Man and woman sitting outside working and reading the business news

According to Behavioural Scientist Paul Dolan, in his book Happiness by Design, happiness is the experience of both pleasure and purpose over time. In this way, we should be devoting equal time to these two things, for example both the everyday enjoyment of going to dinner with a friend, and working as a nutritionist helping people become healthier.

We’ll explore a few of his suggestions for making us happier in everyday life and apply it to work. With a few of these tips put into practice you’ll make your day more enjoyable!

1. Do the little tasks straight away

Uncertainties make us unhappy, and the best way to resolve these issues is to face them straight away. So if you’ve received an email where you know you’ll have trouble wording a reply, just do it. You’ll have to send that email eventually and once it’s sent you’ll be able to forget about it, rather than having to put it to the back of your mind or your to do list where you’ll constantly return to it until it’s completed. Once you start to employ this tactic, you’ll soon realise that the satisfaction you feel finishing the task far outweighs the uneasiness you felt when you weren’t sure what to expect in writing the email. 

2. Think about how you feel

There are some activities that make you feel happy, and that you are bound to do, and some that make you feel less happy in the moment, but contribute to your long-term, purposeful happiness. One example of this is doing exercise. It’s hard to attend to the future benefits of exercising because future benefits only weakly motivate our current behaviour, and what you need is motivation in the here and now. 

One way to do this is to find more pleasurableness in the activity and with regards to exercise this might mean working out with a friend. If you make sure that you spend quality time together, you are both more likely to book in more exercise time. At work, you could choose to attend to stimuli that will make you happier. For example, you could save your favourite podcast for when you are doing your taxes or those daily admin tasks. It means that you’ll be more likely to dread them, keep up with the work that’s dull but important, and hopefully start to enjoy it!

3. Shake up your attention

The law of diminishing marginal returns proposes that the last few units of pleasure are less valuable to your overall happiness, than the first few units on purpose, and vice versa. In work, this implies that as your happiness in a relatively pleasurable activity starts to wane, you should do something else that is relatively purposeful. And when the happiness from that activity starts to wane, it's time to get back into a relatively pleasurable activity. In this way, you won’t lose focus, because you are able to change tasks when you start to feel tired or distracted, and you avoid adapting to what might otherwise become mundane.

4. Take a non-demanding task break

145 participants from the University of California, Santa Barbara, each completed an ‘unusual uses’ tasks, where they had to generate as many creative uses as possible for a common object, such as a brick. They then took a break, during which time some of the participants completed an non-demanding task (where they saw colour digits on the screen and indicated whether they were even or odd) while others undertook a demanding memory activity that required their full attention. When they returned to the task, those who completed the non-demanding task performed best second time around because their brains weren't under or over occupied. 

As creativity is associated with greater happiness, giving yourself a non-demanding task (perhaps making a cup of tea!) to contemplate could improve your happiness as well as the quality of your ideas.

5. Gain some new experiences

Whether you are inside or outside the office, there is some suggestion that gaining new experiences with new people will make you more creative, which is good for happiness: entrepreneurs report more innovation and more likely to apply for patents when they have a diverse social network beyond just the family and friends.

If nothing else, new experiences help to slow down the perceived passage of time. It seems to be the case that our brains actually calculate time based on the number of events have occurred; so the more events, the more time we feel has passed. If you saw six slides the 30 seconds each 30 slides were six of each, you would think that you had spent more time looking at the 30 sides even though the time is obviously the same overall. This could help explain why you recall that a day has passed quickly when you're in a meeting after meeting but slow if you just at your desk.