By LKCMedicine Chief Operating Officer Dr Serene Ng
Amid the chaos and uncertainties of the COVID-19 situation, many of us continue to grapple with the emotional, financial and physical toll on our wellbeing. Lives were lost, livelihoods were threatened, and our health suffered in various ways from catching the virus to suffering after-effects of taking vaccinations.
In the World Happiness Survey conducted by Gallup in 2021, the report found that there has been surprising resilience in how people rate their lives. While there was a roughly 10 per cent increase in the number of people who said they felt worried or sad the previous day, the World Happiness Report concluded that mental health has been one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic.
At work, many employees have felt the impact of working from home such as increased stress and anxiety from working longer hours, job insecurity and social isolation from the lack of face-to-face interactions. At home, many of us felt the need to juggle and balance work and home demands, especially those with children and the elderly to care for.
The biggest question one needs to ask ourselves is “How do I find happiness amid all doom and gloom?”
At one of my earlier retreats with all my direct reports, one of the defined outcomes that a senior staff member in my team suggested was to include happiness as a key measure of success. When probed further on how we define and measure happiness, it became clear that this was a measure that was difficult and yet, we all want to be happy. So, what is happiness?
First, happiness isn’t about getting what you want. It isn’t about getting that extra money or that next promotion. Rather, it is about loving what you have and being grateful for it. Happiness is also about being present and finding joy in the moment.
Like a glass filled with water, you can view it as half full or half empty. Happiness is when you show gratitude and view the glass as half full rather than half empty. The Latin word “gratus” refers to "pleasing, thankful” and is associated with a feeling of appreciation felt by and/or similar positive response shown by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favours, or other types of generosity, to the giver of said gifts.
We all want to work in a place where people are polite, considerate, kind, and express appreciation to our colleagues. Gratitude is good for us because it improves wellbeing, reduces stress, and builds resilience. Research has shown that gratitude begets gratitude. In a specific study, participants who had edited a student’s cover letter received either a neutral message from the student acknowledging they had received their feedback or a grateful note, expressing thanks and appreciation. When the participants were asked to help again, those who were thanked were twice as likely to say “yes” than those who hadn’t been thanked.
There are ways to show or demonstrate gratitude to your colleagues. It’s important to a) recognise, b) acknowledge, and c) appreciate what others have done for you. For example, when someone provides feedback after your presentation, take time out to show your appreciation. Say something like “Thanks for speaking out and your honest feedback after my last presentation. I want you to know I really appreciate your doing that as I realise that I may not have seen it from your perspective. The proposal is better now after incorporating your feedback.”
Finding Joy Around You
In the Journal of Positive Psychology, RA Emmons (2020) said that Joy has been one of the least studied human emotions despite the fact that it is on everyone’s list of basic or primary emotions.
In fact, there is no easy definition of joy. Within the context of philosophy, joy refers to “our souls are opened, giving our existence a certain fluidity, a sense of easiness”. Within the context of theology, joy refers to “an understanding of the human in which our action, our responsiveness, is solicited, to join in something larger than ourselves”. More importantly, joy as defined by affective sciences refers to a “pleasant state”.
Experiencing joy is something one can do every day and every moment. According to Chade-Meng Tan1 joy can be experienced on-demand and you can train to access joy any time, any moment. According to him, there are three ways one can experience joy – easing, inclining, and uplifting.
The first is easing into joy. A joyful mind is a mind at ease. To ease into a state of rest, you need to take one deep breath in and one deep breath out. The physiological reason behind such actions is that you stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the relaxation response. Your muscles start to relax, your heart rate goes down. The psychological effect is to bring your breath into the present. You are not in the past (where you reflect with regrets) and you are not in the future (where you worry). When you take a deep breath, it allows you to take a break and be free from regret and worry by being in the present.
Next is the mental inclination to notice slices of joy. Mental inclination is akin to the slope of a mountain and water flows effortlessly in the direction of the slope. Joy is temporal and may not last long. But as you start noticing slices of joy, you will start to find it everywhere. What are slices of joy that one can experience? Simple things for experiencing one moment of joy – when you have the first sip of coffee in the morning, taking the first bite of a meal or when you are experiencing the first drop of water during your shower. When you do it for a few days and notice slices of joy, you become familiar with joy.
The third step to experiencing joy is uplifting the mind. Raise a thought and wish for the person around you to be happy. It’s uplifting to be on the giving end of kindness. There are two positive effects of doing so. First, as you celebrate the success of friends or colleagues, their win makes you feel motivated and sometimes rewarding if you have helped them in their journey. Second, if you have encountered a hostile episode with a colleague, instead of holding a grudge or being offended, you decide to not take it personally and wish the person well. Perhaps that colleague was having a bad day.
Why not challenge yourself to practise happiness and joy around you? Start by noting down one thing that you are grateful for each day for seven days. Work on your mental state by practising easing, inclining and uplifting the mind. Find the good around you, think positively, experience joy momentarily and you are well on your way to seeing the world in a new and improved way.
As we wind down for the year and celebrate with our family and friends, let me take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a joyful 2022.
1 He was Google employee number 107 and his job title was "Jolly Good Fellow"