A Simple 3 Part Formula for Happiness at Work

“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.” 
–John Ruskin

“They must be fit for it.” In other words finding ways to make the most of your signature strengths at work leads to a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Signature strengths are the things you like doing and are good at. When people reflect on times when they are utilizing their “signature strengths” (typically defined as their top 5 character strengths as measured by the VIA Survey of Character www.AuthenticHappiness.com ), they often describe an energizing effect.

“They must not do too much of it.” Less is more, even in these nerve wrecking times. Too much work, does not allow for people to take a break, leading multitasking, rapidly switching between complex or demanding tasks actually leads to time lost and the likelihood of more errors in the long run. Multitasking involves   your “Executive functions” and switching between two steps ( Step 1: I am going to do this now  – ‘goal shifting’. Step 2: here are the rules for this – ‘rule activation’) that takes time. Although these switching costs in time may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error.  Too much to do also leads to distress, that is when stress becomes too long, too intense and your ability to function at peak rapidly diminishes.

“And they must have a sense of success in it.”  People need to feel like their efforts pay off, that there is a desirable result from their work. That might be learning a new skill that will propel their career forward or increase their marketability. It maybe receiving compensation (salary, a raise or benefits) that makes the work worthwhile. It maybe a simple thank you or other acknowledgement that gives a person that sense of success. Maybe be for you is is being able to take every third Thursday afternoon off to volunteer in a school program.

  • If you are working, for yourself or other, does this formula describe your work life? What simple step or action might increase your happiness factor?
  • If you are the boss, employer, or manager, try applying this formula to your workforce. You might just discover some simple ways to increase the happiness factor at work and a happy workforce is a productive workforce.

Better Boundaries, Better You, Better Work

Good fences make good neighbors.” an immortal line from Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall may be among the most well-known proverbs about boundaries and is an excellent metaphor for healthy boundaries. Well made physical walls allow for drainage, air flow, they are built to flex as needed in order to serve their purpose, make clear limits. In some cases these walls take on a glorious patina of lichen, small plants, moss or vines. They become “naturalized” integral parts of the landscape. In other words they are inviting and welcoming while establishing clear boundaries. That is your aim too in setting personal boundaries.

Expecting others to and asking them to treat you appropriately is fundamental to your quality of life, your well-being and maintaining a positive self-image. Establishing flexible healthy boundaries and maintaining them are vital to take responsibility for yourself, your life.

Personal boundaries are like imaginary fences created to protect your body mind and spirit.  They establish your limits and expectations for how other people will interact with you and indicate how you will interact with them.  Boundaries can be mental/emotional or physical. Emotional boundaries demarcate where your feelings end and where those of another person begin. Physical boundaries define who can touch you, in what way and when you can be touched. They also govern your personal space, how close someone can physically approach you.

Healthy personal boundaries protect you from the unhealthy or damaging behaviors of others. They do not shut out everyone and everything but rather indicate what you expect and will permit. Healthy boundaries are flexible.  Leaving some room to raise or lower the height of your personal boundaries, to adjust as needed allows you to fully experience life and maintain responsibility for your happiness.  With healthy boundaries you are assertive as needed while respecting the needs, feelings, rights and opinions of others. You give and receive support.  You are comfortable with yourself, and make others comfortable too. You do not let in people who do not make you uncomfortable or do not respect your boundaries.

Unhealthy boundaries can be too loose or rigid. Loose boundaries can result in expecting others to read your mind, or feeling responsible for other people’s feelings, or putting your hands on strangers.  Boundaries that are too loose in the extreme are non-existent.  Rigid boundaries can lead to literally shutting out all other people in your life.

Click here for  7 Essential Steps in Setting Health Boundaries.

6 Myths of Exercise Exposed

“Spot reducing” and “no pain, no gain”  are two common exercise myths, these seem to be fading. But there are many myths about getting or staying healthy and fit. More than half of American women do not regularly exercise. I suspect at least one of these myths or the  6 below play a role in that fact.

“Exercise requires advanced planning.” Well that does make it more likely that exercise will become a staple in your routine. A spur of the moment 5 minute bust a move break, or walking during your work breaks also count as exercise. Try these and see if you notice a boost of energy and a clearing of your mind during the grind of the day.

