Is it possible — or even wise to try — to be happy at jobs we don't resoundingly like?
The answer is yes. Within ourselves we have many resources to become more productive and feel happier at work and beyond. Foremost among them is meditation — a portable practice that commonly relies on the breath. Meditation can open up space in our minds and hearts to help us reframe problems at work as sources of clarity and strength.
Over the course of listening to many people's stories, I have noticed a few common themes about real unhappiness on the job. I developed what I call the "eight pillars of happiness in the workplace."
1. Balance opens the door to happiness.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, "Emotions…should be thought of in the same way as a motor skill."
We can literally train ourselves to feel happier. Mindfulness redefines our attention so we can connect more fully to the present moment, and let go of biases, habits, fears and so on. Try this: take a few moments before beginning any assignment to observe the sounds around you. Note your reactions. This is an opportunity to connect to your senses, a part of yourself that is not a part of the role you play at work.
2. Concentration is trainable.
When sitting down to work, we often instead find ourselves responding to texts or distracted by social media updates. But distractedness can also manifest itself as plain old absent-mindedness — not being present. To cultivate the art of concentration, deliberately choose to be mindful in a simple context. Pay attention to how your fingers feel as you type or hold a cup of coffee. Really pay attention — but don't name your sensations. Feel the strength of your attention and realize that it can be transferred to anything, really!
3. Compassion is a force.
Competition is a natural impulse — and often a healthy one — but it doesn't have to discount compassion. If we learn to focus on we rather than me, to embrace and accept others as well as ourselves, we can feel the strength and power of connection. At the beginning of a meeting or phone call, silently offer wishes of happiness to your colleagues. This gesture can help break open the cycle of stress, resentment and competition that we often feel at work.
4. Resilience is the best answer to stress.
One of the most important things you can do at work is realize that we don't have as much control over our experiences as we think. As Maya Angelou once said, "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."
To help yourself dismantle this myth of control, rather than be "reduced" by it, take a few minutes at the beginning of every phone call or meeting to determine how you might like to be perceived. Would you like to come across as gentle, stern, open-minded or fearsome?
How do you feel when you perceive others that way?
5. Connection beats competition.
Mindfulness of the body helps us communicate more skillfully (in fact, one study showed that in face-to-face interactions, 55% of the emotional meaning was expressed through facial, postural and gestural means).
The more attention and care you invest in communication with colleagues at work, the more connected you'll feel to others and to yourself — your intentions. As an experiment, before sending an email, send it to yourself first. Take in the tone, implications and omissions. Make any changes, and reread once more before hitting send.
6. Happiness can't exist without integrity.
From the Latin word for whole or complete, integrity in the context of work refers to preserving a sense of wholeness, honesty and authenticity on the job.
Try getting in the habit of setting a daily intention for each workday, before the day begins. Perhaps say to yourself, "May I treat everyone today with respect, remembering everyone wants to be happy as much as I do." Keeping these kinds of intentions in mind help us reconcile our deepest values with our daily routines.
7. Meaning is a must.
We all want to feel like our daily routines add up to something — be it a paycheck, social change or connection with colleagues.
Look for ways to acknowledge someone else's challenges on the job. This is a simple exercise that helps to cultivate perspective outside of ourselves and our immediate desires. No, it will not ameliorate all the difficulties of our own role at work, but it helps to create a sense of meaning outside of ourselves.
8. Awareness opens our hearts and minds.
Life — and work — is how we see it. When we open our awareness at work, we release our attachment to the need for validation, competition, the fear of losing our turf, and so on.
If you find yourself straining to think "outside of the box" at work, consider instead the question of what made up that box to begin with. Understanding the origin of our assumptions can often help us dismantle them, and learn to be more present.
Being more present opens up our hearts to our conditions as they actually are. With an open heart and mind we are open to happiness — at work and beyond.