How to be happier at work

Neil Pasricha, author of “The Book of Awesome” and “The Happiness Equation” says the secret is making room for yourself—as little as 20 minutes

Neil Pasricha

“The Happiness Equation” author Neil Pasricha (Portrait by Scarlet O’Neill)

The feel-good guru behind the bestsellers The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome on how to lift your mood on the job:

When I define “happiness,” I don’t mean becoming annoying or cloying. I’m actually trying to increase your effectiveness at work.

We know from research in positive psychology that in as little as 20 minutes, you can actually set yourself up for a higher-productivity, higher-sales, higher-creativity day. I call it the 20-for-20 challenge. Take 20 minutes a day for 20 days in a row to do one of five happiness exercises: take a brisk walk; journal about a positive experience; engage in a conscious act of kindness, like taking a break to buy someone a coffee; meditate, using an app such as Headspace or Calm.com; or write down five things you’re grateful for. This develops a happiness habit, and that reduces your stress and increases your effectiveness and creativity. You’ll become a stronger, more stress-inoculated person.

We all get 147 emails, check our phones 150 times and make 285 decisions a day, on average. No wonder we’re so stressed—we have so many bells and beeps in our ear all day! The solution is to create space. Ask your partner or kids to change the password on your work phone when you get home at night, and to enter the password in the morning before you go to work, so you can’t check your emails overnight. That creates space for your direct reports, because the last thing they want is emails from the boss all night and all weekend.

You’re thinking, That might work for Neil Pasricha, but it couldn’t work for me, because I have a really busy and important job. No you don’t. You’re making plastic in a factory, or you are marketing shampoo. Unless you are on call for somebody who’s about to go into brain surgery or give birth, we can do without you for a few hours. I worked for the CEO of Walmart Canada for four years. He never emailed me in the evening or the weekend once.

If your aim is to make your team happier, as a boss, the biggest thing you can do is not to say “Hello” on a Monday morning and give everyone a free donut. It’s revisiting and overly clarifying goals, to the point where they’re crystal clear. I don’t mean, “Increase sales two percent.” I mean, like, ‘Hey, this week you need to do this thing. Do you understand that? What questions do you have? What parameters and resources will be helpful to you? Who can I help you get time with?” Once you’ve gone through that, then you say, “OK, good. See you later!” With clear goals you create interesting work, and that creates happiness in your team.