Work is something most of us do, even if it’s not always pleasant. Whether it’s long hours, grueling tasks, or simply the repetitive nature of a daily routine, work can sometimes be something we have to do rather than something we want to do.
But since the average person will spend 90,000 working hours over a lifetime, it makes sense to try and enjoy it if you can. So what can you do to be happier at work and reduce stress?
I was the lead scientist of a government project who examined how our emotional well-being and resilience can change over the course of a lifetime.
As part of this project, the team, with the help of the think-tank the New Economy Foundation, have identified several things that can reduce stress and improve well-being and happiness – all of which can be applied to the workplace. So what helps?
1. Be active
Exercise and other physical activities won’t make your problems or stress go away, but they will reduce their emotional intensity and give you mental space to deal with problems – all while keeping you physically fit.
Research shows time and time again the positive benefits of exercise, so why not book your workday with a few physical activity.
Walking to and from work is a great way to create separation from the workday. If that’s not possible, you can get off the bus a stop early, make your lunches active, or maybe find an exercise class to do before you start work for the day.
2. Connect with people
If you look at most happiness scales, relationships along with others come near the top of these lists.
During the pandemic, many people have seen their well-being suffer due to a lack of social contact. Indeed, a good support network of friends and family can minimize your work problems and help you see things differently.
It is also worth getting to know your colleagues. The more you invest in your relationships at work, the more more agreable you can find your day.
Helping co-workers and other people in your life can also improve your self esteem and give you purpose, which is essential to your well-being and satisfaction.
3. Learn new skills
Keeping “cognitively activeis essential for your psychological and mental well-being and can provide you with new opportunities in terms of career development. So try to keep learning – take a class, develop new skills or pick up a new hobby, it all adds up.
Having things happening in your life outside of work is also important for your emotional and mental well-being. In the UK we work some of the the longest working hours in Europe, which means we often don’t spend enough time doing the things we really love. Don’t work excessive hours. And be sure to make time for socializing, exercise, and activities that you find fun.
4. Stay present
It’s about “being in the moment” rather than in the past or looking too far ahead. Enjoy the present and you enjoy that more. Indeed, there are many research on the positive aspects of mindfulness and how it can help with mental health.
You don’t have to sit for hours meditating either. Being in the moment is more about bringing your brain back to the present. One more conscious approach to life is something you can practice at any time of the day, it’s just about being aware, noticing your surroundings – the sights, the sounds, the smells. You can do this while you’re walking, in a meeting, or while making a cup of tea.
5. Recognize the positives
Staying present also helps you recognize the positives in your life – allowing you to be a glass half full rather than a half-empty glass.
Accept that there are things at work or in life that you cannot change and focus on the things you have control over. Remember to feel grateful for the the positives in your life.
6. Avoid unhealthy habits
Given what we know about their long-term consequences, excessive use of alcohol or coffee or smoking as a coping strategy for work stress is ultimately likely to have a negative impact on your happiness, even if they seem to provide a quick pick-me-up.
7. Work smarter, not longer
Prioritize your workload during working hours and you’ll have more free time to do the things you love. Accept that your receiving bin is always full, so focus on the important things first.
The more control you take over your work life and get the balance you need, the more likely you are to be happy at work. Indeed, given that in the UK stress-related illnesses account for nearly 60% of all long-term illness you should prioritize your well-being and try to reduce work stress as much as possible.