Everyday habits of happy people

By Eliza Millsom, H&H Group mindfulness and wellbeing expert

Happy.jpg#asset:6480

Given that around one third of your adult life is spent at work1, it makes sense that it should be – as much as possible – a happy and fulfilling experience. As well as the obvious benefits to the wellbeing of the individual, happy employees are proven to be more productive2 and their attitude can impact the overall mindset of a whole team. Therefore, investing in your “happiness levels” can benefit you on a personal and professional level, so it’s well worth putting a focus on it.

This is a topic that’s been of particular importance over the past few months, as we learn to balance productivity and wellbeing with uncertainty and change. It’s International Week of Happiness at Work, so I’m sharing the top habits that happy people employ in the workplace.

Practice gratitude

Gratitude.jpg#asset:6479

Every morning when you wake up, try writing down three things you are grateful for, and the reasons why they are important to you. It’s a simple habit that has a powerful impact on shaping and priming the mind, and is an antidote to negative emotions, thought patterns, worry and stress . 

Throughout the day, there are so many obstacles that prevent us from feeling grateful, such as comparing yourself to others, being regretful of the past or focusing too much on the future. So for me, cultivating that sense of appreciation first thing, really helps to overcome some of these obstacles that can be inevitable as part of my work day.

As part of my morning gratitude practice I also like to write down how I want to show up at work that day, positioning it as if it’s already happened (e.g. “today I was really energetic and inspiring to my team”). Doing this enables me to hold myself accountable for the day.

Give your brain a break

Thinking.jpg#asset:6481

It’s really important to give your brain space, away from both work and from thinking. It doesn’t need to be a formal meditation or breathing practice, just take five minutes away from your desk to allow your mind to do what it wants, without any distractions (so no podcasts, music or books). Just sit in silence and give your brain little pockets of “white space”. I find giving myself permission to have this “white space” is important for consolidating information, reflection and creativity!

Make time to move

Walking.jpg#asset:6478

Regular movement is so important to relieve any stress or tension. Exercise or movement doesn’t always have to be super high intensity or about getting fit, it’s more about making yourself feel lighter and better. I think movement is important to release any negativity or tension that you’ve acquired throughout the day, which you might feel yourself carrying in your jaw or neck. Lighter movement, such as yoga or walking, can be beneficial for uplifting your mood. There’s nothing like some fresh air to help shift any negative energy that may have manifested throughout the working day.

Fuel your body

Healthy-food.jpg#asset:6477

Food plays a pivotal role in mood regulation3. Our brains pretty much never switch off, constantly taking on new information, processing, filtering, controlling thoughts, emotions and behaviours. This means that the brain requires a constant supply of fuel in order to perform at its best. That fuel comes from the food that we eat, and the type of fuel that we feed the brain has a huge impact on brain function, including how energised we feel, mood, motivation, hunger regulation.

Your brain functions best on foods that have high nutritional value, so lots of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and fibre, brain foods like nuts and seeds, fish like salmon and foods low in refined sugars4. Due to this direct link between what we eat and brain function, inevitably when the diet is low in these foods, and high in sugar, alcohol, caffeine and saturated fats, it can really have a negative impact on mood, motivation and happiness5.

Consider keeping a supply of “brain friendly” snacks on your desk, such as cut-up vegetables or nuts, so they are in easy reach during your work day, and don’t forget to keep your water bottle close by, as hydration is another important factor for positive brain function6.

Practice self-care at home

Beach.jpg#asset:6487

Outside of work, allow yourself to indulge in an activity that you enjoy, to really allow yourself to switch off but without creating pressure to “achieve” something. For me, it’s having a luxurious bath and reading a book, while for someone else, it could be riding your bike with your children. 

Sunshine is an important part of self-care, so try and spend a little time outdoors every day. Exposure to the sun can impact mood7, so a simple action like sitting in your garden for 10 minutes can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing.

Importantly, when you’re away from work, try reducing the time spent on your phone or social media, giving yourself tech free hours if you need to. This can have a flow on effect to things like your mood, sleep, purchasing habits and what you eat, so it’s worth being mindful of your tech habit.

Turn things around

List.jpg#asset:6486

If you’re experiencing a challenging day, it’s okay to take some time off to reset and allow yourself to rest. If that’s not an option, the easiest and fastest way to get things back on track is to close your eyes and take three deep belly-breaths. Lengthen your inhale and exhale until you feel your heart rate slow down, and you start to feel more relaxed. Consider changing your physical posture – try making your body physically relax by slouching in your chair and screwing up and then softening your face.

Take a look at your “to-do” list and pick a couple of small options that you can tick off easily. This “low-hanging fruit” will give you a sense of achievement and help you get back into a positive frame of mind for work.

You can also try reaching out to someone who makes you feel good about yourself – perhaps a friend, family member or someone at work – to connect and chat for a few minutes. Another great option is to get outside and take a walk – the combination of exercise and fresh air should help relax you and clear your mind.

Finally, supporting your emotional wellbeing is holistic - there isn’t just one magic action or step. Be mindful in all areas of your life and maintain awareness of how your behaviours can impact your mood. Don’t underestimate how each little action – such as a simple walk or a tech-free hour – can have a dramatic impact on your wellbeing. Ultimately, happiness is a mindset and needs a little commitment and regular attention from you, to help achieve and maintain it.

References:

  1. https://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/globstrategy/en/index2.html
  2. https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4555146/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6068860
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/