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I’m a psychologist – these are my 7 tips to be happy at work

It is a place where the average person will spend 90,000 hours in their lifetime.

While going to work is a necessity for the vast majority, long hours, exhausting commutes, and overwhelming to-do lists are easier when a job is fun.

But many may not know what they can do to feel happier at work.

Professor Cary Cooper is a professor of psychology and health at the University of Manchester who led a UK government research project on how well-being and resilience change over a person’s life.

Writing for The Conversation, Professor Cooper, with the help of the New Economics Foundation think tank, revealed his seven tips for finding happiness at work.

It’s a place where an average person spends 90,000 hours in their lifetime, so since work is more of a necessity than a choice, it helps if it’s fun, but what can you do to feel happier at work? (stock image)

Be active

Exercising around work may be the last thing employees want to do after a long day.

But Professor Cooper says staying active outside office hours could be the key to happiness in any workplace.

He says exercise won’t make your problems or stress go away, but it can reduce “emotional intensity” and give you “mental space” to solve problems.

And the NHS describes it as a ‘wonder drug’, saying exercise can reduce the risk of serious diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Research has shown that exercise really improves your mood as it increases levels of the happy hormones – serotonin and dopamine.

Exercising also raises your heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. A well-oxygenated brain has been found to help manage anxiety and depression.

Professor Cooper suggests walking to and from work to create separation from the workday.

But he says if that’s not possible, you can get off the bus a stop early, be active during lunch, or find an exercise class to do before work.

Connect with people

It can sometimes feel like you have to keep your head down at work.

But Professor Cooper says relationships with others are often what make people happiest.

“It’s also worth getting to know your colleagues,” he adds. “The more you invest in your relationships at work, the more you’ll enjoy your day.”

And working as part of a team or helping others can boost your self-esteem, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescence.

In addition to those at the office, your relationships outside of work can also be key to feeling happy when you’re there, says Professor Cooper.

He says people felt isolated during the pandemic and their well-being suffered due to a lack of social contact.

He explained, “Having a good support network of family and friends can minimize your work problems and help you see things differently.”

Learning new skills

Having hobbies is a great way to relax after a busy day at work.

But whether it’s learning how to knit, bake or draw, Professor Cooper says being “cognitively active” is essential to your psychological and mental well-being.

Research shows that learning a new skill can stimulate neurons in the brain.

Learning something new is also beneficial for career advancement and can open up new opportunities, he says.

The UK has some of the longest working hours in Europe, so Professor Cooper stresses the importance of having interests outside of work.

When your time takes up most of your work it can be hard to find a time to do things you enjoy, but Professor Cooper says you should ‘make sure you make time for socializing, exercise and activities you enjoy’.

Stay present

Living in the moment instead of focusing on what has been or is to come can also lead to a healthy work-life balance.

Professor Cooper says that if you enjoy the present, you will appreciate everyday life more.

The NHS says paying more attention to your thoughts and feelings in the present can improve your mental well-being.

Mindfulness is the term given to paying attention to what is going on inside and outside of ourselves and getting out of our mind.

While often associated with meditation, mindfulness can simply be the daily act of naming your thoughts and feelings, making time for yourself to go for a walk or have a cup of tea, and notice the little things.

Professor Cooper says you don’t have to meditate for hours to stay present, it’s just about being aware of your surroundings – “the sights, sounds, smells.”

Recognize the positives

It’s often hard to see the positives when you’re stuck with stress.

But trying to be more of a glass-half-full person rather than a glass-half-empty person will help you recognize the good things in your life, says Professor Cooper.

“Accept that there are things at work or in life that you can’t change and focus on the things you can control,” he adds.

Professor Cooper also recommends reminding yourself to be grateful.

Avoid unhealthy habits

Many people turn to unhealthy vices as a way to cope with stress.

Whether it’s alcohol, coffee, or smoking, a person’s preferred coping mechanism, research shows it’s not the best way to de-stress.

In fact, any of these alone, or in combination with each other, can negatively impact your well-being.

This is according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Caffeine Research, which looked at the effects of these substances on health and anxiety in young people.

Work smarter, not longer

The effects of long work days can be compounded by having to do extra work in your free time.

But Professor Cooper says keeping your workload within working hours and organizing your workday in the most efficient way will make this possible.

He says you have to accept that there are always jobs you could do, so by focusing on the most important tasks, you ensure that what really needs to get done gets done.

And he says taking control of work-life balance is key to feeling happier at work.

This is all the more important given that 60 per cent of all long-term illness in the UK is stress-related.

Professor Cooper concludes that you should prioritize your well-being and try to reduce work stress whenever possible.

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