Happy at Work: 60 Simple Ways to Stay Engaged and Be Successful

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Jim Donovan, a small-business owner, consultant, and speaker, has worked with employees and employers for twenty-five years. These tools will empower you with the knowledge that no matter the circumstance, you can think, act, and feel in ways that create purpose, success, and, yes, happiness.

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60 Chapters

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1. Reward Yourself and Others

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Have you ever noticed how easily we criticize ourselves and others for making even the most minor mistakes? Most of us have no problem finding fault, especially with ourselves. In many cases, unfortunately, managers see criticism as a way to embarrasses people into performing better.

Verbally berating someone and expecting her to perform better is like hitting your computer with a hammer and expecting it to run better. It doesn’t work. I doubt that it ever did, but it certainly does not work with today’s more skilled workforce. And if you do this with the Millennial Generation, you’ll soon see your workforce walking out the door.

Managing by bossing people around was a popular practice back in the Industrial Age; however, we’ve learned over time that there are much more effective ways to manage people.

If you must criticize an employee’s performance, be sure to do it in private. Correcting someone’s behavior publicly not only can cause the person in question to suffer but can also have a negative effect on those within earshot. Criticizing someone while there are customers nearby, as I have witnessed happening several times in retail establishments, reflects poorly on the entire organization. The old adage “Praise people in public, correct them in private” still holds true today.

 

2. Put Your Problems to Work for You

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In his book Illusions, Richard Bach wrote, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for us in its hands. We seek problems because we need their gifts.”

Whether or not we seek out problems is not nearly as important as how we handle them when they appear. A great technique I learned many years ago is to change the word problem to challenge. I realize this may seem like simply a matter of semantics, but hear me out.

Problems tend to be things we try to avoid, while challenges are things we step up to and fix. Making this seemingly insignificant change in vocabulary can have a big impact on how you deal with a situation.

If you view it, as Bach suggests, as having a gift for you or at least containing an opportunity within it, your challenge could be turned to your advantage. A challenge in the workplace, while representing an obstacle for some, can actually present you with an opportunity to showcase your talents. The next time a challenge presents itself, rather than trying to avoid it, welcome it. Ask yourself what you might do to turn it into an opportunity. Explore how you might best use it to your advantage.

 

3. Break Your Patterns

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It always amazes me how little people know about their company, coworkers, or the world around them. Many otherwise intelligent people become stuck in the rut of their daily lives, doing the same things each day, driving the same route to work, eating the same breakfast, and so on, rarely deviating from their patterns. In fact, we are all most likely to frequent the same five to ten restaurants, even though many communities have fifty or more.

We tend to eat the same five or six vegetables, even though there are more than ten times that to choose from. We drive the same roads to and from work, school, and home, hang out with the same friends, and engage in the same social events. We listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows, and on and on. It’s no wonder people are bored.

If you want to have a happier, more interesting life at work and at home, start breaking your patterns. An added benefit is that you will be stimulating your creativity as a result. By changing your everyday patterns and habitual processes, you will be creating new neural connections in your brain.

 

4. Become Curious

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If you want to be happier both at work and in your personal life, cultivate your curiosity. Not only will learning about the world and people around you make your job more interesting, but it will also increase your value to the company. As executive coach Jay Abraham put it, “Discovery is the fuel of competitive advantage.”

The more you know about your company and its products and services, the more effectively and efficiently you will perform your work. This will lead to increased productivity and perhaps to a better position within the organization eventually. By cultivating your curiosity, you will be more engaged with your work and as a result feel like a more integral part of the organization.

Do you know the history of your company? Do you know who the CEO is or who the top management are? Depending on the size of your organization, these people may be across the corridor or across the globe. Even if they are far-flung, you can still learn about them. Many people I’ve met, especially in large organizations, do not even know the name of the chief executive.

 

5. Know Your Purpose

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A number of years ago I was attending a talk given by Jack Canfield, cocreator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. It was a cold February night in New Jersey, and Jack was there as part of his national tour for his new book, The Success Principles.

As I was waiting for Jack to arrive I could not help but wonder why this famous author, who lives in Southern California, was in Edison, New Jersey, to speak to a small group of about forty people. It would have been so much easier for him to stay in the warmth of California instead of being here in the icy rain of a New Jersey winter. As Jack entered the room we shook hands and I told him how nice it was to see him again. Then I asked him why he was giving this talk.

