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Want to Improve Your Life After Thanksgiving? Here Are 5 Habits of the Happiest People



As you head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and share time with family and loved ones over turkey and football, reflect back on 2017 for a minute — personally and professionally. What are you thankful for?

While I hope your work brought you meaning and your business a mission for existing, as I reflect back on the things that truly matter in my own life and work, I have found that the one constant that remains — the one thing that makes my whole world go around — comes down to this overarching philosophy: life is really about giving.

Lao Tzu once said, “The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.”

Best-selling author and leadership expert Brian Tracy said, “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” 

Science Says Giving Leads to Happiness

Before you declare the giving approach an ill-advised religious ideal unsuitable for work, business or management practices, the idea of giving doesn’t solely reside in scripture. It is solidly grounded in science.

In one study of more than 600 Americans, as reported by Greater Good Magazine, “happiness was predicted by the amount of money they gave away: The more they invested in others, the happier they were. This relationship between “prosocial spending” and happiness held up even after taking into account individuals’ income.”

Greater Good also mentions a survey conducted by the Gallup World Poll between 2006 and 2008 that found that in 120 out of 136 countries, people who donated to charity in the past month reported greater satisfaction with life.

Taking into account that not everyone has the luxury to give financially, how do you practically give as a lifestyle, even when your bank account won’t allow you? Glad you asked.

1. Give by putting people first.

Organizational psychologist, Wharton professor, and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take, Adam Grant, tells CNBC Make It: “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.” 

If that’s anti-climatic for you, consider the evidence. Having worked with and studied literally thousands of leaders, Grant observed that great leaders think bigger than themselves — they advance a vision or an idea or a project that’s “going to affect a lot of people,” explains Grant.

“When you track the evidence, it tends to really work because leaders who put other people first, they end up inspiring a different kind of effort, a different level of motivation, and a greater sense of belongingness,” says Grant.

“The ones that I admire the most, who also tend to produce the best results, are the ones who are givers not takers — who say ‘look, it’s not all about me.'” 

Grant adds, “When you do that, and align people toward a common goal, elevating their success also elevates your organization’s success.”

2. Give appreciation and praise.

How often do you give praise? We hardly ever think about it, but a leader’s words are a powerful means for motivating people at work.  

According to Dr. Paul White, co-author of The New York Times bestseller The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplacewords of affirmation are the primary way employees like to be shown appreciation in the workplace.

White came to that conclusion after his team analyzed data from responses from over 100,000 employees who have taken the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory.  White says “almost half of all employees (over 45%) prefer receiving verbal praise as their primary language of appreciation.”

Over thanksgiving weekend, think about how you can pull this off before returning to work. What affirming words and phrases would your employees or fellow co-workers want to hear?

If applicable, how about: “I can’t tell you how much the extra time you’ve spent getting the new hires up to speed has meant to everyone on the team. They have hit the ground running fast because of your tireless effort helping them. The whole team has exceeded their productivity because of it.”

3. Give the gift of a “five minute favor.”

“Five-minute favors” are selfless giving acts without asking for anything in return. Examples of five-minute favors include: sharing knowledge, making an introduction, serving as a reference for a person, product, or service, or recommending someone on LinkedIn, Yelp, or another social place. 

Bringing back Adam Grant, he points out in his fabulous book, Give and Take, that by paying it forward, you are more successful without expecting a quid pro quo. And you aren’t just helping others in five focused minutes of giving. You are supporting the emotional spread of this practice–it becomes contagious.

4. Give the gift of gratitude.

This is a great exercise you can do while away on your Thanksgiving break, and it’s short and sweet. Make a list of 5 people at work for which you are thankful.Think back on the key contributions, accomplishments, or events that have happened during the calendar year involving these people.

Next, express your gratitude to them. Whatever your method (email, text, hand-written note or phone call), make it personal and heartfelt and let these people know how you feel about them and their work. 

For long-term effect, do it for 21 straight days. Why? Positive psychologist and bestselling author Shawn Achor says the reason this is so powerful is that you’re training your mind to scan for positives instead of negatives. This activity is the fastest way to teach optimism and will significantly improve your outlook even six months later. And your recipients will think the world of you!

And finally, the most important of all gifts…

5. Give your love away.

Because employees are human and, therefore, wired for relationships, leaders and employees alike need to foster a community at work by promoting a sense of belonging and connection for everyone on the team.

University of North Carolina psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, did an extensive study on human emotions with profound results. She was asked if a person’s engagement at work is established and fueled by feelings of love. Before you cringe at the thought, here’s what she said in Fast Company:

When people are made to feel cared for, nurtured, and growing, that will serve the organization well. Because those feelings drive commitment and loyalty just like it would in any relationship. If you feel uniquely seen, understood, valued and appreciated, then that will hook you into being committed to that team, leader and organization. This is how positive emotions work.

I can’t think of a better definition for how love should be expressed at work. Happy Thanksgiving!

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