Success, Happiness or Both?

A lot of us have the misconception that, to be successful, we must postpone our happiness and well-being. Some of the more aware individuals may know that success and happiness can and must go together but find it rather difficult to bring well-being into their lives.

When I finished my Masters a couple of years ago, and began to work in a consulting firm, I felt so excited, because a career in HR/Leadership consulting was like the ‘perfect’ beginning for me. I am fortunate that so far, I’ve enjoyed work a lot! When I started, I did make the ‘achievement oriented’ individual in me a promise. I wrote in my journal, “Nikita, no matter what the workload may be, always remember, life is more than work, and your existence on this planet means much more than your job.” This morning, when I re-visited my journal, I felt happy that despite an extraordinary amount of work, I have been able to keep some balance (of course I could do better).

Here are some tips/techniques that help me remain centered and happy (most times) amidst the chaos of every day work life:

  1. A myth that I seemed to (and sometimes still do) live by is ‘Be persistent at all costs’, that despite your fatigue, you must keep going, and that you have to spend every drop of mental energy staying focused on work tasks. I realized this is unsustainable and damaging to both mental and physical health. Instead, what really helps is ‘managing your energy’

How we can do this: Knowing that ‘achievement’ or being ‘achievement oriented’ extends much beyond your job is essential. I always believed that my need to achieve on the job will take away from so much more in life. However, the moment I leveraged this strength by re-defining what it means to me, I was also able to maintain relationships and pursue interests outside of work. Yes, it does involve making checklists and writing down your goals, to the extent that sometimes calling a friend is part of your ‘to-do’ list, but if it helps you keep track, that’s most important.

  1. Dealing with ‘setbacks’:I’m a big fan of the positive psychology movement, especially, Martin Seligman’s 3Ps: Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanence.
  • Personalization: Not everything happens to us, because of us. If you’re a conscientious individual with high levels of ownership towards work, a likely derailer could be the tendency to personalize. “It is all my fault”, or “how could I have done better”. While it is great to feel accountable, personalizing situations that are out of your control can take away from your self-esteem
  • Pervasiveness: Will one event affect every other area of your life? – perhaps not. However, many of us tend to magnify situations to the extent that a mistake or a not so great day at work could spill over to the quality of our relationships
  • Permanence:YES, everything, in our lives is impermanent, and change is our only constant. We all know this, and the moment we embrace it, and live by this, life becomes peaceful. A couple of weeks ago, I remember feeling extremely upset about a mistake I made on an important piece of work we sent the client, to the extent, that I broke down and felt every one of the 3Ps – personalization (it is all my fault), pervasiveness (I am a failure), and most importantly permanence (this situation will not change, and my team leader is going to be mad at me throughout the project). The very next day, I worked on a deliverable that both my team leader and the client appreciated – and I remembered ‘Permanence’. However, the trick is to know and have faith while dealing with setbacks, that this too shall pass and situations are always changing
  1. Don’t forget the power of conversation:There are times when we hesitate to approach someone and tell them what’s on our mind. At other times, whilst we are open and direct, we wonder why a team leader/team member is not telling us what’s on their mind. I am sure each of us has been in either one or both these situations. This ‘lack’ of communication or half complete communication can cause some people high levels of stress. In my experience, such situations completely stress me out, and may sometimes even come in the way of high performance. Over time, I’ve learnt that having face to face conversations can often solve issues quicker and establish a more personal rapport with colleagues. In particularly stressful situations, containing our emotions can damage our health, so taking time to have proper discussions with those around you will make a real difference to your well-being and performance at work.
  2. Being a Giver:Psychologist Adam Grant divides the working world into three groups of people: Givers, Takers, and MatchersGivers seek out ways to be helpful and give to others. Matchers play “tit for tat”—they reciprocate and expect reciprocity. Takers focus on getting as much as possible from others. Being a giver, or someone who responds to requests and is genuinely helpful of others, can take you a long way. Often, at the workplace, we chase ‘recognition’ or ‘receiving’. There is no doubt that appreciating good work or rewarding someone fairly is essential, however, being overly focused on outcomes like recognition, at the cost of ‘giving’ might not take you a long way (and actually enhances mental stress even though it may involve doing lesser and receiving more). ‘Giving’ is about supporting others and contributing to the organisation (without any strings attached). A ‘giver’ and ‘taker’ may be executing the same task, however, the frame of reference for a ‘giver’ is contribution and for a ‘taker’ it is about ‘what can I get from this?’ In my personal experience, being a ‘giver’ at work helps me stay and feel inspired and excited in all situations. I feel a sense of fulfillment by being able to contribute and make an impact. Often, the need to ‘give’ also arises from a feeling of compassion towards others. Having said this, I have also experienced some exhaustion and burnout in my attempt to be a ‘giver’. This is dangerous, because too much of ‘giving’, not only leads to burnout, but also has the tendency to for us to become critical of ‘takers’ and ‘matchers’. The reality is that every workplace will have people from all 3 categories, most often the ‘matchers’ and how we can balance being a genuine ‘giver’ without feeling burnout is crucial. As a ‘giver’, not all your actions will be noticed. However, remember, ‘giving’ leads to a lot of ‘taking’ in the form of accelerated learning, personal development and perhaps career growth. It could be that some colleagues and leaders will be appreciative of ‘givers’, while others may also take advantage of this, such that you may find yourself overworked often (not only at work, but across every area of life). To overcome this, I have started to practice the philosophy of being ‘giving’ (self-compassionate) towards myself, such that I can politely ask for more time to finish a task if needed, or take short breaks without feeling ‘guilty’ etc.
  3. Breathe: Research suggests that you can change how you feel using your breath. By taking deep breaths into your abdomen and lengthening your exhales so they are longer than your inhales helps your nervous system relax – your heart rate and blood pressure may even decrease. Having a more relaxed nervous system will help provide you with more energy. Instead of wearing yourself out quickly with adrenaline, by remaining calm and engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, you will be able to restore yourself and manage your energy throughout the day. In my personal experience, I have found breathing had helped me work long hours without losing my energy or optimism towards work
  4. Service:Yes, being a ‘giver’ at the workplace is good, although, what can be even more fulfilling is spending some time (even if it is just 30 minutes) in a week doing some completely selfless acts to help others. Kindness, or altruism – the desire to do good – has been shown to produce a “helper’s high.” This is because when you express kindness your brain releases oxytocin – the “feel good” hormone – which lowers blood pressure, and releases/reduces stress, making us feel relaxed and happy. In my experience of teaching 5th grade students at an NGO once a week, service also makes me feel immense gratitude for all that life has given me. The workplace challenges and stress seem insignificant as compared to the challenges some of the children I teach experience.

Have you tried one of these techniques? If yes, I would love to hear your experience. If you haven’t tried these, try picking up one of these, and practice for 3 weeks. Good luck, have a great week ahead, and most importantly, be happy.




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