Without hesitation he replied, “To change people’s lives.”

Jack clearly knew why he was doing the work he does. He knows what his purpose is and is dedicated to carrying out his mission — regardless of the weather.

What about you? Do you know why you do what you do?

Zig Ziglar, the late success legend, once said to an audience, “If you’re going to a job today just because you went there yesterday, you may want to reconsider your life’s plan.”

 

6. Step into the Career of Your Dreams

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Henry David Thoreau wrote this about pursuing dreams: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

Notice that he didn’t say advance “sheepishly,” “fearfully,” or “timidly.”

You were not born to live quietly, hoping to get to the end of your life without being noticed. Sadly, that’s the way many people spend their lives. They simply plod along, working in a job that’s not what they want, wishing they were someplace else, living, as Thoreau put it, “lives of quiet desperation.”

Personally, I like this quotation from French writer Émile Zola: “If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.”

Are you living your life out loud?

Each one of us was born with different dreams and desires. Many teachings point to the idea that if you have a desire to be, do, or have something, you already possess the ability to make it a reality.

If you stop for a moment and think about your deepest desires, I think you’ll agree that they are not only well within the realm of possibility but also within your present reach. You’re probably a lot closer to achieving your dreams than you realize.

 

7. Make Your Dreams Come True

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One day a number of years ago, my wife, Georgia, observed that I wasn’t having enough fun with money. Like a lot of people, I viewed money as something “serious” like bill paying and investing. She handed me a dollar bill with little smiley face stickers all over it as a reminder to be sure to use some of my money for fun.

It was a very good idea on Georgia’s part, because every time I’ve opened my wallet since, I’ve seen all those smiley faces looking back at me. It’s been a great reminder over many years to lighten up and enjoy my life.

Making small gestures such as putting smiley faces on dollar bills, taping pictures of the car you want to your mirror, and posting your sales goals in a prominent place will not in themselves bring you what you desire, but they will serve to keep your dreams and desires in the forefront of your mind and provide clear instructions to your subconscious about what you want. Creating visual representations of your desires is often referred to as making “treasure maps” or “dream boards or “vision boards.”

 

8. Become a Goal Setter

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I am astonished by the number of people I meet who do not regularly set goals. With all that has been written over the past hundred years about the value of having written goals, it’s absurd that, according to all indications, only a very small percentage of the population make it a practice.

The fact that the people who make up this small percentage also tend to be the most successful is no big surprise. There’s a clue in there: if you want more success, become a goal setter. As J. C. Penney put it, “Show me a stock clerk with goals and I’ll show you a man who can make history. Show me a man without goals and I’ll show you a stock clerk.”

If there is one thing that has helped me realize my dreams in the past twenty-plus years, it’s my regular practice of setting goals in various areas of my life.

During the first week of January every year, I jot down what I would like to accomplish in the year ahead. I begin by rereading my life’s vision, a description of what my ideal life five years into the future looks like. This, of course, changes continually, since I always update it to reflect my current dreams and desires. In my ideal life vision I include my spiritual ideals, my health and fitness goals, my business and career goals, my personal relationship goals, my social and material goals, and, of course, my financial goals.

 

9. Don’t Let Your Goals Scare You

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Are you playing too small?

It’s fascinating to me that so many sales organization managers complain that their employees typically reach the quotas set by management, or perhaps even fall a bit short, but rarely exceed them. They get stuck in their comfort zone, setting and achieving smaller goals, ones that they know they can handle.

If you want to excel, set goals that cause you to stretch beyond your comfort zone and challenge you to step up.

You know what I mean: goals that both excite and scare you.

The thought of actually accomplishing them excites you, because it would be so fantastic. And the thought of even attempting to accomplish them scares you, because you still think you are not smart enough, skilled enough, or powerful enough, or some other illusion is stopping you. Remember that FEAR, or False Evidence Appearing Real, is just that — false evidence. You have no reason to fear attempting your most audacious goals, so why not just go for it?

It is likely that if the goal is big enough and important enough to you, you will find a way to accomplish it. If your desire is strong enough, you will be guided to the right resources, people, information, and actions to reach your objectives.

