This article was updated on Oct. 22, 2018.
Does your typical busy season involve long hours in the office and little — if any — time devoted to doing the things that make you happy? If you think that's just a job hazard of being in business, you might want to reconsider.
I recently read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, and it was a good reminder that we tend to put the cart before the horse when it comes to success and happiness. As Achor puts it, "If you observe the people around you, you'll find most individuals follow a formula that has been subtly or not so subtly taught to them by their schools, their company, their parents, or society. That is, if you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you'll be happy."
But increasingly, research has shown that happiness is a precursor — not the result — of success, and the most successful people don't grind through their days looking to happiness as a distant reward. They focus on the positive and reap the rewards in the now.
What does this have to do with busy season? Well, how often do you get away from your desk to take a walk? Does exercise, healthy eating and time with friends and family fall by the wayside? By sacrificing your health and happiness in the name of productivity, you are probably holding yourself back.
"Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels," writes Shawn Achor in Success. "They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things."
So how can you inject more happiness into your day during the busy season? You don't need to curtail your hours or make any major overhauls. Everyone has one or two little things that make them smile. Here are a few ideas:
- Meditate. Can you spare just five to 10 minutes a day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing? Download the Headspace app and take advantage of 10 free 10-minute guided meditations that can help improve concentration, relieve anxiety and reduce stress.
- Find something to look forward to. You probably won't be taking any vacations for the next couple months, but you can plan one now. Just thinking about future rewards can light up the pleasure centers of your brain. Book that vacation, schedule a night out with friends or buy tickets to see your favorite band or team after busy season ends. Then post a visual reminder near your computer so you can be reminded of the good times to come.
- Infuse positivity into your surroundings. Achor says our physical environment can have an enormous impact on our mindset. What can you do to make your office more inspiring? Bring in photos of loved ones, incorporate a favorite scent or add other pictures and decor that bring a smile to your face.
- Exercise. This is often one of the first activities we drop when work gets busy, but engaging in regular physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety. Even a 20-minute walk outside on a nice day can brighten your mood and improve memory.
Don't limit yourself to what is on this list. Think about what makes you happy. Watching a funny YouTube video? Chatting with a co-worker? Cranking up the volume on the Hamilton soundtrack? Make a point of doing something every day to infuse a bit of happiness into even your busiest seasons. It could become your competitive advantage.