Workplace Wellness: Why Happiness Matters

Happiness is a skill -- which means we can learn it. Here are five simple practices to help you focus on happiness.
  • March 20th marks the celebration of International Day of Happiness. 
  • The holiday is about encouraging people to find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other.
  • Happiness is a skill — which means we can learn it. Here are five simple practices to help you focus on happiness.

Did you know that happiness has its own special ‘day’?

While a lot of national or international ‘days’ are just a bit of fun (Tortilla Chip Day, anyone?) others are more sincere.

One of them is International Day of Happiness, which takes place on 20th March.

This particular day, established by the UN and celebrated for the first time in 2013, implores people to “find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other” as part of a wider focus on happiness and wellbeing.

Such is the importance of personal contentment that all UN member states adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority, in recognition that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.

After the events of 2020, happiness is a pursuit that’s particularly close to the heart.

And the good news is, happiness is a skill — which means we can learn it.

Research shows that happiness, compassion and kindness are the products of skills that can be learned and enhanced through training, thanks to the neuroplasticity of our brains.

What does this have to do with work?

We spend so much time ‘at’ work or thinking about work-related tasks, deadlines, people and responsibilities that it often feels like we’re never really apart from our work.

This has only intensified since mandatory work-from-home orders came into effect, which has all but erased the line between our work and personal lives.

In its latest World Happiness Report (2020), the campaign focuses on the environments that impact our day-to-day lives, including social and natural environments.

On the social side, we only need to look at the exponential growth of coworking in recent years to understand that people feel happier and work better when surrounded by others who share or exude a positive mindset.

Prof. John Helliwell, co-author of the report, noted:

“A happy social environment is one where people feel a sense of belonging, where they trust each other and their shared institutions. There is also more resilience, because shared trust reduces the burden of hardships, and thereby lessens the inequality of well-being.”

Social environments can also improve the way we feel about activities that would otherwise provide a negative experience.

For example, the report found that commuting — an activity that on average worsens mood levels (-1.9%) — actually becomes a positive experience when shared with others. The mood can be lifted up 5.3% for a trip shared with a friend, or 3.9% with a partner.

On the environmental side, we already know that spending time in nature — whether it’s a lunch break or a walking meeting outside — can have a profound positive impact on our emotional state and overall wellbeing.

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According to the report, “moods were better outdoors than indoors” and spending time in close proximity to public parks, trees, and water “spurred positive moods”.

Unsurprisingly, weather has an impact too — with better moods in sunshine, clear skies, light winds, and warm temperatures.

While these findings aren’t unexpected, it does help us to judge how we are feeling and to recognise certain patterns and correlations.

Why does all this matter?

Several studies have found links between feelings of happiness and better physical and mental health. The brain is an incredible and powerful organ, and numerous studies have shown that greater happiness can help with:

  • Improved heart health
  • Ability to combat stress more effectively
  • A stronger immune system
  • Overall healthier lifestyle, such as better eating habits and sleep patterns
  • Increased life longevity

There is no special secret to achieving happiness. Each person has their own individual combination of triggers that enables them to achieve happiness.

Yet in place of a universal happiness guarantee, there are some simple practices to help you focus on happiness in your everyday life. Here are five of them, provided by Positive Psychology:

  1. Practice gratitude: It’s easy to complain or blame others when things go wrong, but practicing gratitude can help tackle negative feelings. Simply writing down three things you feel grateful for can work wonders on your mindset (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  2. Incorporate movement: Ever noticed how good you feel after exercise? Movement releases endorphins, which have a direct positive impact on our mood. Aerobic exercise in particular is proven to be effective in increasing feelings of happiness (Netz et al., 2005).
  3. Get back in touch with nature: Spending time outdoors has been proven to aid our moods (Barton & Pretty, 2010). Go for a walk or run in a local park or woods, or spend an hour or two gardening — even better if it’s on a warm, sunny day.
  4. Practice mindfulness: Incorporating mindfulness can help you create better awareness for your everyday feelings, and let go of negative experiences, allowing for more room to appreciate positive experiences and emotions (Campos et al, 2016).
  5. Connect with loved ones: While face-to-face contact is still difficult for many, it’s important to connect with friends and family as often as you can. Over the phone, video chat, or even chatting from a safe physical distance; socialising with loved ones enhances feelings of wellbeing and happiness (Troyer, 2016).

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing on Saturday 20th March, spare a moment to call a loved one, do something you love, or think about something that makes you happy.

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