-90% of our happiness is a choice, Lim says. In other words, whatever our genetics or life circumstances, a substantial portion of our well-being comes down to attitudes and behaviors. If we want to be happy, we have to truly decide to be happy.

That also means that we can’t completely blame our bosses or our work environment for bringing us down. Just because our company isn’t on board with the happiness movement doesn’t mean we are powerless. “If you change your individual world, then together we can actually change the world,” says Lim.

Define your values

One of the reasons why it’s so key for a company to articulate its values is because employees need to figure out if their values align with the company’s. When we feel bored or down, it might be because the tasks we’re doing aren’t in line with our values. For example, if being social and helping others is important to us but we spend all day in our cubicle typing up reports, it makes sense to feel disconnected. 

At Delivering Happiness, their first value is “be true to your weird self.” Among their “motley crew” of 25 people – who sometimes refer to themselves as the “Bad News Bears” – individuality is respected and encouraged.

If we’re not sure of our values, one exercise Lim recommends is to identify the highs and lows in our life and look at which values were present or absent during those times. She actually found her purpose in life amidst one of the lows: losing her father to colon cancer. During that time, she took on the role of information disseminator, researching online and communicating with her father and his doctors. She realized that that was her purpose – to be a conduit of information – and today she’s fulfilling it by disseminating know-how about happiness. Her values shifted from a focus on money, title, and status to a focus on people.

Flow

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recounts in his book Flow, that feeling of full engagement and immersion happens when we’re operating at a high skill level to achieve a big challenge. If there’s a mismatch between our skills and the challenge, we’ll either feel bored or frustrated. To be happier at work, Lim says, we should aim to achieve flow once a day – which might mean seeking out bigger challenges.

Connection

The research is clear on this point: happier people have better relationships, and relationships make us happier. People in the top 10% of happiness have the most active social lives, and social support predicts happiness much better than GPA, income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race.

To make more connections at work, Lim suggests sharing our passions and hobbies with our coworkers. We’re bound to find someone with a similar interest, and that commonality can be the spark that leads to a relationship.

Explore

At the same time, says Lim, part of finding meaning and happiness is figuring out what we don’t like. We live in an age where we can explore, make mistakes, and learn from them. The way to find happiness, she says, is to be open to new opportunities – sometimes the thing that makes us happy is something we could never have predicted or imagined.

Jenn Lim is one of our speakers at Tech Cocktail Celebrate ConferenceOn October 6-7, Celebrate Conference will gather hundreds of attendees, industry leaders, and inspiring speakers in downtown Vegas. Meet the hottest startups and investors from around the country, learn and collaborate with others turning their communities into startup cities, and enjoy music, parties, and llama spotting. Grab your tickets here.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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