Though there are many factors that affect how happy we feel at work: the nature of the work, compensation, recognition, relationships with co-workers, etc. there really is one factor that reigns supreme. The good news about this golden key is it’s entirely in your control. The biggest factor affecting your happiness at work, (drum roll please) is whether or not you hold an optimistic or pessimistic view of your situation.

Ok, right now, you’re yelling at me. You’re saying, “Are you kidding me- you have no idea about the jerk I have to work for” or “the team I work with” or “the tediousness of my job” and the list goes on. You’re right! I have no idea at all. However, I do know what the happiness research has to say on this thing called Optimism.

Researchers in the field of Positive Psychology have good reason to believe that optimists are:

1) more likely to move forward even in adverse situations;

2) able to stay positive during stressful times; and

3) able to think in a way that elevates their mood giving them energy and a better attitude.

What does this mean for those who are miserable at work? Having the skills of an optimist can work to elevate any situation. Whether we must leave our job or stay and make it work, practicing optimism will aid us. Optimism serves us in a job search, staying with a job we aren’t crazy about and possibly living through something we may see as unbearable.

Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, “The How of Happiness” claims that through intentional activities, we can actually become more optimistic and thus, happier. I would venture to say that would apply to our work lives as well. If we can become more optimistic about our work situation, we can be happier at work. So what are some of the things we can do to be more optimistic at work? The following are some suggestions for improving your outlook:

Recognize If You Have a Tendency Toward Negativity

When you acknowledge that part of your unhappiness at work is partly because of how you feel, think and respond to your work environment, you’ve taken an important step toward feeling better. Continually feeling like the problem exists outside of yourself leaves you feeling powerless and defeated. Own your part of the problem and you’re on your way.

Commit to Making a Change Toward Optimism

The Happiness literature tells us there are things we can DO to increase our levels of optimism. Make a commitment to work on your negative thoughts. Make a routine to practice some of the exercises mentioned here, hire a therapist or coach, go to a Byron Katie retreat– something to work through these beliefs that are bringing you down. Purchase Sonja’s book to get a great list of exercises.

Engage in Gratitude About Your Job

Writing down your feelings of gratitude about your job can help you to combat negative thoughts and feelings. Are the challenges at work helping you to grow as a person? Are you grateful for that steady paycheck and health benefits? One day a week, take some time to really reflect on what you are thankful for with your job. (Just to note, research shows that once a week is a magic number. More than that, the task becomes a chore and doesn’t produce the same effect). Commit to doing this activity every week and see if you don’t feel better.

Your Best Future Self

As Sonja describes in her book, a study conducted by Laura King at the University of Missouri-Columbia had students write for twenty minutes describing their best possible future self in multiple domains. King discovered that subjects that engaged in this exercise daily for several days reported increases in mood that lasted over months. So why not do this focusing on your work? Imagine your best possible future self at work being able to effectively handle challenges. This exercise allows you to fantasize about how that project you are working on could turn out to be amazing. You could also focus this exercise to see your best future self getting that promotion or that new job. Write out how your best future self might deal with that difficult boss or co-worker. Writing out these scenarios provides a sense of control and optimism.

What’s Getting You Down?

Cognitive Psychologists would agree that identifying your negative thinking and talking back to it is a great strategy to combat pessimism. Find a system for recognizing when you are going into a mentally dark space. You could write down your negative thought and then write back a response. The process of talking back to your negative thinking is building your optimism muscle. For instance, if you are feeling unappreciated at work based on the way your boss treated you that day, you could challenge this in writing by asking yourself the following questions: Is it really true? What else might account for your boss’s distracted behavior? How are you growing from the current situation? Keep a notebook of your thoughts at home or in your car. Resist the urge to ruminate on these thoughts.

For those interested in this topic, I recommend this article that talks about EQ and the future of work :

The more you embrace optimism, the sooner it will become a mental habit. As your thinking shifts from negative to positive, you’ll enjoy the lift in your mood and outlook.

At Careerfulness, we are the Happy At Work Experts prepared to move you to a better outlook and a brighter career. Contact us now for a free 30-minute session.