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Healthy, Wealthy and Wise at Work

Recently in ‘Happy Capitalism: A New Form of Capital Predicts Performance’ I wrote about the impact that a happy workplace culture can have on the bottom-line in business.

This time I’d like to continue that theme and provide seven key strategies for helping us all sustain greater health, wealth and wisdom at work.

  1. Relationships – Get Connected

One of the strongest predictors of health and wellbeing turns out to be the quality of our social connections.

Studies at Columbia University demonstrated that people who were socially isolated were at much greater risk of stroke than those with meaningful social relationships. According to the researchers, “there is now compelling evidence that the health risk of social isolation is comparable to the risks of smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, even after controlling for other variables known to affect health.”

Three tips to building high quality relationships: first, treat the people you work with as your equals and look for the common ground you share as human beings; second, look for ways you can help others achieve wins at work; third, make sure you give others the opportunity to make decisions and contribute to the relationship in some way. This in turn will make you more attractive to others and lead to greater opportunities, personal productivity and increased happiness.

2. Compassion – Try a Little Kindness

One of the most effective ways to build high-quality connections is to practice empathy with others.

One of the first studies to show that kindness leads to happiness was conducted by Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues at the University of California, Riverside. They recruited groups of people and asked them to perform five acts of kindness per week over the course of six weeks. It turned out that being generous and considerate made people happy.

Empathy involves: first, communicate that you understand the tasks that people are trying to perform; second, listen well to others and be curious about their experience; third, ask strategic questions about their plans, hopes and dreams and see if you can recognise the emotions that direct the behaviour of people.

If you get it right, you will greatly enhance your capacity to make emotional connections with others and attract other people to you.

3. Go with the ‘Flow’

If you’ve ever been totally absorbed in what you’re doing, then you will have experienced losing track of time or forgetting temporarily about your worries.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘Me-hi Chicksent-me-hiee’) is a psychologist who interviewed thousands of people of all ages and asked them to describe their highest moments of satisfaction — an idea he describes as flow. Being absorbed in the flow experience is about total engagement and a loss of self-consciousness.

This means that at work you should aim to: ensure that the challenge of your job matches your skills and provides you with the opportunity to stretch your abilities; establish clear goals of what you’re trying to achieve; focus your attention regularly on expressing your creativity; establish a sense of control and take charge of developing your talent; create your future by developing an attitude of positive self-expectancy; learn something valuable from each experience; minimise your need to be admired by others and, instead, cultivate a genuine self-awareness that is open to receiving feedback.

4. Cultivate Optimism – Look on the Bright Side

Choosing to sense opportunities even in the face of adversity rather than just focusing on what’s wrong; treating yourself kindly, or simply trusting that you can eventually achieve your goals are all optimism strategies. And, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California, if you’re optimistic then you’ll be more confident about achieving your goals, will persevere longer and will invest effort in reaching those goals.

An optimistic approach promotes positive mood, a sense of mastery and high self-confidence that in many ways inoculates us against depression and anxiety.

Four strategies for becoming more optimistic include: first, when faced with a challenging situation, look for the benefit. Step back from the perceived crisis and recast it not as a catastrophe and a threat but as a challenge and an opportunity. Second, seek the valuable lesson in every problem or difficulty. Remind yourself that by recasting mistakes as lessons, you move from the paralysis of being preoccupied with the past, to a proactive focus on how to integrate the learning into constructive future action. Third, let go of the negative emotion that events cause and, instead, focus on the next task to be accomplished. Finally, pay more attention to those aspects of your life for which you feel thankful and appreciative — the fact that you may have your health, reasonable financial security, or your family, or even a job that provides you with the opportunity to exercise your talent and signature strengths.

5. Smile and the World Smiles With You

The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle viewed laughter as “a bodily exercise precious to health.”

Well, it turns out he was right. Recent research has documented that humour is not only psychologically beneficial, but that it can have significant effects on overall wellness, including lowering our risk of disease.