“I can eat anything I want, I am exercising.” Nope sorry, not true and boy I sure wish it was.  World class athletes and those wonderfully fit folks you see in the park, at the dance studio, and at the gym, well to maximize the benefits of their exercise and training routines they need to eat well. By well I mean healthy food and reasonable portions. The amount of calories matter, as does the source of calories. Regular physical activity is one of the most important factors for successful long-term weight management. I am living proof of this.

“The Best workouts happen in the gym.” Research has shown that different types of exercise routines work for different personality types. Some people find it easier to stick to a home-based fitness program, others are inspired to keep training for charity runs with a group.  The “best” workout for you is the one you will stick with over time and consistently.

“Work out hard and often or you waste time.”  Now this is one line of thinking that keep may people from starting an exercise routine or maintaining one. There is a growing body of research that any exercise is better than none. One hour a week of Regular walking or gardening has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.   A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that women lost weight if they walked for as little as 2.5 – 5 hours a week, at a moderate or brisk pace.

“Weights or other strength training makes you bulky.” No, we’ll build more muscle density, and since pound for pound muscle takes up less space than fat you’ll look more trim.  Unless of course you embark on a serious body-builders routine which then the may be to bulk up. The fitness experts I know recommend strength training  2-3 times a week. That might be the missing key to dropping a size over time if you are already doing other exercise.

“Weight loss has more benefits than exercise.” Overweight or even obese people who exercise regularly lie longer than slimmer sedentary folks. Obviously maintaining an ideal body weight is important for many health reasons, including decreasing stress on your joints. If you are very over weight, have never exercised or are starting back after many moons it is advisable to work with a professional, including your doctor. You might also consider types of exercise that put less stress on your joints, like swimming.

Beauty and the Beast of Heirlooms

Helping my Dad and Celia (stepmother, with out all the “evil” connotations) unpack after the great retirement move I can’t help but reflect on a) the “tyranny of the heirloom” and b) the value and beauty of well crafted items. My people are a sentimental brood, though they might not always like to think so, we are all the same. We like to keep mementos of people, places and experiences. On the surface it can be quite a mish-mash, but some how it all works, from the Danish modern dinning room table, the framed reprint from the Book of Kells, a 4 year old’s rending of a landscape, a Joe Montana commemorative plate and the original timbers  from 1840 that support the “early” part of the new home. It works because each is loved and special. The challenge is there is a lot of stuff that is loved and special, and then there is the stuff we hold on to be “we might need it some day” or so and so had that/gave that to us, even though it is not something we use or really care for much.  It is those things that clutter up the space or become the “tyranny of the heirloom”.

So exactly what is the “tyranny of the heirloom”, think about that platter, chair, picture, collection of whatever, that you hold on to because it was so and so, not because you love it or even like it. When you think about it and letting it go a new person who will love it, do you feel a sense of guilt, or “no I couldn’t”? Do you resent it for the space it is taking up? Are you hold on to it just incase we need it one day? If you answered yes to any of these questions you know what I mean by the “tyranny of the heirloom”; if not, lucky you.

By in large few of the items my Dad and Celia moved came with the tyranny moniker, but some did. Why don’t we let those things go? I think it is most often because many people infuse the memory of a person into an object and unconscious fear that getting rid of the object will also result in losing the memory of the person. This was very true for a past client of mine. She had a house loaded of items that were “from the family ” and no one else in the family wanted which she resented, and it prevented her from celebrating the memory of people who had passed on. Once she could wrap her mind around a new approach or view those items as longing for a home where they could be loved she was able to pass them on to some friends, and people she know would cherish and use the items. What a lovely to celebrate someone, by genuinely loving what had once were precious to and loved by an other.

The other point I found myself reflect on was the joy that beauty in all things bring to our day-to-day experience. If you are going to use a dishtowel, it can be lovely and strong. When form, function and aesthetics can come together and make for a wonderfully inspiring welcoming space. How different might your work feel if the pen you used had just the right weight when balanced between your fingers? If the desk lamp in your cubical made you smile when you looked it?  Sometimes the convergence form, function and aesthetics is pricy, but not always. My desk lamp came from a Target and is a dead ringer for a 1930’s piece I covet.  For more about the importance of and how to introduce beauty into your every day items read the words of my friend Marilyn Webster, her words are inspiring.

