Just over a week ago, I started a new series of posts that I am calling my top 10 list of health and nutrition practices to improve your life. The first post was on drinking more water (click here to read it). This post is on dealing with stress. I am posting first on the low hanging fruit of the list, and they are the low hanging fruit because the financial cost of implementing them is minimal or non-existent…aka, FREE. I want your only excuse for not following this list to be a lack of motivation.
Motivation certainly can be a huge barrier to overcome, but we all reach a point in our decision making that the first step in change is less painful than the doing nothing position. So back to the topic at hand…
Stress is something we face daily, whether it is physical or emotional. It is too easy for us to become workaholics with no rest, relaxation, or recreation. We have so many demands of our time and attention. Now I am not going to tell you to start mediating, practice Tai Chi, or take up yoga (Disclaimer: these are all great for helping deal with stress) because I know we are creatures of habit. Unless you are truly at a breaking point, you need something easy to do deal with stress. Rather than a laundry list of things to do or change I want you to simply laugh more each day.
You may actually have laughed at the idea or at least smirked with the internal dialogue saying, yeah right! Stay with me now, because adding laughter anytime of day will benefit, but I want you to specifically add laughter at work!
Let’s face it according to Gallup 80% of you are not fulfilled or happy with your current job. So the odds are that you specifically need a little pick me up…
Here’s the benefit!
If the workplace has you down than it is time to make people laugh instead. Laughter in the workplace is a good sign, not a bad sign. Research indicates that laughter:
- Reduces stress and boosts the immune system
- Expands creativity and imagination
- Strengthens relationships and morale
- Improves memory and comprehension
- Increases productivity and performance
Basically, laughter builds all the elements of well-being. Children laugh naturally up to 300-400 times per day; that’s part of what makes them so attractive and adorable. Adults are lucky if we laugh out loud even 15 times a day. We think first and laugh later; children laugh first and think later. How do we turn that around?
The simple tools to laughing in the workplace (and for any of you HR folks these fall in the appropriate workplace fun category):
- Move around and interact with people directly. Laughter will follow.
- Share and laugh at our own mistakes. Confucius say: “Being ashamed of our mistakes turns them into crimes.”
- Surprise people with kindness. Even little things can lighten the load.
- Include humorous quotes in communications. Bombeck say: “When humor goes, there goes civilization.”
- Take breaks or stay after work for games and other stress busters with colleagues. People who play together, work better together.
Such frivolity must be balanced, of course, work is serious business but that does not make it the business of seriousness. The old notion of whistling while we work, which has declined even more than laughter, turns out to be good advice, at least as a metaphor: work goes better when people have fun.
Why do I want you to laugh more?
I want to put zest back into your hard work so that you still have the energy to play hard!
Why do we need zest? Zest is infectious. In a world where far too many people are sick, stressed, addicted, depressed, impoverished, afraid, ashamed, undervalued, unemployed, sedentary, and otherwise fatigued, it is not just refreshing it is rejuvenating to be with people who are healthy, engaged, released, happy, focused, confident, content, valued, employed, active, and otherwise invigorated. People want to get close to that.
For an example, here is a true story told by a poet, David Whyte. Before David became famous as a poet, he was the executive director of a nonprofit corporation in the Pacific Northwest. As much as he valued the work he was doing, protecting the natural world, David remembers becoming increasingly exhausted. The problem was not just that he was so busy, although that was certainly true. The problem was that he was growing increasingly disconnected from the world he was attempting to protect.
The press and pace of the work was so great that David was in danger of losing not only his zest, but his very identity. I remember laughing when I read David’s story of hurriedly walking into a meeting, late, and asking, “Has anyone seen David?” Although he got a laugh with that line, it was a very real question. Because the David he once knew, the David filled with energy and zest for life, “had disappeared under a swampy morass of stress and speed.”
Fortunately, David received assistance from a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast. That night, after his experience of losing himself at the office, David came home to find the monk sitting in a chair, reading a book of poetry. Suddenly, the monk’s eyes lit up as he discovered one of Rilke’s poems, The Swan. A native of Austria, the monk was reading in the original German, so David went to locate the English translation by Robert Bly:
This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.
David could identify with “clumsy living that moves lumbering as if in ropes through what is not done” and of walking awkwardly through his days. “Tell me about exhaustion,” David said. The monk looked at him “with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along to say a life-changing thing.” The monk then posed a question that was at once an assertion: “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? The antidote for exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
“You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers. You know what that is; I don’t have to tell you.”
And David did know. He wanted his work to be his poetry, and yet he had been setting that aside for many years in favor of being reasonable and gainfully employed. “How do you tell your father-in-law,” David asks, “that you are going to support his daughter and grandchild as a full-time poet?” How indeed. You can’t, unless that decision is made out of the very fabric of one’s life, and the monk was challenging him to be both real and accountable at the same time.
