As we move from “having” to “doing” to “being” there is a point in which our work and how we show up in the world becomes a central part of our lives. It’s not so much “where” we work, whether in a successful company or in manual labor, as “how” we work, that matters. In Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Diener and Biswas-Deiner (2008), the authors describe that how we show up in the world at work matters a great deal and has a measurable impact on our wellbeing.
There are generally three ways of looking at the work that we do:
- as a “job” that serves primarily to gain a paycheck,
- as a “career” in which our we are concerned with forward/upward movement and with working towards achievement,
- and as a “calling” in which we view our work as worthy in its own right. We don’t want to “get” anything from it; the process is its own reward.
How we perceive our work can influence our happiness. The three ways of working range from lower energy (job) to higher energy (calling), and as we move from one to the next, we experience increased happiness and contentment. Studies show that people increasingly want to feel that their work matters.
You might be dismayed, if you don’t have a calling or aren’t able to move from job to career, but don’t be. The good news is that these perceptions operate independently of the vocations themselves.
We are greater than our perceptions and have a lot of power over how we show up in the world. Therefore, any type of vocation no matter how mundane can be a calling, it all relates to how we perceive our lives
There are also practical tools we can use to bring higher level energies into our work lives, whether we are working at a job, a career or a calling. Bringing higher energies into our relationship to work will help transform it in our minds and help give us the power and confidence to change it, if we want, or continue in the same vocation but with a sense of purpose and joy, improving our relationship to work.
Say “thank you” and mean it
One of the simplest ways to improve our relationship to our work is to start being grateful for it, and saying “thank you” is an easy place to begin. Have you ever noticed that ending every email with “thanks” has become ubiquitous in our culture, but it doesn’t mean anything? Why is this? It is because people say the words but they don’t mean it emotionally or energetically. They think that the two go together, but this isn’t how it works. An energetic charge is behind the words, so saying them only goes so far if the energy behind them isn’t one of gratitude.
For those who don’t think that emails carry an energetic charge, I ask, how many times have you opened up email and felt your mood shift once we see other people’s priorities, complains and demands for the day facing you?
Sometimes it’ll be easy, when you truly are thankful and then say it. Other times you’ll be in a bad mood or out of sorts. In these cases, to send a heartfelt thank you you’ll need to bring the energy of gratitude into your heart and then say the words
The difference between a standard “thank you” and a really grateful one is the intention behind it. When you are at a loss as to how to express gratitude, take a moment and recall something you are really grateful for related to that person. Hold it in mind and then type “thank you” and press send! They’ll feel your gratitude. In fact, it’s also possible to influence the energetic charge behind an email you’ve already sent, just hold a sense of gratitude in your mind and assign it to your sent email.
Listen to your colleagues
Between dealing with email, meetings and social media, it’s easy to have the sensation that we are always running five steps behind while at work. On occasion I’ve found myself so pressed for time that I might be planning dinner or going over my “to-do” list in my head during a conference call, or even while having a conversation or at a meeting. Even though this can be done on the sly, at some level people do realize that they’re not being listened to, and energetically they respond to it.
When I tune into my energetic state in these situations, I become aware that I’m not really listening. When we don’t listen, we aren’t open, and when we aren’t open we don’t honor the present moment. Everyone wants to be seen, heard and taken seriously. Try looking at someone in the eye while they are speaking to you and really intentionally focus on what they have to say. When people are listened to they feel more appreciated and important, and the relationship is bound to improve. Our relationship to work gets better because we are more focused on the present moment, and we honor our colleagues and what is going on around us, which connects us with a higher energy field.
Don’t gossip at work
For most people, gossip is one of the most fun aspects of work, but from a spiritual perspective it’s an indulgence, it drains our energy and can be destructive. Just like in every-day life, gossip at work focuses our energy on unimportant and often negative details and gets us mired in judgement and comparison with others. Why spend our time talking about the short-comings of our companions? Ultimately it doesn’t really get us anywhere and wastes precious time and energy. When someone gossips about others to us, we can be sure they talk about us to others as well.