Our lives are complex and heavy enough without the potential energy draining reality of holding on to things that we do not love. So here my two questions for you this week:

  1. Is there some thing you are holding on to that if you let go would open up some damned up energy?
  2. What small piece of beauty can you bring into your everyday things?

An Invitation to Creativity

Creativity has been called the divine spark. How can you resist wanting that in your life? But just how does creativity come to be a steady presence in people’s lives?  How can we invite it in to your lives? Well for kids it seems to just come naturally. They tell stories. They play pretend. They color/draw. A kid can make a rocket ship put of a cardboard box and yarn. The make up silly jokes. All kids are creative. Even kids in awful desperate situations are intuitively creative. It is what drives us to learn, to explore, and to grow.

Something seems to happen to adults though. It is as if a flip get switched off and suddenly you are not creative, or that’s the story being told. My favorite example of this is dancing in the US. (Disclaimer I am about to make some sweeping generalizations here if this does not apply to you, just hold tight, it might apply to someone you know.) All kids dance. They hear music and start moving. Period. Sure some folks have more native ability to catch and hold a rhythm, just like some people can pick up a language like they are picking up a sheet of paper. The fact remains I have yet to meet a kid, who does not move when music is on that they like, even kids who are confined to wheelchairs. So why is it that many adults here in the US say, “I can’t dance.”?  My personal theory is there is an anti-dance gremlin that sneaks around planting this idea in people’s minds,  re-enforcing it with “You look silly”. Pffft! Seems to me across the in 6 contents inhabited by humans that a vast portion of the rest of the world’s people can dance. My theory why: 1) The same inhibitions have not been cemented and 2)there is time and attention paid to dance.

The creative people I know are may, or may not, be artists per say.  Yes, some are  Artists (and I a blessed to know them) including singer-song writer, a potter,  a world-class art french horn player, painters, writers , photographers and naturally dancers. Others though are not including a grade school assistant principal,  a conflicts administrator, a small business owner, a banker and an electrical engineer.  Here is what I see they have in common with each other: 1) They make regular time to flex their imagination muscles. 2) They do not succumb to the inhibitions or social norms that might be shaping people’s notions about who’s creative or not.

Let me say something again, creative people make regular time to flex their imagination muscles, this seems to be key. This affords them the ability to see beyond the conventions using the 6 elements below.

  1. Curiosity. Each of these individuals is curious. Their curiosity may be limited only to a narrow scope, or it may a voracious need to tinker. Each honors their individual curiosity by exploring the path it leads them too. A trait shared with scientists. They ask what can and what might?  “What can I make with these 4 notes?” “What might an entire series of photos about paperclips look like?”
  2. Structure is their muse. None of these people wait for inspiration to strike. Each is disciplined, setting aside time in their routine to write, dance, knit, garden, paint or whatever it is they do. This might be a half-day each week, or 4 hours 3 days a week or sometimes only 20 minutes a day. The point is the collective time has a compounding effect.
  3. Failure is a jumping point. Not everything is going to work. You will fall on the dance floor, trust me, I’ve done it.  Or a cake collapses. Something not working is a signal there is more to learn or something better, other to try. Scientists are great at this, they tweak, and tinker until a question is answered. A new improvement is made to an existing gadget. Or an entirely new compound is created.
  4. Perseverance. These people don’t try for a day or week or even 3 years, they hone their craft over time. When there’s a dry spell, they keep pecking away of the keyboard or working more compost into the soil. Remember manure makes great compost, but it takes some stinky time to get there.
  5. Embrace ambiguity. Part of creating is not exactly knowing what is going to happen. Yes, you can follow a pattern to knit a sweater. You can even paint by number or lean sequences of dance steps. Patterns are great, they give you a map to get to your destination, but if the sleeve measurements are for someone with arms 2 inches shorter than yours,  well your wrists might be a tad cold in January. Why paint by numbers? Finger painting can be spectacular.  Life can be planned for  but you need to be able to improvise when plans fall flat.

Not one of the 6  elements is magic, a trick or a shortcut. They each are within our individual abilities. The only trick there seems to be is using them yourself to invite creativity into your regular routine. So what are you curious enough about to explore? Will you set aside time to honor and explore this?

Trust me you can dance.