No matter how much you love your job, it’s easy to get so absorbed in working towards your goals that you forget to live in the now… and forget what day it is, that you’ve stayed up working on this project so late that it’s 3am right now, and oops, you’ve eaten that whole family bar of chocolate without noticing.
Succesfull people are often very goal-oriented, but sometimes they can get so caught up in that goal that they live entirely for the future. If this sounds familiar to you, then you need to take small steps to be present in the here-and-now. You can be successful today, and tomorrow, without sacrificing today’s happiness: in fact, avoiding burnout will actually make you refreshed, happier and able to achieve more. You don’t have to feel guilty for taking me-time; in the long-term it can actually be incredibly productive.
So here’s some take-away tips for how you can succeed at perhaps the most important thing you’ll ever do: being a happier, calmer, more productive you.
This might sound cliched to you, but many of the most successful people out there are taking time out to meditate, to go for a morning walk and watch the sunrise, to play in the sandpit with their kids without thinking about their to-do list. It’s very tempting to focus on what you want to be achieving, or feeling bad about the things you haven’t achieved yet, or mentally over-preparing for tomorrow’s business meeting when what you really should be doing is savoring the moment.
Marshall Goldsmith is considered one of the world’s greatest business advisers, but when you watch his videos, what might strike you the most is that he doesn’t come across as “businessy”: he comes across as calm and collected. his enthusiasm is a peaceful one: he seems like a guru in the spiritual sense, not just a business one. Business Insider lists 14 Executives Who Swear By Meditation; the general consensus in the business world is that this isn’t just for monks on a high mountain, it’s for people who want a healthier brain and a better career.
Pro-tip: the first few times you meditate, you will probably feel ridiculous. Also, your mind will probably be going at 1000 miles per hour and you’ll probably be thinking that this is a pointless waste of time when you could be writing up those charts instead. But it really does work, and there’s science to back that up: meditators are happier. And this doesn’t mean that certain people are born-meditators, or that happy people are more likely to meditate: it means that like any new skill, you need to stick this out for awhile while you learn to calm that rapid-fire brain.
Take a digital sabbath
In this day and age, technology is everywhere: you might be sleeping with your smartphone in your pocket, checking your notifications dozens of times a day, and never really taking time out from being perpetually connected. You’ve probably seen whole families at restaurants with their heads buried in their tablets and not saying a word to each other. Many parenting blogs warn that taking thousands of photos of your kids means that you’re enjoying their childhood through a lens, and that it’s probably not so good for them either.
You’re part of the last generation that remembers a time before this connectivity. The world has changed, and in many ways this is absolutely wonderful: you can cowork with people on the other side of the globe, you can instantly keep in touch with friends in dozens of countries in the space of a day, and when someone says “but it was John Travolta who starred in that movie!”, you can have the immense satisfaction of proving them wrong.
But you also don’t have a break, and you really need one. Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) is advocating what she calls a “digital sabbath“: one day a week that you turn off all your devices and just get out there. At first, you might literally feel like you’re in withdrawal, but don’t worry: the Internet will still be there when you get back.
Go to your neighbourhood park, take off your shoes and feel the grass under your feet. Go for a run at the beach. Basically, step away from your desk and remember what the outside world looks like. Again, science tells us that we should be doing this: Japanese studies about shinrin’yoku (forest-bathing
Be happy, be healthy
Studies of personal wellbeing have demonstrated something that seem almost counter-intuitive: after you’ve got “enough”, having extra doesn’t actually contribute that much to our happiness levels. There are even countries in the developing world with higher happiness indices than some countries in the developed world. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive for success, but if you’re working towards a particular sum in the bank account and telling yourself that you’ll be happy when you get there, then you’re not letting yourself be happy today. When you reach that sum, you’ll just set your goal higher. Success is about working towards being the best you that you can be. But it’s important to reflect on everything you’ve achieved so far and be proud of that too, and remember that life isn’t a race. Today is already awesome.
So what do these studies tell us actually make us happy? Feeling grateful for what we have already, feeling connected, and feeling competent (i.e. proud of ourselves and what we do). Success is part of the latter, and it can contribute to your happiness, but it shouldn’t be substituting for it. Back in 2010, a Chinese dating-show contestant said that she would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle; that sort of materialism isn’t healthy or psychologically sustainable. So work towards the BMW, but if it’s a choice between that and smiling, the bike should win. Every. Time.
Your health is a crucial part of your happiness: chronic pain is astonishingly common, and frequently caused or worsened by the physical and emotional toil of working too hard. There is also a strong correlation between chronic pain and anxiety/depression. You may be working too hard now because you believe it will make you happier later, but too often, the opposite is true. So take those breaks at the office to have a walk around. Take the time to have that massage. Make sure that you and your family eat healthily, that you have regular dental checkups, and that you have health insurance for the just-in-cases. Take good care of your eyes, you’ll need them later: comprehensive general eye care for the whole family is easily affordable and should be a priority in your budget.
Former CEO of World Vision Canada, James J. Lachard, wrote a passage in which he asks God what surprises Him most about humanity, and God responds: “he sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
We only get one chance to live. So take those words to heart, and lead a better, happier life.