Want to be happier at work? It’s as simple as looking for reasons to be and making sure you’re taking the time to really appreciate what you already have.
You must actively focus your attention on the good to be happier at work.
The brain is the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Every single second of the day, your brain processes 11 million pieces of information across all of your five senses. Seem like a lot? That’s because you’re only consciously aware of about 40 pieces of information out of that 11 million. Think about that disconnect for a moment—11 million pieces go in, and 10,999,960 of those pieces are things that your brain filters away so they don’t become a part of our conscious awareness. The remaining 40 pieces are the things you use to construct your conscious version of reality. That’s your story, what you use to explain your context. Your actions and how your experience the world will be built off of that story.
Let’s throw another kink into it: The first priority of your brain is survival—keeping you away from things that can do you harm. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. However, that means your brain isn’t setting you up to see the best 40 pieces of information at your disposal—it’s setting you up to protect yourself from the worst case scenario. So, by default, your brain keeps you focused on the negatives rather than seeing the positives.
Now, apply this to your work experience. If you’re constructing your reality at work based on the 40 pieces of information a second that you’re consciously aware of and you’re leaving it up to our brains to decide what those 40 pieces of information are, you’re more likely to see things the things you view as threatening to your “survival,” or things that threaten your professional success and status. Some examples might be colleagues that throw you under the bus, a remark someone made in a meeting that you didn’t appreciate, missed deadlines that threaten your projects, a boss that don’t have your back, a lack of resources to meet your goals, not enough opportunities for advancement, reasons you could be fired at any second, etc. These are the things your brain is naturally going to filter to the top of the pile and say “these are the most important things for you to be aware of.” If you rely on them to drive your story and your experience, more often than not you’re going to be more focused on the bad than the good. That leads to more stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, depression – all the things we want to minimize in a positive work experience.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to create a better experience for yourself at work, you have to actively focus your attention on the things that will support that experience. That’s where gratitude comes in.
Gratitude helps you filter information differently.
When your brain is filtering those 40 pieces of information a second for you, oftentimes that is a passive process – you’re not consciously aware that it’s happening and so it happens in the background as if it’s on autopilot. However, you can always choose where you focus your energy and attention. That means you can make the choice to filter in information that will enhance your experience rather than detract from it.
This is where gratitude comes in. Gratitude is the act of focusing your attention and your energy on the things that you appreciate about your experience, making those things an active part of your awareness when your brain might have filtered them into the background before. When you make the good things happening a more active part of your experience by appreciating them on a deeper level, your whole experience becomes better and the negative things tend not to bother you so much.
The benefits of gratitude are extensive. Research has found that those who practice gratitude experience the following benefits:
- You’ll reduce your stress levels.
- You’ll experience greater career success.
- You’ll have higher self-esteem.
- You’ll have better relationships.
- You’ll be more empathetic and less aggressive.
- You’ll have better physical health.
- You’ll be more optimistic about the future and more positive about your life as a whole.
Consider this example: Say your colleague has done something to annoy you in a meeting—they weren’t prepared for their portion of it and that put more work onto you, leading you to be stressed out and frustrated. Simply based on that experience, you might be inclined to think they’re incompetent and that you can’t trust them.
But then you take a beat and you think back to the amazing conversation you had with that co-worker the previous day, and how you really appreciated their help and insight. You realize this co-worker told you they had a lot on their plate and were struggling to balance it all, and that could explain why they weren’t fully prepared. And you remember times when this co-worker has had your back and are grateful that they’ve gone out of their way for you.
By focusing your attention on the more positive aspects of the relationship, you’ve instantly changed the story you’re telling yourself about this person and this experience. You’ve opened yourself up to a better relationship with this co-worker, to see greater opportunities for your success together, and have reduced your overall stress and frustration because you know things are going to work out, even if the meeting didn’t quite go as planned.
Infuse gratitude into your day and you’ll be happier at work.
In the example, we looked at a way to work with gratitude to turn around a negative experience. However, you can make gratitude an everyday habit and experience even greater benefits from it. Try these exercises:
- Keep a gratitude list. Take a few moments every day to make a list of the things you’re grateful for: The free coffee at work, a co-worker that’s always in a good mood, a success you had with your boss, etc. Write them down in a journal for safekeeping. At the end of each week, review your list and appreciate all the things you’ve got going for you.
- Write a thank you note. Make someone’s day by leaving a thank you note for them at their desk with things you appreciate about them, or even just a sticky note on their monitor. This is a great exercise because not only will you experience the benefits of gratitude, but the person who receives your note will as well!
- Use your commute well. When you’re going home at the end of the day, it’s easy to think back to all the things that didn’t go as planned. Instead, make the choice to use your time to appreciate the things that did go right, and look for the opportunities you have in front of you. This will set you up to take advantage of those opportunities when you return to work the next day.
Doing these things forces your brain to look for those positive things, making them a more active part of your experience. The most important thing is that you should be consistent—it doesn’t matter what time of day you express gratitude or the form it takes. The goal is simple consistency—to do a little something every day that will add up a better work (and life!) experience.