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The pursuit of happiness

How to stay happy in the workplace

Gazette staff June 22nd, 2011

Happiness is a choice, especially in the workplace, according to one certified mental health professional.

“Lots of people think the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a linear process, so they live in a state of expectancy,” said Marti MacGibbon. “But you can experience happiness in the present moment, without waiting, if you give yourself permission.”

To do that, she recommends these tips:

—Recognize that happiness is available now: “You can do this exercise while taking a coffee break, in the elevator, or in a brief moment in your office, door closed if you need it.”

—Choose to think positive, self-enhancing thoughts, like “I am enthusiastic about my job,” rather than, “I will be enthusiastic about my job.”

—Harness the power of the moment to choose happiness: “This is not a process of denying the existence of stress at work.” —Gazette staff

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06.27.2011 at 03:10 Reply

I have concerns about this piece, as it's promoting the overly simplistic, potentially harmful message that "happiness is a choice." I agree with Ms. MacGibbon that bringing happiness into the present is both possible and healthy, but oftentimes it's not a simple choice. If it were, clinical depression wouldn't exist, as these individuals often wish for nothing more than to feel happy. Asserting (or suggesting) that happiness can be chosen and achieved on a whim, without training and practice, inadvertently blames those who unsuccessfully struggle for happiness, creates an unnecessary sense of guilt and failure in those who are not naturally happy, and sets up unrealistic expectations about well-being (in general, and in the workplace specifically). Instead, we need to change the way we view happiness. Happiness is achievable, but it's a skill, or set of skills, that must be cultivated, acquired, practiced over time, just as becoming a skilled musician requires years of practice. What skills am I talking about? It depends on the individual, and therapy is a good place to start, to begin to create one's own personal "well-being plan." A local non-profit focusing on teaching well-being skills for free (or very low cost) is another option, and it's called "Workings of Well-Being." We can be found on Facebook, under pages, or you can email me personally. 


Jennifer Sweeton, M.A., M.S.


07.07.2011 at 08:42 Reply

I suppose some of these statements can apply if you work in certain types of jobs, but such statements cannot apply to the whole.  And this is certainly written by someone who has never experienced real depression. 

Ironically, a few months back, my employer started hanging posters for the company’s mental health hotline, and a month ago we were informed that the company was going to eliminate 900 jobs.  How can anyone eliminate stress in their work place when they know the axe can fall at any time?  The mental hotline is merely a device to avoid sticky litigative issues which might arise from any workplace violence or suicide.  Bottom line, companies don’t care about their workers, they care about their stockholders, so what kind of message does that send to the employee?  It’s definitely not going to boost their esteem or self worth, and it certainly will not eliminate stress.

What the author needs to understand is that there are people who can be so depressed that there is no silver bullet idea that can snap them back into reality.  These people might have this depression for days, weeks, months, or years.  And overtime, it can become compounded as their friends and families begin to alienate themselves from those people.

It is a staple idea of the self-help community that one can create happiness simply by being happy.  And this is not necessarily false.  As the author suggests, taking small moments and just relishing in small pleasures can be a benefit.  But what benefits those with clinical depression is human connection.  Lamentably we live in a society that despite a growing population we create more and more means of isolation.  We lock ourselves in our homes to avoid dangers, and we operate from this self containment using digital means such as e-mail and Facebook.  This deliberate lack of interaction is a cause for concern, especially since many lack the social skills to create essential person-to-person friendships.

I’ve been re-affirmed that there is no possession or amount of wealth that can generate happiness.  The things that will bring happiness and pleasure in our lives are the interactions we have with others, specifically the things we do to help others.  So this notion that locking yourself away in your office generates happiness is a bit removed from fact.  It will give you a moment to decompress from work stresses, but what will really create happiness within ourselves is creating happiness for others.  We don’t need money; we just need to help other people.  That might be as simple as saying they look nice today, or as complex as helping them move.  It’s the feeling we get by having our existence validated which is rewarding.

It is with great regret that while I know what can create happiness, I personally lack the social skills to create friendships.  My reason for this stems from the idea that everyone in society is always trying to get something from someone, that no one genuinely does anything without some expectation of reward.  This lack of trust is a huge barrier for me, and no doubt many others suffering with depression.  As our population expands and more and more people lose faith in their fellow man, this kind of misery is undoubtedly going to grow unless there is a monolithic shift in the way we embrace every encounter we have.

This notion that we are serving God with everything we do is so far removed from reality.  To me serving God means giving as much as your time and energy to the service of society as a whole.  But none of us really do that.  We take weekend trips to the mall to buy crap to fill a void in our lives, but that’s a void that cannot be filled with things.  We buy houses, erect gates and fences, and install alarm systems, for what, to keep people out of our lives?  This goes against everything God wants for us.  And as I say this, I am no better; I am one of those people I just described.  Intrinsically I think we all long to make more connections, but the notion that our friendship will be spurned or taken for granted prevents us from trying at all. 

Perhaps I’ve gone astray from the concept the author was trying to convey, but I have to believe that the pursuit of happiness in our personal lives will bleed into the happiness we experience in our professional lives.