Photo Credit: You-X-Ventures
How do you feel when you go to work everyday? Do you feel excitement, dread, stressed? Did you know that there are ways to find happiness at work every day?
What is happiness? Is it that elusive feeling you get from the idea of being rich or famous? No, not really. Happiness comes from your own brain.
First let’s define happiness. The Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary refers to happiness as delight, pleasure, contentment or joy.
In our busy, stress-filled lives many of you are managing two jobs: your day job and your family at night. How can you stop & smell the roses, when you barely have time to get everything done?
I submit that happiness can be found in quick and easy ways throughout the day and evening.
First of all let’s look at where that feeling of joy actually comes from in the brain.
The brain releases four different happiness chemicals in reaction to different types of situations or stimuli. They are: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
Most of the knowledge I’m sharing comes from a book entitled, Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Graziano Breuning.
I’d like to start with dopamine. Dopamine is about social rewards. For example, a football player scores a touchdown and does a victory dance. That’s dopamine. Seeing the first apple blossoms of the season, that’s dopamine. Spring is right around the corner, so look for those signs of spring.
Music is another source of dopamine, especially if the music is from a favorite song you have not heard in a while, or from a newer song that you really enjoy.
So dopamine is about rewards. For example, when you are doing a jigsaw puzzle , finding the piece you’ve been seeking feels good because of dopamine.
How can you find dopamine at work?
Accomplishing a task that you felt was going to be a big challenge – that took days, weeks or even months releases dopamine. It’s that feeling of achievement when you finished. Look for those little moments of accomplishment at work, if possible, and focus on them, even for a moment or two. Take a moment to soak up the pride of accomplishment you feel. When you go home that night, write down how that accomplishment made you feel so you can experience the joy of your hard work from that day.
Another way to find dopamine at work is to challenge yourself with a new skill. For example, many people come to me and say I’d like to learn how to speak in public, but I’m too afraid. Did you know that public speaking has been identified as the number one fear, above death? You could find a Toastmasters club or start one at work. Just go to Toastmasters.org to get started. After your first speech, and every speech, you will have a huge surge of dopamine.
The second happiness chemical is called oxytocin. Oxytocin comes from a feeling of trust or being able to lean on a trusted advisor or friend. It also comes from connection, belonging, and social alliances.
Do you have a best friend at work? My friend Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness that Works, has cited having a best friend at work as an important part of combatting loneliness & depression.
Touch also triggers oxytocin. I’m acutely aware that you cannot go around touching everybody at work. However, you can touch your best friend, and sometimes you can even say, “I need a hug today.” Have you ever noticed a nurse touching the arm of a patient in bed? Nurses know all too well the healing power of touch.
Have you ever noticed that feeling you get when you volunteer for someone who needs your help? Some people refer to this as helper’s high. The recipient could be a seniors’ group, a group of school children, or the needy or sick, or your community. There is much research on the benefits of volunteerism to the giver.
Why not start a group in the office to volunteer once a month or at least once a year to pack school supplies for school children, read to school children, clean up your community, or visit the sick. There are myriad examples of volunteer efforts supported by many large companies including Target, Chevron, Salesforce and more. To find a group that needs your help go to volunteermatch.org.
Or why not help a younger member of the team with a difficult project?
Social alliances also stimulate oxytocin. That’s another vote for setting up some sort of club at work. In the recent years I’ve become aware of different clubs inside organizations, like women’s groups. Of course you can set up any type of appropriate grouping at work. Get together with your club once a month for lunch or a meeting. If your group is particularly helpful to the organization, then even better. For example, how about a walking club at work or a water challenge, or a healthy recipe club? Anything that promotes wellness would be well-appreciated by your leaders.
Do you have access to a fitness center at work where group exercise classes are offered? Go take a Zumba, Yoga or strength training class. You get a double does of happiness from the social connection and the endorphins, and of course, all the healthy benefits of exercise.
Serotonin is third happiness chemical and it comes from feelings of self-respect, respect from others, self-confidence and pride. I’m not saying go around the office and brag about yourself, but do let others compliment you on a job well done. Furthermore, when you are called upon to lead a project, say yes, not, no, even if you don’t feel qualified. The person who asked you would not have asked if they did not feel you could do it.
So serotonin depends on the your own expectations of yourself.
The fourth and final happiness chemical, endorphin, has been well-documented in many fitness magazines. Often referred to as the runner’s high, endorphins are released only when you push past your capacity to the point of ‘distress.’ So if you are a runner, try to find a different path, a harder path, or a longer run if you want the endorphin rush.
Also small drips of endorphin are stimulated by a belly laughing or a good cry.
Of course you can’t walk around the office laughing or crying, but you can take a walk with your friend and have a good laugh or listen to a funny podcast.
Heidi Hanna, known as the “stress detective,” reminds us to take a five-minute break every hour to rest & recharge. That would also be a good time to have a laugh. If you can’t take a break every hour, please take a break at least once a day.
So, the best way to find joy throughout the day is to look for opportunities to tap into your four happiness chemicals.
Dopamine comes from social rewards, feelings of accomplishment, and favorite music you haven’t heard in awhile.
Oxytocin comes from trust, social connection, belonging, social alliances, touch and volunteerism.
Serotonin is released from feelings of self-respect, respect from others, pride, confidence, and feeling important.
Endorphins are released from physical exertion beyond your current capacity, belly laughing or a good cry.
So the next time you are feeling pressured at work, grab a friend, get outside, go for a walk & have a belly laugh.