What’s the key to workplace happiness?
If you ask bestselling author Sharon Salzberg, she’ll tell you that it’s a combination of knowing what you’re doing in the moment and feeling like your work is meaningful.
At the intersection of that in-the-moment awareness and overall meaning is mindfulness, Salzberg argues in her new book, “Real Happiness at Work.” As one of America’s leading meditation teachers, the book is a toolkit for incorporating mindfulness — and thus real happiness — into our daily working lives.
Don’t worry, “mindfulness” doesn’t require sitting cross-legged in your conference room. As Salzberg explains, it’s about having a “balanced awareness” of what’s happening around you, so that you can understand it rather than just react to it.
With that in mind, here are a dozen simple ways to be happier at work, in less than 10 minutes each:
1. Remember that happiness at work comes from having a sense of meaning.
“People say that the largest contributing factor in happiness at work is meaning, which you sometimes find in the job description or sometimes outside of it,” Salzberg says, “and one of the largest sources (of unhappiness) is feeling unappreciated.”
Research backs it up. Harvard professor Teresa Amabile has found that feeling like you’re making even incremental progress in your career leads to happiness at work, while experiments by Wharton professor Adam Grant have shown that people are more engaged when they feel appreciated — and they perform better, too.
2. Take note of how many people you rely on — and how many rely on you.
“One of the reflections I ask people to do is: How many people need to do their jobs well for you to do your job well?” Salzberg says. It helps you realise how much you rely on everybody else.
A programmer can’t make the next great app without a designer, and that product won’t move without a sales team. In this way, you get a greater sense of how much your work is linked to others, and it feels more meaningful as a result.
3. Before a big meeting, think about the outcome.
Before you have a major conversation or get on an important phone call, Salzberg says to think about what you want to get out of the encounter.
“You can just ask, ‘Do I want to be harmful? Do I want to be helpful? Do I want to put the other person down? Do I want to find a resolution?'” Salzberg says. Then you’ll have an idea of the outcome you’re hoping for, which will make the day feel much more under your control.
4. Find ways to “break the momentum” of the day.
Our workdays are full of emails, meetings, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. That can lead to feeling out of control. A lot of the work of injecting happiness into our days is stopping that momentum, which you could do by pausing to breathe for a few seconds before you talk to, call, or email someone.
“Without some breathing space in the face of constant demands, we won’t be creative, competent, or cheerful,” she writes. “We won’t get along with others, take criticism without imploding, or control the level of our daily stress.”
5. Don’t pick up the phone on the first ring.
Instead of picking up the phone on the first ring, breathe and wait until the third ring,” Salzberg says.
By waiting for those two rings, you’re adding in much-needed breathing space into an action that would otherwise just be a reaction.
6. Wait to click send…
“Don’t click send on the email right away — breathe and reread it,” she says. “The classic example would be getting irate and sending something with hostility. Although Gmail gives you a few seconds, life doesn’t give us that many unsend buttons, so give some space to see if we’ve crafted a conversation we actually want.”
To Salzberg, much of real happiness is a matter of being aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it — and enraged people aren’t typically conscious of their actions.
7. …Or send the email to yourself first.
Receiving your own email gives you the experience of being the recipient. Instead of getting into an energy-sapping misunderstanding, you can actually get a sense of how your message will be read.
8. Monotask at least once a day.
When you get halfway through your day, drink a cup of coffee, and only drink the coffee.
“Just drink the coffee — rather than being on a conference call, checking your email, and having a TV on mute so you can read the crawl,” she says. “It’s another way of breaking that high-pressured momentum.”
Even though multitasking might feel more effective, it’s not.
9. Remember that the people in your meetings are people, too.
When you sit down for a meeting, look around. Salzberg says it’s a great way to remember that each person wants to be happy, even if they have different ideas of what that might look like.
This helps build compassion for others’ experiences, Salzberg says, which makes you better able to relate to people — a major source of meaning — and be patient when they have an idea you disagree with.
10. Schedule a one-minute meditation session.
As Salzberg says, a meditation practice is really just paying attention to physical sensations. And doing it for a little bit every day has major affects on anxiety, stress, and depression. How do you do it? Here are the instructions she gave us:
“Use the body and breathe. You don’t even have to close your eyes. Tune into the actual sensations of the breath so you can feel it come in and go out. Notice the thoughts and emotions that come, and try your best to have an interest in them as experiences in the moment. Mindfulness is all about relationships. It’s not about stopping the thoughts and blanking out; it’s relating to them and watching them, rather than being taken over by them. Then we have a choice: I’m going to let that thought go, or I’m going to act on it.”
11. At the end of the day, reflect on both the positive and the negative.
Most of the time, heading out of the office is the time for rehearsing everything that went wrong that day. Salzberg suggests also reflecting on what went well. That way you’re not denying that some things went poorly, but you’re getting a richer picture of what happened.
12. Throughout the day, set a reminder.
When you start a task, you can set a timer on your phone or in your browser to ding every 25 minutes or so, giving a little reminder to clear out any distractions. This allows you to be more aware of whether you’re on task or if you’re lost in an Internet rabbit hole. In this way, you can enlist your phone to help you be more focused, more conscientious, and ultimately happier.
“Mindfulness isn’t hard to accomplish,” Salzberg says. “It just tends to be increasingly hard to remember.”
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