 

10. Establish Milestones and Actions

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Now that you’ve written your compelling life vision and selected some goals you’d like to achieve in the next year, it’s time to establish milestones and develop an action plan for accomplishing them.

Read back over your list of goals and, for each, write one or two milestones you can use to measure your progress. For example, if your vision includes rising to the top of your company and your goal is to become a manager within the next one to two years, your ninety-day milestone may be to have completed your next-level certification. This becomes a kind of mini-goal you will reach on your way to your main objective.

If in your vision you’re the top salesperson in your company and one of your goals is to be number one in your district by the end of next year, your ninety-day milestone measurement might be to become number one in your region.

Once you have listed your ninety-day milestones for your goals, it’s time to add actions you can take in the next thirty days to move you toward your desires. For, as the Bible has it, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).

 

11. Take Only Inspired Action

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In my work, whether writing, speaking, or coaching, I distinguish between two distinctly different types of action. The first is what I refer to as “gerbil action.”

This is the name I ascribe to what too many people do. Most of us have been taught to take a lot of action if we want to achieve a particular result. We have financial services representatives who make a hundred phone calls an hour selling their services. Outside sales representatives in many industries, especially advertising sales, plod along each day, going from business to business, cold calling in the hope of making a sale, much like Willy Loman, the depressing character in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman.

This type of activity makes you feel busy but often produces little return on your effort. Repeated long enough, it results in lowered morale, depression, and, ultimately, job burnout. Companies that encourage “action, action, action” behavior typically suffer high turnover and mediocre outcomes.

I call this behavior gerbil action because it reminds me of a little gerbil spinning on his wheel and going nowhere. While I have nothing against gerbils, there is a better way. This brings us to the second type of action.

 

12. Align with Your Values

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Our values are one of the most important components of personal development, yet we often overlook them. By values I mean those principles and qualities that you hold dear. We all have a set of values — such as love, success, compassion, freedom, contribution, adventure, and security — that are important to us and determine our happiness. That is, our happiness or satisfaction in any situation depends on our most important values being met. And our behavior in any situation will be directly related to our particular set of values. Identifying and understanding your values will go a long way toward helping you create a life of joy and happiness.

Additionally, we attach importance to these values in a particular order and, as you’ll see below, have established “rules” that govern what has to happen for us to experience a particular value as being met. Do not be concerned if this sounds complicated. It is really pretty simple, as you will see as we go on.

Understanding other people’s values will improve communication and, in the workplace, will enable you to understand what drives your colleagues and how best to work with them. In business and sales, identifying a person’s values will raise you from being an ordinary salesperson to one who truly serves the customer. You will know how to present your product or service to address your customer’s most important concerns.

 

13. Discover Your Rules

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No discussion about values would be complete without talking a little bit about the rules we each assign to experiencing a value — what has to happen for us to feel that a particular value is being met. Say the value in question is receiving recognition. For one person to feel his contribution is receiving recognition may require him to be praised in front of the team, while another individual may be fine with being texted, “Good job.” Understanding other people’s rules, especially those closest to you, can go a long way toward ensuring better communications and more harmonious relationships.

You can increase the likelihood of bringing about your desired states simply by making sure your rules for them are easy to follow. For example, if you want to be happy, make it easy for yourself. If your rule for experiencing happiness was something like “Every day above ground is a happy day,” you would feel happy most of the time. Some people have so many rules for what makes them happy that happiness becomes almost impossible to achieve, so they spend their lives being miserable.

 

14. Learn to Manage Your Time

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It seems as though everyone I talk to these days is stressed-out trying to accomplish all the things their busy lifestyles demand. Between working long hours, attending endless meetings, managing multiple projects (each with its own stressors), dealing with the never-ending onslaught of email, maintaining our business network and connections on social media, and, oh, yeah, trying to have some semblance of a personal life, we are all stretched to the limit.

How is it, then, that some people seem to have plenty of time to accomplish everything, with time left over, while the rest of us rush around all day and never seem to have enough time?

