Make Happiness Your Agenda: 5 Proven Methods

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Today (March 20, 2019) is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. First celebrated in 2013, this day illustrates a global shift away from measuring “progress” in terms of economic growth and toward greater emphasis on human well-being. In essence, this day embodies what so many of us do in the social-impact world: striving to make life better for others.

In honor of Happiness Day, I’ve pulled together a “happiness agenda,” designed to help you connect with the people around you and instill a sense of joy in your office.

Before work: Think about your best relationships

If you woke up feeling stressed about impending deadlines, you might be inclined to brush off your colleagues. In moments of stress, casual chatting, new assignments, or really any unanticipated demand on our time can feel like an imposition.

But it doesn’t have to feel that way, and there are ways to change your mindset. Start by resisting the temptation to spend your whole commute devising a plan to graciously slip away when someone seeks your assistance. Instead, focus on the most supportive relationships in your life, whether that’s a close friend, family member, or colleague.

Reflecting on supportive relationships strengthens “attachment security”—essentially, a sense that you can trust and rely on the support of others. In turn, this increases the likelihood that you’ll respond with patience and compassion when people ask for your support and input.

You could simply imagine yourself sitting down to catch up with whomever you selected. Better yet, you can try out a research-backed, four-part exercise designed by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. It’s pretty straightforward: just list people you’re close to, positive qualities they share, moments when they comforted you, and how you felt in those instances.

10 a.m.: Engage in an “active listening meeting”

At meetings, it can be tempting to focus on formulating your next statement while other people are speaking. The drawback is that thinking ahead makes it difficult to fully digest what others are saying, stymying meaningful dialogue in the process.

Using active listening techniques can remedy this inclination; this will help you to fully engage and allows others to feel understood in conversations. Today, consider putting active listening into practice by pairing up with a colleague to discuss work-related challenges. The Greater Good Science Center recommends finding a quiet place to chat and employ simple techniques, such as paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions, and withholding counterarguments and advice-giving.

Lunchtime: Make it social

If you frequently eat lunch at your desk in order to be hyper-productive or to avoid lunchtime small talk, you may want to reconsider—at least for today. Studies show that we’re often pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoy casual conversation. Plus, people are actually more interested in connecting than we expect them to be.

So, instead of thinking of social lunches as unproductive, visit your office lunch room or other popular meeting point and try engaging in small talk, no matter how tedious you find that prospect.

2:00 p.m.: Schedule a meeting you’d rather avoid

Plenty of us are guilty of putting off meetings with colleagues with whom we disagree. If this sounds like you, try heading into one such meeting today equipped with a game-changing ingredient: empathy.

Although empathy is (in part) a natural, biological response to witnessing hardship, we can still work at it—and arguably need to in demanding or tense situations. One expert, Helen Riess, Director of Empathy and Relational Science Program at Mass General Hospital, suggests simple ways to demonstrate empathy during conversations:

  • Make eye contact that lasts long enough to remember the other person’s eye color.
  • Identify what other people are feeling by closely observing their facial movements and even mirroring them.
  • Face people directly, leaning toward them without crossing your limbs.
  • Put a name to what others appear to be feeling, as a way to help you understand their behaviors and motivations.
  • Match the tone of whomever you’re speaking with; that is, unless that person raises his or her voice, in which case, it’s best to keep your tone calm and level.
  • Draw on the active listening skills you practiced at 10:00 a.m. to show you’re engaging without judgment.
  • Focus less on what to say next and more on how your words will resonate with others.

5:00 p.m.: Give out some compliments

This recommendation may seems rather obvious. After all, who doesn’t like to hear something nice about themselves? But the effect of doling out praise is likely greater than you realized and  is actually equivalent to giving someone money: studies show that compliments give us a “mini high,” as both activate the ventral striatum, a part of the brain associated with rewards and motivation.

Before you pack up for the day, give positive feedback that you have yet to verbalize to a colleague. That person can then go home feeling a bit happier and more motivated for tomorrow.

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Interested in promoting #happinessday and sharing what you’re up to? Visit happinessday.org.

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Jen Bogle is a communications specialist who writes for Idealist Careers to share her thoughts on leadership, relationship building, and career development with other social-impact professionals.
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