According to psychologist Steve Ayan, laughter relaxes us and improves our mood, and hearing jokes appears to ease anxiety. Cheerfulness is linked to emotional resilience – the ability to keep a level head in difficult circumstances – and to close relationships.

The first step in deciding to become more cheerful is to recognise how much time each day you spend focusing on your problems and frustrations. Over time this pattern of being consumed with failed expectations creates a seriousness that leads to emotional exhaustion. Determine to approach each day by giving up your unreasonable expectations and instead be surprised by joy when little things go well, or people are friendly. Rather than fight against life, accept the disappointments as natural and look for the things you are grateful for. You’ll soon feel much lighter and cheerful. A cheerful character gives us an emotional toughness that protects us against crises.

In addition to emotional strength, being funny and cheerful can cultivate friendships. Cheerful people have a lighthearted interpersonal style that connects with others more easily. And, according to studies at Westfield State College and McMaster University, science also suggests that a sense of humour is sexy: people are more likely to consider a person more desirable, intelligent and trustworthy if they have a sense of humour.

6. All Work and No Play…

Taking cheerfulness one step further involves becoming playful.

Psychologists have known for a long time that spontaneous, imaginative play is vital for normal social, emotional and cognitive development. It makes us more balanced, smarter and decreases stress. And, according to recent research, the positive benefits of play are important for adults too.

Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that without play, adults may end up getting burned out from the “hustle-bustle busyness that we all get involved in.” Play opens up new channels of creativity and increases the level of satisfaction we experience at work.

Three strategies for finding time for play include: first, get involved in some kind of unstructured active movement that’s not associated with time pressure; second, get your hands dirty and create something; nurture a plant, write a story, play music, or personalise your surroundings; third, get involved with other people regularly throughout the day; share a coffee, find a reason to laugh, celebrate someone’s success – as often as possible. It’s the little things that make a big difference to cultivating your emotional energies.

7. Fit Body, Fit Mind.

As everybody knows, if you work out, your muscles get strong and toned. What most people don’t realise, however, is that your mind also stays in better condition when you exercise. The wellbeing of the body and the wellbeing of the mind and are inseparably linked.

Physical activity and exercise lead to positive feelings from three points of view:

First, it provides you with a feeling of success and being in control. According to a recent edition of the Scientific American Mind these positive feelings have important indirect effects on enriching your mind and attitude by making you more optimistic, agreeable, open to new experiences and goal-directed. People with these characteristics are more likely to take advantage of opportunities. They cope more effectively with life circumstances, and maintain a sense of well-being and life satisfaction the face in challenges.

The second benefit of physical activity is that it has a positive effect on your brain. In a study that involved putting rodents on a simple treadmill in a cage, Californian neuroscientist Fred Gage [http://www.salk.edu/faculty/gage.html] observed that they developed twice as many new neurons than those that just hung around, and their scores on memory tests greatly improved.

An additional benefit of physical activity is that not only does it make us smarter, but also works as an antidepressant by stimulating positive emotions. And we know, happy people get more done!

Wrapping-Up

The evidence is impressive. The research described here has established clear links between happiness and our health, wealth and wellbeing. By happiness I mean an emotional, physical and spiritual prosperity – something I call Emotional Capital.

In my work with professional people over the last fifteen years I have found that high levels of emotional capital lead to increased productivity, and as many studies show, happy people are more creative, solve problems better and more quickly, live longer and enjoy high levels of leadership influence.

In other words, when people feel better they perform better. This is not about looking at life through rose-coloured glasses or ignoring the disappointments in life. It is about investing in your greatest asset – your emotional capital. Your happiness is good for business.

About the Author:

Martyn Newman, PhD is a clinical psychologist specialising in Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Mindfulness. Dr. Newman is the author of the best selling book Emotional Capitalists and newly released The Mindfulness Book, and is the cofounder of RocheMartin. He is also co-author of the Emotional Capital Report™ – the global benchmark for defining, measuring and developing EQ and leadership performance.

 

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