One of the areas a lot of people, including myself at one time, seem to have trouble with is finding time to exercise regularly. With all the demands being made on us daily, exercise is often the first thing to go, when in fact it is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. When I was having difficulty making time to take care of my physical health I did what I typically do in these situations: I sought the advice of someone who was achieving excellence in this area. In my case, I went to my friend Jim Sutton. Jim is a very successful and busy attorney yet manages to find the time to work out almost every day. When I asked him how, with all his other responsibilities, he could find the time to work out so often, his answer was quite simple. He said, “I make it one of the three most important things I must do each day.” There’s his secret — priorities! Notice he didn’t say it’s one of the items on his ten-item to-do list. It was one of his top three.

 

15. Ask a Bigger Question

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I believe it was Mark Victor Hansen, cocreator of the wildly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, who said, “If you want a bigger result, ask a bigger question.”

If you listen to people’s conversations, particularly around the water cooler, you’ll hear an endless diatribe of disempowering questions such as, “Why do I get all the lousy assignments?” and “Why don’t I ever get a break?”

Asking focused and well-formed questions is one of the most powerful techniques we can employ in any situation, especially in the workplace. Try using a series of empowering questions first thing in the morning as a way to start off your day feeling good about yourself and the day ahead.

Simple questions such as, “What am I looking forward to today?” “What am I happy about today?” and “What am I grateful for today?” will enable you to begin your day on a more positive note.

Unfortunately, too many people ask questions such as, “Why do I have to go to work today?” “Why do I have to get out of bed so early?” and other disempowering ones that do little more than undermine what good feelings they may have had and put them in a less-than-great mental state as they begin their day. Right from the start they are defending their lack of success with a “why me?” attitude.

 

16. Arrive at Work Early

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If you want to be happier and more productive at work and have less stress in your life, stop rushing. Disengage from the very idea of rush hour, a term that at its very core is counterproductive. You get to choose how you feel when you begin your workday. You can follow the herd and rush each morning, or you can begin your day in an easier and more relaxed manner.

A number of years ago I took a freelance assignment teaching computer software at a technology school about thirty miles from my home. After the first few days of driving in heavy commuter traffic during the morning rush hour, I became determined to find a better way.

One morning I decided to leave my home twenty minutes earlier just to see what effect that might have on my trip. It turned out to be the ideal solution. Because I left for work a bit earlier, I was just ahead of the big traffic buildup. In my case this meant thousands of commuters heading toward Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in America.

Depending on where you live, your plan would need to be adjusted for your local conditions. My leaving home just twenty minutes ahead of what would have been the normal time to leave enabled me to enjoy a leisurely drive in light to moderate traffic.

 

17. Master Your Energy

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To be truly happy, productive, and successful, you need physical, mental, and emotional energy. Unfortunately, for many people, just mustering enough energy to get through the day can be a major task. If you take the time to examine the lifestyle and habits of today’s typical individual, it’s not hard to see why so many people have difficulty.

Often people are jolted awake, after too little sleep, by an alarm clock. Their waking thoughts are usually about how they wish they didn’t have to wake up so early.

Rushing into their day, many opt for a fast-food breakfast, typically consisting of coffee or some other caffeinated drink and a bagel, muffin, doughnut, or some heavy carbohydrate, often eaten and drunk while en route to work. Now their insulin level is artificially spiked, causing a rise in blood sugar. They are in a mental fog from their high-carb intake (not to mention the fact that over time this kind of diet can lead to obesity and diabetes). On their way to work they are either on their cell phone or beginning to worry about what they need to do that day. Since they were rushed from the start, they probably left for work late, so they are also worried about their tardiness.

 

18. Commit to Lifelong Learning

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This is perhaps one of the most important commitments you can make if you want to be on a happier, more productive, and more fulfilling career path.

The statistics about how many books people read after completing their formal education are appalling. Upon graduation, colleges and universities hold commencement ceremonies. The word commencement itself holds the clue that your life is beginning and that your education, rather than coming to an end, should be commencing as well.

If you study successful people in any walk of life, you will find that they are continual learners and avid readers. Every high-achieving individual I’ve ever met reads personal-development and business books regularly. They continually listen to audio seminars and podcasts, and they attend live seminars, where they not only gain new knowledge but also meet and network with other successful people.

Many of the largest, most successful companies in the world encourage people to participate in a book-of-the-month club. They know that the more their employees work on their personal development, the better the company will perform. If you want to lead a fulfilling and successful life, make a daily habit of reading good books.

 

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