I’m a psychologist – these are my 7 tips for being happy at work
It’s a place the average person will spend 90,000 hours at over their lifetime.
While going to work is a necessity for the vast majority, long hours, tiresome commutes and overwhelming to-do lists are easier if a job is enjoyable.
But many may not know what they can do to feel happier at work.
Professor Cary Cooper is a psychology and health professor at the University of Manchester, who led a UK government research project on how wellbeing and resilience changes throughout a person’s life.
Writing for The Conversation, Professor Cooper, with the help of think-tank New Economics Foundation, revealed his seven tips for finding happiness at work.
It’s somewhere an average person will spend 90,000 hours at over their lifetime, so as work is more of a necessity than a choice, it helps if it’s enjoyable but what can you do to feel happier at work? (stock image)
Squeezing in exercise around work may be the last thing workers want to do after a long day.
But Professor Cooper says keeping active outside of business hours could be key to happiness in any workplace.
He says while exercise won’t make your problems or stress disappear, it can reduce ’emotional intensity’ and give you ‘mental space’ to sort out issues.
And the NHS describes it as a ‘miracle cure’, saying exercise can reduce risk of major illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Research has found that exercise really does improve your mood, as it boosts levels of the happy hormones — serotonin and dopamine.
Exercising also increases your heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. A well-oxygenated brain has been found to help manage anxiety and depression.
Professor Cooper suggests walking to and from work as a means of creating separation from the work day.
But he says if that isn’t possible, you can get off the bus a stop early, be active at lunchtime or find an exercise class to do before you start work.
Connect with people
It can sometimes feel like you should keep your head down at work.
But Professor Cooper says that relationships with others are often what makes people happiest.
‘It’s also worth getting to know your colleagues,’ he adds. ‘The more you invest in your relationships at work, the more enjoyable you may find your day.’
And working as part of a team or helping others can enhance your self-esteem, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescence.
As well as those in the office, your relationships outside of work can also be key to you feeling happy when you’re there, according to Professor Cooper.
He says that during the pandemic people felt isolated and their wellbeing suffered due to a lack of social contact.
He explained: ‘A good support network of family and friends can minimise your work troubles and help you see things differently.’
Learn new skills
Having hobbies is a great way to unwind after busy work days.
But whether it’s learning to knit, bake or draw, Professor Cooper says staying ‘cognitively active’ is critical to your psychological and mental wellbeing.
Research shows that learning a new skill can stimulate neurons in the brain.
Learning something new is also beneficial for career progression and could open up new opportunities, he says.
The UK has some of the longest working hours in Europe, so Professor Cooper stresses the importance of having interests outside of work.
When your time is mostly taken up by work it can be hard to find a slot to do things you enjoy, but Professor Cooper says you should ‘ensure you make time for socialising, exercise, along with activities you find fun’.
Living in the moment rather than focusing on what has been or is to come could also lead to a healthy work life balance.
Professor Cooper says that if you enjoy the present, you will appreciate daily life more.
The NHS says paying more attention to your thoughts and feelings in the present can improve your mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness is the term given to paying attention to what is going on inside and outside ourselves and getting out of our heads.
While it is often associated with meditation, mindfulness can just be the daily act of giving a name to your thoughts and feelings, keeping time aside for yourself to go for a walk or have a cup of tea and noticing the small things.
Professor Cooper says you don’t have to meditate for hours in order to stay present, but that it is just about being aware of your surroundings — ‘the sights, sounds, smells’.
Recognise the positives
It is often hard to see the positives when bogged down by stress.
But trying to be more of a glass-half-full person rather than a glass-half-empty could help you recognise the good things in your life, Professor Cooper says.
‘Accept there are things at work or in life you can’t change and concentrate on the things you have control over,’ he adds.
Professor Cooper also recommends reminding yourself to be grateful.
Avoid unhealthy habits
Many people turn to unhealthy vices as a way of coping with stress.
Whether it be alcohol, coffee or smoking that is a person’s coping mechanism of choice, research shows that is not the best way to be de-stress.
In fact, any of these alone, or in combination with each other, can have a negative impact on your wellbeing.
This is according to a 2012 study, published in the Journal of Caffeine Research, which looked at the effects of these substances on health and anxiety in young people.
Work smarter, not longer
The effects of working long hours can be exacerbated by needing to do extra work in your free time.
But Professor Cooper says your workload should be kept to work hours and organising your work day in the most efficient way will help make this possible.
He says that you need to accept there will always be jobs that you could be doing, so focusing on the most important tasks will ensure what really needs done gets done.
And he says taking control of the balance between your work and personal life is the key to feeling happier at work.
This is all the more important given that 60 per cent of all long-term sickness in the UK is stress-related.
Professor Cooper concludes that you should prioritise your wellbeing and try to reduce work stress where possible.