It seems like almost every time you switch on the TV or read a newspaper there is a new book about happiness being promoted. We all want to be ‘happy’, and we go to great lengths to achieve this, admonishing ourselves if we feel anything but.
“Rather than focussing on the pure pursuit of pleasure and the minimisation of pain, it’s better that we take a good hard look at our lives and work out which things bring engagement, meaning and fun”
However, I believe the pursuit of happiness might not be the best way of attaining happiness. I’ve been studying mental fitness, wellbeing and engagement for over 15 years and was among the first group of people, outside of the US, to take a Masters degree in Positive Psychology back in 2005.
A better way to think about wellbeing is through the prism of mental fitness and resilience.
We all know that positive emotions are fleeting things: They come and go just like negative ones. The problem with negative emotions is that they seem to stick around for much longer than the positive ones.
Why? We are hard-wired to focus on mistakes and challenges rather than our strengths and the good things in life. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective for us to have this slight negativity bias, but it can play havoc with our wellbeing, especially if we allow negative emotions to escalate and go unobserved.
“Once we have taken a look at the simple things, it makes us feel grateful for them and it reminds us of what we have rather than what we want”
Rather than focussing on the pure pursuit of pleasure and the minimisation of pain, it’s better that we take a good hard look at our lives and work out which things bring engagement, meaning and fun.
By doing this, we might realise that there is magic in so many day-to-day activities; like watching the kids play footy, or reading a good book outside on the deck with a cup of tea. Once we have taken a look at the simple things, it makes us feel grateful for them and it reminds us of what we have rather than what we want.
Yes, having aspirations and constantly looking forward can be energising and motivating, but by constantly living life in ‘planning mode’ we may miss out on so much.
Positive Psychology research suggests that the happiest people in life tend to be grateful for what they have and savour and cherish it. By living at a fast pace and always looking forward, we may miss the precious opportunity to thank the people we love and give them a cuddle. Nobody, as far as I am aware, ever said on their death bed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office”.
According to the research from Positive Psychology there are many practical things that we can do cultivate an optimistic and joyful mindset. Remember: It’s not that we are trying to be positive all the time, that’s ridiculous. However, there are ways to cultivate a general default position of optimism and resilience to adversity.
Tips for building mental fitness at work
Take a look at the things that you do at work and ask yourself three questions:
- Does this work activity make me feel more independent and autonomous?
- Does it help me develop closer relationships with people?
- Do I feel competent in the task that I am performing?
These are three important pillars for wellbeing at work. If the answer is ‘no’ for all or some of the questions, then it may be time to reappraise the things you do, or reach out to your colleagues to explain how you feel, or change the way you do things.
If you are a small business owner you might look at each new project through this prism. If you are an employee, it may provide a powerful tool for you to change things at work.
And at home…
Think about the simple activities that bring you joy. Give these activities your full attention by switching the phone off and make plans to have magic moments with the people you love every day.