The average person spends one-third of her entire life at work (that’s nearly 30 years) – you would think it really ought to be more fun. Unfortunately, we’re all too familiar with the high stress levels, long hours and emotional uncertainty associated with our busy, corporate lives.
The good news is that we can become happier at work, but it’s something you have to become intentional about – like making a decision to eat well or be kind to yourself. It’s a skill that takes practise, but it doesn’t require dramatic changes – just little shifts and nudges can make a surprisingly big difference.
1. Take a walking meeting
You’d be surprised to find how sedentary we are at work – on average, the office worker can sit for up to 10 hours a day at work ploughing through emails and tapping away at our laptops. One easy way to change this without disrupting your work day too much is to conduct a walking meeting – Steve Jobs was a big advocate of this. The benefits are inumerable: it gets you on your feet for at least an extra 15 minutes a day (great for overall health and well-being), it encourages better communication (less confrontational, more conversational), and it ends up taking less time than a normal sit-down meeting would (more efficient!). And never underestimate the mood-altering effect of sunshine and fresh air.
2. Start a potluck lunch club
First food, then friendship – this winning formula will no doubt prove a hit. Gather a group of co-workers who are passionate about food and whom you’d like to spend more time with – it can be anything from a weekly salad club to international colleagues who want to exchange hearty home cooked dishes. Not only will this mean fewer hasty lunches in front of your computer, but it also brings the fun of cooking for a bunch of people and sharing it at work. A recent study has shown that employees who take a lunch break are more likely to be satisfied with their job, and feel they are as efficient and effective as they would like to be. So much win.
3. Help out a colleague
Sometimes it’s easy to feel caught up in the vortex of your own personal struggles at work, but chances are your co-workers are probably grappling with issues of their own as well. Helping others is a good way of stepping outside of your head space for a while, especially when it becomes too negative. Workplace studies have shown that helping others at work can make us happy, and creates a virtuous cycle that promotes ongoing happiness and altruism. Small gestures are really all that are needed – an unexpected coffee or snack, or a quick chat to make sure they’re OK – and such acts of kindness will be remembered and hopefully repaid later on down the road.
4. Start a fun shared ritual
By this, we simply mean why not start doing something with someone else regularly at work – that is off-beat, worth a laugh, and something you can look forward to. A successful ritual should be something out of the ordinary, something that is uplifting and lighthearted to put you in a different mindset, even for a small part of the day. And if you have a team you work with that is up for trying it out, even better – many of the best, most successful, creative teams bond over shared traditions and rituals, and consider it one of the most important factors in their happiness and success as a team. For example, creative agency R/GA in San Francisco hosts a regular storytelling night, and McCann in Manchester lovingly nurtures a Cheesy Hits! music playlist at work. You can start small, like perhaps initiating an “Eat a mystery Korean snack” break every Friday afternoon – you never know when it might start catching on.
5. Bring the outside in
Sadly, most office spaces are optimised for efficiency, not personal well-being, and a lack of daylight, greenery or even a glimpse of the sky are commonplace – and this is where the average worker spends 40 hours a week in. What you can do is make your little patch at work a pleasant space to be in – robust, low-maintenance house plants, like a complicated succulent, a climbing Pothos or hardy snake plant, are great options, especially as they’ll need to survive the weekends without water. Studies have shown that even a little splash of greenery helps engage workers more and can increase productivity by up to 15 percent. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious and nurturing, and are lucky enough to be near a window, you could also try cultivating a small edible garden of herbs that smell good, such as lemon balm, or Thai basil – you’ll be amazed at how much it can lift your mood at work.