“You are like Rilke’s Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground,” the monk continued. “The swan doesn’t cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. The swan does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence.”
It will work the same way for you. “You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown. That takes courage, and the word courage in English comes from the old French word cuer, heart. You must do something heartfelt, David, and you must do it soon.” (Crossing the Unknown Sea, adapted from pp. 113-138).
So pay attention to the things that make you feel happy, engaged, connected, passionate, and capable. Those are things that make people flourish and fill people with zest.
However you frame the concept, zest is a critical part of success in just about any area of life. We would all do well, then, to approach, assimilate, and enjoy life to the fullest.
Finding that Laughter and Zest!
Before I wrap up this post, I am going to give you some links that I borrowed from Jennifer Gresham’s blog at www.everydaybright.com (click the hyperlink at the top of the list for the full blog post). Adding daily laughter should be simple, and doing so will help to displace the stress in your life by adding zest back into it. However, finding happiness may be a life long journey for some of you, so that is why I am re-posting Jennifer’s list to get you started.
To improve feelings of happiness and eudaimonia, focus on relationships and work that you love. Quit sitting around worrying about yourself and get focused on your goals.
- How to be Happy (no fairy dust or moonbeams required): Cara Stein impresses me. She writes some of the smartest stuff on happiness on the internet, maybe because she’s one of the few who has personally outsmarted despair. What’s also cool is the book, which is free, includes instructions so you can print it, fold it in half, and bind it in about ten minutes. Makes me happy just thinking about it.
- The Little Guide to Un-Procrastination: Never underestimate procrastination and its ability to make you feel bad. At the heart of the problem is fear, and Leo Babauta offers workable solutions to combat it. I was fortunate to get an advance copy of this and can tell you from experience these ideas work. If you have some big goals you’d like to tackle in pursuit of eudaimonia, you need this book.
- Overachievement versus high performance: This is another case where it’s easy to get lost in the definition of terms, but there are enough good nuggets here I’m passing it on. As one of the commenters said, “I have met the enemy and it is me.”
- Stefan Sagmeister: the power of time off: I really, really needed to watch this video. In fact, it’s the second time this week I’ve gotten the message that creatives need time off to do their work. And here’s the thing–no matter what your industry, we all need creativity to do our best work. Watch it, do it, and for goodness sake, will someone keep me accountable? (Hat tip to Karol Gajda for this link.)
- The hybrid homemaker: Melissa Gorzelanczyk writes about a topic near and dear to my heart: the secret to working less. It’s billed as a guide to personal and financial freedom, and I think it delivers that, along with an engaging read about finding a career that promotes work/life balance.
- Is Entrepreneurship Right For You? Everyone seems to be a proponent of entrepreneurship these days. I think there’s been a little too much hype on the subject, and I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only one. In this interview with Carol Roth, Jonathan Fields talks about what it takes to be happy working for yourself.
- Lucky Jim: It’s fiction, it’s a classic, and it will immediately make you feel better about yourself. When I was going through a particularly tough time in my life, this is the only book of fiction my husband would let me read (knowing my penchant for touching stories that make me cry). The only tears you’ll be shedding here will be from laughter.
- So you want to become a happiness ninja? Tammy Strobel embraces small, but lives big. She redefines terms like profitable and successful in the most enviable way. I appreciate that she’s taken minimalism to heart, but never makes you feel bad if that isn’t for you. She’s just trying to spread the good word on conscious consumerism and how stuff impacts our well being.
- Life After College: This book from Jenny Blake is brand spanking new and it’s fabulous. It’s intended for the reader right out of college, but focusing on the big picture of your life (not just the details) is valuable at any age. In fact, I like the book enough that I’ll be doing a full review in the future. Let me just say that if Jenny is representative of the 20-somethings making their way up the corporate ladder, that’s enough to make this Gen-Xer very optimistic about the future of work as we know it.
- The Happiness Project: If you’re interested in an overview of happiness literature along with an interesting personal story, this is a great book. Gretchen Rubin is quite likable, is courageous enough to share her flaws, and posits the idea that you can change your happiness without drastically changing your life.
Action Steps and final food for thought:
How much laughter permeates your workplace? What could you do to laugh more and to help others laugh with you? How might laughter make you and others more productive? What could make you less grumpy and more grateful? Who do you know who epitomizes that spirit? What is one thing you could do today that would make everyone feel better?
So look for ways to cultivate positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievements at work. Make sure people are not only productive but happy. Well-being is not just a nice-to-have, well-being is a have-to-have. It prevents disease and disability, which costs far less than recovering from disease and disability. This is not an individual pursuit; it is a collective endeavor and a common cause for us all.
With you in laughter,