5 Hacks to Create Happiness at Work

  • 6 June 2017
  • sjanicke

Technology has become an integral part of our lives. It aids our work, helps us plan, provides entertainment and connects us with others. On the other hand, it also makes us less productive, anxious, reduces our self-esteem and highjacks our brain so we become constantly checking smartphone zombies, high on notifications and suffering from phantom vibrations and chronic lurking syndrome. We absolutely have to admit that the tech companies make it very hard for us to not transform into said zombies, by accessing our primordial brains, luring us in with sugar cubes in forms of likes, notifications, and FOMO. But, we also cannot deny the personal power we have to choose how we want to use our technologies, if we only knew a little bit better how they and we work. Luckily, that is what I research, so I am here to tell you 5 ways of how you can use your technology to create more happiness at work.

A shorter version of this article was published at Forbes.  

1.     Less is more: Use technology to unplug

Working in a demanding job constantly depletes our resources for self-regulation, making it harder throughout the day to “say no” and take breaks. The pressure to perform under tight deadlines while trying to fulfill our own standards makes us skip lunch breaks and sometimes even postpones bathroom breaks (to the detriment of our whole digestive system). Depending on the work culture we are in, taking breaks could even be frowned upon. But, research clearly shows that taking breaks throughout our workday enhances our productivity due to better focus, reduces muscle tension in our body, and enhances our creativity and problem solving capabilities. In short: Taking breaks is crucial for a successful work-day and keeping us sane.

While our phone’s main goal is to keep us on it for as log as possible, technology can also aid us to unplug. We can set reminders using our calendar app to take a lunch break. And a “real” one at that: No technology, no thinking about the next meeting, just eating your lunch away from your computer; outside if possible. Or, we can dedicate a “Real Break” alarm that rings every day at the same time, reminding us to leave our workstation, for a walk, chat with a colleague, meditation session or just to do some stretches: In short: To unplug. Even if it is just for 10 minutes.

Lastly, we can use apps on our computer that make the internet or just social media sites unavailable for certain amounts of time we want to boost our productivity (for example heyfocus.com, selfcontrolapp.com, or freedom.to). And while it sounds paradoxical, using technology to unplug from technology is one smart way to rewire our happiness at work.

2.     Be inspired: Watch online videos to de-stress at work

It seems counterintuitive to use media at work to distress if everything we do at work involves the computer. However, recent research has shown that watching short online videos or playing online video games leads to psychological recovery, increased vitality and even better cognitive performance (Reinecke, Klatt, Kraemer, 2011; Reinecke, 2009).

Recent research (Janicke, Rieger, Reinecke, & Connor, under review) indicates that in the work context, watching any type of video for just 4 minutes can lead to reduced feelings of stress. Watching a particular uplifting video, such as video’s often posted by Upworthy, for example, also increases employee’s energy levels and makes them derive more meaning from the work they are doing. Funny cat videos, on the other hand, seem to make employees feel more satisfied at work.

While being constantly interrupted by notifications from our social media is certainly problematic for our productivity and happiness at work, purposefully choosing to watch a short online video to relax a little from work, research shows, is actually a good thing: it reduces stress and enhances our work-related well-being.

3.     Change Perception: Putting on Your Rose Colored Phone Camera Lens

While we usually don’t take many pictures at work, after all, what would be so exciting to see in a picture of a computer screen and pile of vanilla folders, but research suggests that we may want to put our rose colored glasses on when we are at work. A study out of Penn State University has shown that participants who took pictures with their phones of inspiring themes such as love and kindness and beautiful nature they found in their everyday life, for one week felt more elevated and happier. The feeling of elevation, in turn, predicted greater feelings of connectedness to others, perceptions of the good of humanity and heightened motivations for altruism.

Applied to the work context here is what you could do: Once a day, find something around you that is inspiring to you and take a picture of it. After a while, our perception changes and you may notice beauty that you did not even know excited around you.

This exercise could also be easily converted into a team challenge: For one week, have your team take pictures of things that inspire them and have them post it on an internal communication channel (i.e., slack) or social media group. At the end of the week, in a short meeting, instead of fostering yet again another competition of who took the “best” picture, just hold a conversation about how this experience made your employees feel.

4.     Look at the Bigger Picture: Find and Express Gratitude

How often do you not feel motivated to work but you force yourself to focus because things just need to keep moving? Being at least somewhat type A can easily get you into this spiral of “dead” focus. You are trying to concentrate but you just can’t get into the rhythm of things because your emotional state is standing in the way. You just simply don’t feel like it. Acknowledging the feeling is already half the rent. But to get out of a negative mood funk is often easier said than done.

A well-known strategy to uplift your mood and make you think about the bigger picture again is the experience of gratitude. Research has shown that people who are more grateful in life, are overall happier, feel more connected to others, sleep better and visit the doctor less often (Emmons & McChullough, 2003). An easy and very powerful way to cultivate and instantly feel grateful in the moment is to express your gratitude for someone you care about.

When you feel down at work, take a breath and step away from your computer for a minute, take your phone, choose a person you care about and write them in a text message how much you appreciate them. Be specific and personal and tell them why you are so grateful for them. Once you finished writing it, send it! It may feel “awkward” at first but once you sent it all you want to do is pick another person out of your phonebook and tell how grateful you are for them. This will not only get you out of your head and into your heart, it will also make your friends day.

If you want to step up your gratitude game, pick a co-worker, write down why you are grateful for them and then go into their office and read your gratitude letter out to them. This will totally make your day!

5.     Create Pleasure: Use Technology to Have Fun with Your Colleagues:

Most of us work in very cognitive jobs. That means we basically think all day long using mainly our left hemisphere that is responsible for logical thinking, analytical thought, facts and it processes information in linear ways. On the other hand, our right hemisphere is all about creativity, holistic ways of thinking, visual processing and feelings. Being too much in our left hemisphere can make us feel more disconnected from the world, our colleagues and ourselves.

To counter that, we can practice play! Yes, that thing we used to do as kids. Having fun, running around, being silly. Humor has been shown to be an antidote to stress, enhances positive affect, leadership, group cohesiveness, communication, organizational culture, and has even been related to longevity. Laughing hard, so much that your whole body shakes, increases the oxygen flow in our blood and helps us relax.

Creating environments at work that promote humor may not be that simple to do. But, inviting your colleagues to participate in a funny meme challenge or sharing jokes with each other is. Again, this can be simply done via the use of groups on social media. Creating memes is an easy and fun process that can get you from your head to your heart, promoting happiness for yourself and others. Check out these easy meme apps and have some fun. Here is one for you: