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Miserable at Work? Advice From a Happiness Expert

If you find yourself unhappy, stressed or miserable at your office, you are not alone.

More than 50% of American workers report that they don’t feel fulfilled at their jobs, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace. What’s worse, 16% say they are downright miserable.

Unfortunately, a person’s dissatisfaction at work can have a significant impact on their professional career and personal wellbeing.

“Our families and friends suffer when we are disengaged, dissatisfied and unfulfilled,” writes Fortune 500 company leadership advisor Annie McKee in her latest book, “How To Be Happy At Work.

McKee teaches masters and doctoral-level courses on leadership and emotional intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania, and has spent many years researching the ways that moods and actions affect people’s experience and success in the workplace.

On a person’s most stressful day at work, when they fear their manager or become upset with co-workers, they most likely shut down. The worker becomes resentful, cynical and loses their creative spark and energy.

“The situation is unacceptable. Most of us work more than eight hours a day,” McKee writes. “That means that if we are unhappy at work, we are miserable from more than a third of our lives.”

When someone is stuck in a work in an environment that perpetually creates these destructive emotions, they “interfere with reasoning, adaptability and resilience,” McKee says; this makes the worker distracted and ineffective.

Moreover, according to McKee, the longer such negative feeling goes unchecked, the more “we slip into a state where we can’t seem to find our way back to happiness and we’re not as effective as we once were.”

And even if they are not stating it explicitly, an employer also picks up on your unhappiness: Companies with happy and engaged employees outperform their competition by 20 percent, McKee writes.

As much as you may try to leave your feelings at the office, McKee points out that “emotions are contagious. Our feelings have an impact on how others feel and the extent to which their brains work,” she writes.

Yet even though the “low-grade” forms of persistent stress, anger and other negative emotions can “literally kill us,” as McKee maintains, there are several ways to improve you workplace satisfaction.

“When our work has meaning, when we see an enticing vision of the future and when we have strong, warm relationships, we are emotionally, intellectually and physically equipped to do our best,” McKee writes.

Here are the three primary strategies McKee puts forth to improve happiness and wellbeing at work.

1) Determine what happiness at work would look like for you

McKee defines happiness as “deep and abiding enjoyment of daily activities fueled by Passion for a meaningful purpose, a hopeful view of the future and true friendships.”

She adds that happiness isn’t just about good feeling in certain moments, but an ongoing sense of joy, hope, excitement, generosity and overall well-being, along with other positive attitudes and behaviors.

“I stand firmly in the belief that happiness is possible for everyone: happiness is a human right,” McKee writes.

2) Seek out a sense of purpose

Whether you believe your job is your true calling in life or whether it’s simply a way to make ends meet, establishing a sense of purpose carries many benefits.

“When we’re driven by a sense of purpose, when we feel optimistic and enjoy being with our colleagues, we’re better able to access our knowledge, experience and emotional intelligence,” McKee writes.

Our brain function is simply enhanced by feeling good, she notes. “We are more open to new ideas and can more easily tap into her intuition. We’re able to process information more quickly and more thoroughly, be creative and get along with people who are different from ourselves,” according to McKee.

3) Resist Pessimism

Being a downer at work not only compromises what you can achieve but also what your whole team can achieve as a group. “Just as optimism fuels the energy needed to accomplish goals, pessimism causes us to give up before we even try,” McKee writes.

To counteract any pessimism, McKee recommends pausing at the end of each day to reflect on what went well.

‘When you catch yourself thinking about all the things you didn’t get done or that didn’t go well thank instead about what you learned, the positive impact you had on others and something you’re proud of,” she says.

If your workday doesn’t seem to be going well, you can also reflect back to a different day or time when you did feel hopeful about the future.

“Think about strengths you use at work, reflect on aspects of your mind, body, heart and spirit that are the most important to you and think about how they have supported you get getting your goals,” McKee writes.

She adds: “Positive emotions and a state of mind characterized by hope and compassion create a resonant climate, an environment where everyone can be fulfilled and effective too.”

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