Remember water coolers and casual chats with colleagues? How about away days, team-building events, and office parties? Sitting near other people? Even just leaving the house for the day? Remember any of that?
The pandemic has affected people's working lives very differently. Some of us have carried on with our jobs throughout, or have been back in shared workplaces for a while now. Others are still locked down and working remotely. And of course, a significant number of people have lost their jobs – or are seriously worried about doing so.
After so much change, hardship – and heartbreak – and with so many things still uncertain, can we ever be happy again at work?
Lessons From Expert Voices
"Mind Tools Expert Voices" is our new podcast series where we delve into the archive of our 200+ Expert Interviews to find the insights that we need now.
In episode one, "How to Be Happy in the New Normal," my colleague Rachel Salaman takes us through some of the most useful wisdom she's gathered from her interviewees over the years on the subject of happiness, introducing clips from her chats with Dr Srikumar Rao, Daniel Goleman, Emma Seppala, Tal Ben-Shahar, and more.
In this preview of our new Expert Voices podcast, our guests share ways to make happiness happen – even in challenging times like these.
Mixed Feelings About the "New Normal"
In many ways, I'm eager to get back to the office. I've missed catching up with my colleagues during breaks and lunchtimes, and getting to chat with people on other teams. I'm hungry to feel focused and creative again among a group of like-minded teammates. I'm sick of seeing a sea of faces on a virtual screen, and I've had enough of my own four walls at home. I even miss the office coffee.
Having said that…
What will it be like to battle the rush-hour traffic? To be around lots of people again? To cope with all of their fears and frustrations, as well as my own?
When we do return, we'll still have some COVID restrictions in place. So, for a while, it certainly won't be the same workplace I left – and it may never be again.
I want to feel excited about going back. I want to be happy again. But my feelings about this next phase are mixed, to say the least.
What Can I Do to Be Happy at Work?
It's tempting to assume that happiness either comes (or doesn't) from whatever happens to us. Right now, that can make us focus on other people's decisions, about things like where, when and how we work – and how we feel as a result.
But, according to many of Rachel's Expert Interview guests, we don't just have to react to what comes next. We can play a proactive role in determining how happy we feel.
"We Are Responsible For Our Own Happiness"
Those are the words of Annie McKee, a Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of the book "How to Be Happy at Work." She wrote it well before COVID, but its key messages are more relevant than ever.
She talks about getting ownership of your experiences, being realistic but also hopeful, and taking small but meaningful steps toward greater happiness – for yourself and others.
Other experts we spoke to are equally optimistic. Daniel Goleman, the pioneer of Emotional Intelligence, explained how meditation can help us to find calm in periods of turbulence, and withstand the sorts of "emotional hijacks" that we'll likely face in the coming weeks and months.
And Emma Seppala from Stanford University told us about the "science of happiness" – including how to train your resilience and make better choices between negative and positive thoughts.
Go Easy On Yourself
Emma also focuses on compassion – for others, and ourselves – and that was a common theme among the experts that resonated particularly strongly with me.
I'm keen to do everything I can to be happy, and to help others to feel good too. But it was reassuring to be told to be gentle with myself while I'm doing it. To try my best, but not to expect perfection – or anything close.
Going back to work is bound to bring challenges that we haven't even anticipated. None of us knows how we're going to feel, and everyone's emotions will likely be raw for some time to come. So there's no point piling even more pressure on ourselves – and I've made a very clear mental note about self-compassion. That was something that came up in Rachel's chats with other top academics and authors such as Srikumar Rao, Tal Ben-Shahar, and Robert Kaplan, too.
Learning From the Experts
Mind Tools Expert Voices is our latest resource – a podcast that gathers ideas and insights from a range of renowned guests from our Expert Interviews series.
Expert Voices allows us to hear their thoughts on one particular theme. In the first episode, "How to Be Happy in the New Normal," we hear advice on creating a positive mindset, useful relaxation techniques, and methods for generating happiness even in the most trying circumstances.
If – like me – you've got complicated feelings about the next phase, and you're looking for ways to face it with more confidence, why not take time to hear what the experts have to say?
Listen to the First Episode of Mind Tools Expert Voices
Mind Tools Club Members and Corporate Licensees can listen to the full Expert Voices podcast now.
If you’re not a Mind Tools member, you can join the Mind Tools Club and gain access to our 2,400+ resources, including a range of audio features. For corporate licensing, ask for a demo with one of our team.
How are you feeling about life after lockdown? Has the pandemic taken its toll on your positivity and passion? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section, below.
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"It leads to what the author calls “assertive play” – not brick-on-skull assertive, but self-confident engagement, where people know they have things to contribute, and stake their claim."- Jonathan Hancock