Three Ways to Be Happier at Work

Do you live to work, or work to live?

It’s a question worth asking, because over the course of a lifetime, you’ll spend an average of 90,000 hours at the office- the equivalent of 1/3 of your life[1]. With time being our most important non-renewable resource, it’s amazing to consider that 84%[2] of employees report being unhappy in their current job. That’s right: over three quarters of us are spending our days in roles that make us miserable.

Actively disengaged workers aren’t only impacting their own wellbeing, however. The financial implication of unhappy workers has been estimated at $300 billion in the U.S. alone! Unhappy workers not only tend to miss more work days, but they’re also less productive.

A study conducted by the University of Warwick measured the association between happiness levels and productivity by showing a group of participants a short comedy movie before asking them to complete a math test. When compared to participants who did not see the video, these happier participants were found to increase their productivity levels by more than 10%[3]. Productivity was also measured against individuals who reported having recently experienced significant negative life shocks; not surprisingly, the less happy test subjects were less productive.

As time goes on, an increasing number of studies are looking at the effects of a happy workforce on business performance. Happy employees have been found to[4]:

– Increase sales by 37%
– Increase stock prices by 8%
– Reduce spending through increased retention

With this knowledge at hand, it’s easy to see how investing in happiness (your own, your co-workers’, your employees’) can result in a ripple affect with significant benefits. Today, let’s take a look at three easy ways that you can begin to immediately bring a little extra joy into your 9 to 5.

1. Take Care of Your Mind

Your happiness begins first with your own mental state. If you’re going about your day feeling stressed, worried, or overwhelmed, you’ll be less equipped to notice the everyday moments that could bring you joy. Adopting practices and habits that free up mental space will instantly increase your sense of happiness and wellbeing.


It’s impossible to feel accomplished and productive without first determining which tasks are the most important to complete. Once you’ve decided, try to tackle these tasks first thing in the morning; preferably even before checking emails.


Did you know that human beings are actually incapable of multitasking? The part of our brain that we use to think, the neocortex, is a serial processor, which means that while it can switch rapidly between tasks, it’s unable to focus on more than one thing at once. Multitasking causes an increase in cortisol[5], the stress hormone, tiring us out and making us feel overwhelmed. Commit to completing one task at a time and you’ll be amazed at how contented you’ll feel.


The average office worker[6] receives over 200 emails every day, and checks their inbox at least 15 times. The University of California[7] has found that it can take us an average of 23 minutes to get back on task after a distraction, meaning that with each inbox checking, we’re wasting precious time. Instead of checking your inbox every time you hear an email arrive on your phone, consider turning off alerts and scheduling a time each day (or a couple of times) to devote yourself exclusively to email.


For those of us who are motivated to achieve, it’s tempting to move quickly onto another task after the first is complete. But when we fail to celebrate our wins, we risk burning out or losing motivation over the long term. Use the priority list you make early in the day and give yourself the satisfaction of checking off each item as you complete it (even the small ones!).

2. Take Care of Your Body

The state of our body is directly related to our state of mind. Studies have shown that individuals with chronic physical health problems are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety[8]. When our bodies are feeling healthy, our mental state naturally improves.  


Fuel your body with nutritious foods that will provide enough energy to sustain you throughout the day. Consider keeping a stash of healthy snacks at your desk to help you avoid succumbing to cravings for those high glycemic foods likely to cause a sugar crash.


Get up from your desk frequently and take a short walk. Research[9] has shown that people who engage in aerobic exercise for as little as 10 minutes once weekly are more cheerful than people who never exercise.


It sounds pretty basic. And it is. Bringing your attention back to your breath is one of the simplest ways to enhance your physical wellbeing. Mindful breathing reduces blood pressure, increases immunity, improves digestion, and enhances memory[10].

3. Give Back at Work

Wharton’s youngest tenured professor, Adam Grant, has researched three types of people: Takers, matchers, and givers. Takers seek to get as much from others as possible, matchers seek equal compensation, and givers contribute without expecting anything in return. Not surprisingly, givers tend to be the most successful- and happiest- of the bunch. Get in the habit of giving to the others you work with, and you’ll also receive the gift of happiness.


Practice gratitude. Watch for your colleague’s good work and give them a pat on the back. Appreciate their strengths and let them know you see them.


Research[11] has shown that helping others reduces stress, improves your mood, and can even make you feel like you have more time[12]. Taking the time to help a co-worker may seem counterintuitive in the face of a looming deadline, but it works.


Replace the paper towels. Wash the dishes in the sink. Clean up a messy work station in the copy room. When we go above and beyond our job description to add to the greater good of the office, we enhance our social connections and our own happiness as well.

The Happiness/ Mindfulness Connection

For over 50 years, our rigorous, science-based assessments and solutions have helped millions of individuals and professionals hire better employees, develop stronger leaders, plan careers with purpose, and uncover their true potential.

For more information on how your workplace happiness can be increased through mindfulness based training and coaching, contact SIGMA today.

[1] Gettysburg College, “1/3 of Your Life is Spent at Work”,

[2] Harvard Business Review, “The Happiness Dividend”,

[3] VOX CEPR Policy Portal, “Happiness Economics in Reverse: Does Happiness Affect Productivity?”,

[4], “Boosting Employee Happiness Will Increase Your Bottom Line”,

[5] Psychology Today, “The Unintended Consequences of Multi-Tasking”,

[6] CEO Magazine, “The Law of Distraction for Leaders”,

[7] The Muse, “This is Nuts: It Takes Nearly 30 Minutes to Refocus After You Get Distracted”,

[8] Canadian Mental Health Association, “The Relationship Between Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Chronic Physical Conditions”,

[9] The New York Times, “Even a Little Exercise Might Make Us Happier”,

[10] Harvard Business Review, “Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader”,

[11] Raposa, Elizabeth B., Holly B. Laws, and Emily B. Ansell. “Prosocial behavior mitigates the negative effects of stress in everyday life.” Clinical Psychological Science 4, no. 4 (2016): 691-698.

[12] Mogilner, Cassie, Zoe Chance, and Michael I. Norton. “Giving time gives you time.” Psychological Science 23, no. 10 (2012): 1233-1238.

About the Author

Brittney Anderson, Ph.D.

Senior Consultant & Executive Coach

Brittney is a member of our coaching and consulting team. She brings her expertise in evidence-based practice to provide companies with leadership solutions that meet their needs. Primarily, Brittney helps her clients prepare for their future with succession planning and comprehensive leadership development programs. As an executive coach, she helps leaders hone their skills using a process-based approach to development.