When LYJ client Olivia Greene* mentioned that she was feeling happier at work as a result of reading meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg’s latest book, I asked her if she would write a review, sharing some of her biggest takeaways.
In Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg’s first question to her readers is, “When we took this job did we expect it to make us happy?”
She promises us that the tool of meditation is the way to find happiness, no matter what our actual jobs are. Working as a more junior person in a high-pressure New York publishing company, I am tempted to believe that the way to happiness is a promotion and a raise, but as I glance up the career ladder to people in leadership roles, I’ve noticed none of them seem truly happy and some are bitterly and obviously unhappy. Although tempted to believe the person with the best title wins this competition, another part of me understands that the person who walks out the door happiest is the true victor. The book tells us that it’s not chasing the next promotion that makes us happy, but seeking peace, balance and integrity while at work through specific tools, including meditation.
Stuck in a rut at work, mostly of my own making, I stumbled across this book and I decided to read it every morning on my way to work for ninety days. My subway commute is about forty minutes, so I had time to get into the philosophy of the book and choose an exercise for the day before I walked through my office’s doors.
Using some of her exercises began to change my work day:
So many of us pride ourselves on our capacity to multitask, but that mindset can lead to a lot of stress. Salzberg’s exercises call for us to do one thing at a time, give that one activity our attention and thereby give ourselves a break. Once I tried this, I realized I was happier if I was unitasking, not multitasking. It is exhausting to stretch our attention in two or three different places — and it’s unnecessary.
Notice our Stress
Salzberg writes that every job has stress, but each of us gets stressed about different things. I tried an exercise that calls for writing down every thing during the work day that stressed me. Looking over my list, I found out it was different stressors than I realized — and a lot of the stress came from my own thoughts, which I could slowly change.
Before reading Salzberg’s book, I answered an email as quickly as possible. Responsible for an inflow of hundreds of emails a day, the key for my professional survival seemed to me to be speed. But that was making me harried, unable to appreciate what I was writing or reading. Instead, I tried her mindful emailing exercises: I read emails twice entirely before replying and found out I was missing important points, I considered more carefully how my emails would be read and I added more kind words, and I decided I didn’t need to check my email while walking or riding the elevator. This mindful emailing made me, quite simply, happier at work.
I made lists of accomplishments I hoped for at work, and noted which parts of success I could control — and which I couldn’t. It helped to ground me when I considered that I could set intentions, I could work towards something, but every outcome was dependent on forces beyond my control.
Most work environments are noisy, with sounds we have no control over. Stationed between an employee social area and a crucial work area, I’m surrounded by sounds I can not control and do not need to pay attention to. I learned that when they begin to overwhelm me, I can stop, truly notice the sounds without feeling the need to stop them, and then gradually return to work with more ability to focus.
Take a deep breath!
While it’s core and basic advice I’ve heard countless times, Sharon Salzberg writes convincingly of the power of breath to restore and center us. In moments when I feel afraid and lose my calm, I learned that taking a deep breath can restore a sense of peace and vitality. It only takes three seconds and it works wonders.
I found that using these exercises allowed me, after a year of wishing I had the courage, to point out the amazing accomplishments I’d had over the past years and ask my boss to help those be recognized. I’ve also found the strength to apply for other jobs. I know that something wonderful is on its way, and I embrace what is happening right now instead of wishing it were different. Most importantly, I remember that finding happiness at work is an inside job. Only I can find it. My boss, my colleagues, and my company can not give it to me. I need to reach for it every day by making the time to breathe, to mini-meditate and to remember a greater sense of purpose. That’s my real responsibility — and it’s a big job.
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity. For additional book reviews, see previous LYJ posts: http://www.lyjnow.com/category/book-review.