It’s that time of year again: The holidays have long since passed, and you can feel summer approaching, but it’s still not within reach. We’re in a bit of a dead zone when it comes to “things to look forward to,” which can make working all-day, every day a consistently bearable thing. Even if you like your job, it’s still work—if someone told us we had to drink wine and eat chocolate every day from 9 to 5 in order to pay our bills, we’d start to resent both of those activities as much as we do spreadsheets and interminable meetings. (Also, we’d probably die.) So, how to avoid becoming contagiously miserable when work starts to feel like Groundhog Day? Here are a few tips.
Smile, You're Employed!
We're big believers in doing something for yourself before you go into the office—this editor started waking up before the crack of dawn to work on personal writing projects, and it absolutely revolutionized her moods. Some studies show that the mood with which you begin your day persists throughout, so if you start by getting directly into your car for a long commute, you're not as likely to have a positive attitude as you are if you start your day with your favorite workout, 30 minutes of reading, or another activity you enjoy.
If you stay up all night watching TV, you will be miserable the next day and you know it. Ditto goes for staying out late, especially if you're drinking. Once in a while, this is going to happen, but if you find yourself consistently unhappy at work, it might behoove you to take a look at your night-time habits.
We don't think human-beings were meant to sit hunched over computers all day, breathing stale air ripe with the various viral infections of other humans. Such is the culture of the modern working world, however, and there are few ways around it. That said, research shows that even just a few minutes of fresh air can improve your mood and help your body release feel-good chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin.
According to this study, any sort of desk decor is good for you when it comes to boosting your mood, so fill your space up with pictures, art and plants that make you feel happy. Other studies have shown that office plants reduce anxiety, tension and other mood-killers.
You were hoping we'd say "buy things that make you happy," right? We're actually going to argue for starting to save your dollars if you want to feel happier at work. Why? Because there is something inherently satisfying about watching your bank account grow on a weekly or monthly basis—it makes you feel as though you're working for a reason (when all other motivation fails).
If you work over the weekend, you will burn out. If you don't take vacations, you will burn out. If you message with your boss all night, you will burn out. None of these habits are good, even if they are encouraged or rewarded in some workplaces. There is a reason that being on-call all the time makes you feel awful—your life is not defined by your job, and so it shouldn't feel like that's all you ever do. Balance is key—all healthy people know and practice this. Some workplaces also now encourage "workcations," in which employees are allowed to work remotely from cool locations (like the beach, Barcelona or your parents' house) in addition to regular, offline vacations. The downside of a technological world is that we feel constantly connected—the upside is that most of us can technically work from anywhere.
Most of us aren't curing cancer, but if you can't find some meaning in your work outside of paying your bills, you're likely to be unhappier than if you do feel like you're working for a cause. Think about how you're helping society at large, your boss (if you like them), feminism, the person sitting next to you—whatever gives weight to your work in your mind will do the trick. If you are managing people, help them out by giving them some lofty, idealistic goals for their work, as well as more concrete, numbers-based goals. This tactic has been proven effective in motivating employees.
As we mentioned, it's hard not to get down on work just because, well, it's work. So, it can be helpful, as with anything in life, to practice gratitude when it comes to your employment. At the end of every day, write down one to three things you're grateful for regarding your working life. If you're feeling particularly down on a certain day, think about basic things, like paychecks and health insurance. Since we live in a non-socialist society, without our employers (or an inheritance), we'd be sort of sunk when it comes to caring for ourselves. A job, therefore, is always something for which to be grateful.