Success often seems like a visionary goal — a feat in life that’s attempted only after many strides, plenty of pitfalls and a healthy serving of endurance. However, for those who consider themselves fulfilled by their career, it’s not only a sense of accomplishment and an impressive LinkedIn profile that defines their satisfaction with their work. In fact, their overall desire to work harder and effectively doesn’t just stem from extra zeros on their paycheck, but rather, it derives from a place of happiness. As the old rhyme reminds, contentment isn’t a destination, but a process — and if you’re smart, a priority for both your professional and personal life. How do you carve in time to, well, improve your overall mood and outlook?
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Here, life coaches and psychologists explain the shared secrets happy professionals share:
1. They get enough sleep
Even if college was many moons ago, you’ve likely pulled an all-nighter in the past year. Or, you’ve been so overworked and double-booked that you spent more time tossing and turning than resting. For those people who wake up ready – and elated – to tackle the day ahead, the eight hours that come before the alarm clock dings are just as important as the minutes that follow it. As licensed therapist Melody Li explains, many workers overlook the power of a good night’s sleep in an effort to push their minds and bodies to the limit. As studies indicate and Li reminds, not reaping the rewards of shuteye usually results in poor memory, difficulty problem-solving and unexplained ups and downs. Professionals who tuck themselves into bed instead of watching Netflix (or their favorite YouTube videos on repeat)? They wake up in better spirits.
2. They take their time
Sure, there are some mornings that warrant that tempting snooze button, but to rise on the right side of the bed, yoga therapist and natural health expert Dr. Lynn Anderson Ph.D., giving yourself time to linger is key. When you feel frazzled or pressed for time, you’ll not only make more mistakes which can bum-out your confidence levels, but you don’t allow yourself to ease into the day’s tasks in an enjoyable manner. “Get up early enough to relax, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and organize the day. Rushing and running late leads to stress and stress is like a fire extinguisher for happiness. It’s a poisonous gas that makes a mess. Being organized and relaxed creates happiness,” she shares.
3. They make their bed
Seems simple enough, but how often do you leave your apartment or home in shambles? It’s easy to forget in the hustle of the morning, but motivational speaker and workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. says there’s a sense of glee found when your living area is prime. “A happy professional builds confidence and self-efficacy by completing a simple chore like making her bed before heading to the office. This act sets a ‘can do’ mindset into motion for the day. It’s an easy task to check off the to-do list,” she shares. “When we accomplish one item on our agenda, we are more driven to accomplish others. Also, as a double bonus, many find it especially comforting and gratifying to climb into a made bed at the end of a long day!”
4. They are able to see gratitude and practice humility
We all have that Wonder Woman (or man) in our life that seemingly glides through life, experiencing it all with ease. They’re top of their game at work, thoughtful and kind to others, brave to their core, and overall, rather funny. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll notice a common thread of humility in these happy-go-lucky, positive-thinking individuals. Career coach and shamanic practitioner John Moore explains that those who exercise gratitude as part of their daily routine tend to be more joyful, in life and in work. He adds that research even indicates thankful people have better relationships and more enduring psychological health.
5. They set daily goals
Yep, you read that correctly: Happy professionals are masters of setting micro, 24/7 goals that keep them on the right track. As career and branding expert Wendi Weiner explains, those who are able to turnaround the best work with the best attitude take the time to plan ahead, so they aren’t caught in a bind or a last-minute deadline that slipped off their radar. “These are non-negotiable tasks that must be completed for that day. The reason for this is that when you actually achieve what you set out to achieve, that will raise the level of happiness and personal satisfaction,” she says.
6. They communicate with others
Those people who are nearly always smiling — and not faking it, but really grinning their heart out — usually want to spend time with one another. Moore explains that the pull comes from a part in our brains called the ‘anterior cingulate cortex’ which measures social status, as well as pain and a high number of opiate receptors. “Social exclusion registers in the brain much like physical pain. In studies, one of the greatest predictors of happiness is the breadth of social networks,” he says.
Even if you don’t start chatting up a storm with your partner or your morning-hating roommate, Moore says you’ll start the day off brighter if you, at the very least, communicate in some way. “Happy professionals focus some of their morning time growing and nurturing social connections. Check in with friends, meet someone for coffee, chat up the cute barista — just start talking!” he says.
7. They keep their calendars open
It might be difficult to tango around time zones if you have international clients, but if you can help it, health coach Kenneth Rippetoe recommends keeping your calendar completely free until after 10 a.m. This gives you time to prepare for your day and be mindful of the moments you’re giving your energy to others, instead of always being readily available. “Practice being intentional with your time and resources. When you are intentional, you make the choices that do align with your value system and goals for your personal and professional life,” he explains.
8. They focus on the present and future, not the past
Ask anyone who has been able to send away the skeletons in their closet and they’ll agree that releasing the mistakes of yesteryear was the first step. If you find yourself dreading each day or feeling anxious about how your career will exceed, Weiner suggests taking a page from the notebook of joy-focused professionals who make a habit of living in the moment and preparing for the future with a solid outlook. “Happy professionals will concentrate their focus on the present things they are doing and the present goals they want to achieve as well as the future things they plan to do and/or achieve,” she explains. “Their energy will concentrate less on regrets, and more on taking chances and risks to maximize their happiness.”
9. They complete a task that makes them feel powerful
Perhaps it was after you ran you very first 5K. Or landed a client that took months to romance. Or when you finally took the plunge and checked ‘bungee jumping’ off your bucket list. While you can’t perform one-of-a-kind feats every single day (sadly), Li stresses the importance of completing something in the A.M. that set you up to feel powerful throughout the day. Though every person will sing a different tune, it’s most important that you strategize your day to make time for this task. “For many, it’s some type of physical activity like running, swimming, or lifting. For others, it might be solving a tricky puzzle or crossword. It could be meditating, dancing to energetic music, or even stretching,” she explains. “Whatever that looks like to you, spend at least 15 minutes doing something that reinforces the strength that you hold within and carry this sense of power with you into your day.”
10. They visualize their success
Much like amping up for the future — whether it’s a month, a year or a decade away — psychologist and relationship expert Anotina Hall says happy careers are much like flourishing love affairs. To truly find the grace and vulnerability in the positions you’re in, you have to be courageous enough to imagine your future. As Hall explains, “Studies have shown that by spending even a few minutes each morning to visualize your goals coming to fruition with ease increases the likelihood of successfully accomplishing those goals.
“See your upcoming meeting in vivid detail, visualizing the desired outcome will help make it go well and build your confidence!”