Archive for life skills

The happiness factor

Creating wellbeing at work is not as easy as it seams. This is partly because not everyone has the same idea of happiness. Even the Macquarie Dictionary is a bit vague, defining wellbeing as “a good or satisfactory condition of existence; welfare”.

A lot of focus is on physical health as an aspect of wellbeing, in particular the costs of “lifestyle” diseases such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. One employee with a serious health problem can cost up to $12,000 a year in lost productivity.

With a significant proportion of corporate Australia demonstrating multiple poor health indicators such as obesity, smoking and high blood pressure (much of it due to an aging workforce), the cost to business can easily be extrapolated to be millions of dollars annually.

Managers tend to define wellbeing in terms of productivity, where as employees define it in other ways – such as satisfaction with their life and their perception of their health. It’s less about the physical things such as a nice working environment, or good relationships with people; these things are essential, but at the end of the day it comes down to how they feel about themselves.

Wellbeing is the responsibility of the individual. However, corporations must set an environment which is conducive to wellbeing. Pay, promotion and career development are important – but they’re not everything to everybody. Things like being part of a winning team, a company that has the ability to compete and win the lion’s share of the business it contests, and has high morale as a result, are often more important than being paid the right amount or where the next promotion might be coming from.  As Sigmund Freud said, the elements of a fulfilling life are “love and work… work and love, that’s all there is”.  Of course, in the workplace, ‘caring’ may be a more appropriate term, but the sentiment is still the same.

Martin Seligman – the author of Authentic Happiness – says we need to remind ourselves each day or the good things that happened that day. People who go to sleep in a positive state are more likely to be contented and productive. 

All workers want to have fun. And when managers are in a good mood, research tells us that they elicit more laughter from staff, which helps them absorb even bad news more effectively and respond more nimbly and creatively. In other words, laughter is a serious business.

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Planning’s for the birds!

I’m wondering about my own commitment to planning. 

In the past, I have been a strong proponent of planning – in fact my life both personal and professional have been built this way.  I have annual plans, decade plans and tactical plans that address the week-by-week, month-by-month operations of my life. I’ve even written a book about it (SelfScape).

My plans are mental, textual and visual.  They can be found in my diary and on my pin boards at home and at work. 

But then, I began to wonder if John Lennon might be right – that “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”.

Then, for my birthday, a huge surprise from my husband: motorcycle lessons. Had he checked my diary or my annual planner (so prominently displayed in my office)?  Did he know how I could fit all those extra hours needed for the motorbike lessons into the 26-hour day I already had?

No, he just wanted to ensure I grow old disgracefully.

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Seeking a higher purpose

In 1954, American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his now famous ‘hierarchy of needs’.  Maslow’s theory says that the needs of all human beings fit into five broad categories: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. 

Maslow argued that some needs take precedence over others.  For example, physical needs such as food and water, are the most basic needs.  When these are fulfilled, people will focus on the need for shelter and safety. 

Those of us lucky enough to live in the Western World are in an extraordinary situation – we are wealthier and healthier than the vast majority of the people on the planet. 

For example, if you have assets of more than $61,000, then you’re in the top 10 per cent of the global wealth league table. To belong to the top 1 per cent of the world’s wealthiest adults you would need more than $500,000, something that 37 million adults have achieved.

And if you can read this, then you are already ahead of more than half the world’s population, who are illiterate. 

Sadly, most of our fellow human beings will never move past phase one or two on Maslow’s hierarchy – they’ll never have the opportunity to climb to the top of the pyramid and achieve “self-actualisation”.  They’ll never have the opportunity to ask themselves “what is my life’s purpose?”

But for those of us who do, it’s important not to waste that opportunity.  Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website has a great range of questionnaires to get you thinking about your approach to life and happiness, and perhaps put you on the path to fulfilling your highest purpose.

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Do you live to work or work to live?

Do you live to work or work to live?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but it may help you clarify what’s important to you in life.

In a recent issue of Recruiter Daily, life coach Sophie Robertson said we all need to determine what life balance means to us.

“For some people, they really live to work, which is fine. I heard a radio interview with the late Bing Lee and when asked whether he regretted not having spent more time with his family, he replied ‘No, my work has always been very important to me’.

“So there is no right or wrong answer. However it is important that you live according to your own values.”

Robertson suggests people divide their lives into 10 different areas:

  • Health
  • Knowledge and Learning
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Family
  • Partner
  • Spirituality
  • Career
  • Giving to others
  • Giving to self.

Then assess your level of satisfaction in each of these areas.  It will rapidly become evident where your life is out of balance.

Managing your life effectively means balancing each of your priorities and pursuits.  If one significant area of your life is neglected, the whole wheel of life will eventually give way and the road will become bumpy.

There’s no denying that work life balance is a challenge.  John Howard called it a ‘barbecue stopper’ in 2007.  Keeping your career on track, your family happy, your social life buzzing and your bank account in the black often seem adversarial goals.  Life just seems to play an “either/or” game at times. 

In my book, Selfscape: Success through balance, I remind people that we are all busy.  Henry David Thoreau once said: “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants.  The question is, what are we busy about?”  If you are able to spend the best part of your time on the things that really matter to you – that speak to your highest values – then life slides along on an even keel.  And what do you get?  Work/life balance.

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What makes us happy?

Despite the exponential increase in our wealth in the last 50 years, it seems our levels of happiness have not increased.  While our standard of living has increased dramatically, in some cases our levels of happiness have diminished slightly.  The evidence suggests that being richer isn’t making us happier.

In fact, Australia consistently scores highly (or highest) for happiness in education, health, security and wealth, when assessed by the United Nations Human Development Index.  And yet, other data shows us that Australians have some of the lowest levels of job satisfaction in the world. Only Japan, Taiwan, and six East European nations (including Russia) do worse in this regard.

So what does make us happy? 

Happiness is not a destination, but a decision.  We decide to be happy.

In Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman, a leading specialist in positive psychology, presents scientific evidence that optimists get along better than pessimists in almost ever facet of life: at school, at work, in personal relationships and in sports. According to Seligman, optimists respond better to adversity of all kinds.  What’s more, they have better physical health and may even live longer.  The key is what we say to ourselves when we confront failure and disappointment.

Permanent change comes from rewiring habits. I keep a journal which I write every day before I go to bed.  I always write down my ‘three good things’ that happened that day.  This simple exercise helps with resilience and optimism.  By focusing on the positive, I can pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again when things feel wrong or go wrong in the workplace. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is simple, yet liberating and empowering.

So, the question is: are you happy?  Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website features countless surveys on happiness, including optimism, relationship satisfaction, work/life balance and meaning of life.  You’ll find some clues to your mental attitude there.

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