To stop gossiping is one of the most positive contributions we can make to our workplace. Also, when co-workers realize we don’t gossip we may find ourselves more respected. Co-workers will feel more confident opening up and connecting to us, knowing subconsciously that we don’t talk about them behind their backs. In addition, the energy we save by not investing in gossiping can be used positively in other ways. Either way, we are the primary beneficiaries of the non-gossip. We experience the benefits of less negativity and raise our energy by aligning with higher principles.
Let people be who they are
One of main reasons that people leave their jobs is because they wish their bosses, colleagues, company culture, or work environment was different. One of the toughest things to do in life is to resist that inner urge to project our own inner anxieties on other people, to assign the source of our problems to them and to stop demanding that they be different that they are. While it’s true that many work environments have a negative vibe, we have the power to improve our own wellbeing at work no matter the environment, company culture or individuals in management. The first step lies in not wanting to change those things: in letting them be as they are. Let the printer be broken, let the boss be a control-freak, let our colleagues be workaholics or time-wasters. Each of us must define what we think is important about the job we do and how we want to show up to do it. In doing so, we can resist the pressure of others to be like them.
This frees up our own energy to focus on ourselves. We may accept that we are in a job that is not our ideal, but it won’t last forever. We can focus instead of what we can get out of it now that is of value, that can serve us in our next job. Which skills can we learn that we need in our personal lives? In what way can we stop trying to change the place where we are and let it be, reorienting our energy to focus on ourselves and our own aspirations?
Be of service
When I came back from maternity leave after my daughter was born I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about my work as a health research project manager. She had been born six weeks early, had received a rare disease diagnosis, and I was grappling with managing her care and finding meaning in my life and future as a caregiver. After all that we had been through as a family during that time I found it hard to get excited about my work again. The economy wasn’t doing well, and so I had a lot of idle time at work, which I spent doing tasks that weren’t fulfilling to me.
I wondered how I could bring a positive attitude to my work under those circumstances; I couldn’t get excited about the context of the work, nor working in an environment in which people were depressed and worried about the economic situation. What I could do, was take the attitude that I would be of service. The work was not intellectually stimulating, the atmosphere was not inspiring or exciting, but I went to work each day with the idea that I cared deeply for the directors and researchers I worked for and wanted to serve them well in whatever capacity I could.
Taking the approach of being of service has its roots in Buddhism, but it is also a common sense tool to apply in any work situation, and there are always those to whom we are of service. We can be of service to our customers and aim to treat them with respect and resolve that our services meet their needs and exceed their expectations. In jobs where we don’t serve customers, we can serve the community. If we work at the front desk of an office, we can resolve to be of the best service possible to all those who come through the door. Having been countless times on the receiving end of the customer service professions, I can say and many can agree that encountering a helpful attitude at the doctor’s office, on the phone with a pharmacy or in line at the post office can literally change the course of my entire day.
But you might ask, why go to the trouble? What’s in it for me?
When I employed these strategies in what I considered a dead-end job five years ago I benefitted enormously. Being thankful, listening to others and being of service gave meaning to the job, despite all of the negative external conditions. helped me feel good about spending my time at the office, even when I had a baby at home that also needed me. I spent most of my work time with joy, knowing that I was doing my small but fundamental part in the world. I’m not powerful enough to influence the global economy or bring breakthrough funding to my research group, but my role was to be a human being, to be a part of the process and to take a positive approach and serve the world. What I got most from the experience was a sense of contentment, which is an automatic byproduct of being of service to others. I also know that countless others in my office benefitted from my approach. In the presence of a positive energy in the midst of negativity, they just felt a little bit better, which made a difference to them.
If you aren’t happy with your current work, you might say, all of this sounds nice, but isn’t it just a way of deluding ourselves? Well, not really. As pleased as I was to be of service in my public health research job, I still went on to leave the organization and find something more fulfilling. From an energetic standpoint, when we raise our energetic vibration it gives us more energy to find new work and explore new opportunities. From the perspective of positive psychology, focusing on the positive reinforces neural pathways in the brain that can help us to broaden our perspective and reframe our work experiences. Either way, whether we improve our relationship to the work we are already doing or whether we look for new work, we are likely to feel better in the process.
Have you tried these tools? What was your experience?