Adding Joy: Putting your Happiness on the Agenda
If you had plenty of free time to do anything you wanted, would you be happier than you are today?
According to Cassie Holmes, a recent podcast guest and author of Happier Hour, people who have an abundance of leisure time (e.g. more than five hours a day) aren’t actually very happy. She discovered that to be at our happiest and most fulfilled, all we need is a total of two hours a day of doing things that give us joy. This can include both work and non-work activities, as long as you get enjoyment out of them. More joy means greater satisfaction, less stress, better health, better relationships, greater productivity, better leadership and ultimately better performance.
Finding Your Joy
So how can you reach this goal? First, you need to determine what is a source of joy for you. For me, the activities that bring joy often include reading for curiosity, walking outdoors, preparing a creative meal, watching a TV show I enjoy, working with a colleague on a new framework or designing a new event, giving a talk in which the audience is responding positively, and talking to friends. I know this because I have been tracking my heart rate ‘recovery’ using a wearable device. In my case that is an Oura ring. Looking at data in 10-minute segments over a period of weeks has highlighted what is relaxing and regenerative to me and what isn’t. But don’t worry – you don’t need to get a device to track your data.
Here’s how you can collect your own:
Think of a normal working week in your life. Identify the things you enjoy doing both at work and outside of work and write them down. Keep tracking your moments of joy over the course of several days and you will start noticing the small things that you hadn’t considered before – like listening to music, playing a small game with your children, taking a walk or having 20 minutes of quiet time for dinner at home.
After you have gathered a list of what brings you joy, estimate how much time you spend on each joyful activity each day. Add up those average minutes and ask how close you are to two hours a day (remember that work activities do count). This data often surprises my clients. Some begin the exercise by estimating that they have close to zero time in a day and end up realizing that they are only 30 minutes short of reaching their two hours. Actively noticing and acknowledging the moments that bring you pleasure are great first steps to feeling happier overall.
Taking Action: Prioritizing and Creating Rituals
Now, make a conscious effort to prioritize the activities, including those at work, that provide joy and satisfaction, even if they only occur for a matter of minutes on some days of the week. If a twenty-five-minute yoga class on Monday mornings energizes you and sets you up for success, then make sure it’s a non-negotiable part of every week – that means not scheduling any work meetings early on Mondays, and not jeopardizing sleep on Sunday nights so you can wake up refreshed enough to work out.
In addition to making sure you get to do the things you enjoy, it is crucial to be present when the time comes. Try not to spend the entire yoga class thinking about the work you must do after and worrying if you’ll get it done by the end of the day. These thirty minutes you put aside are just as important as your workday, and since you blocked that time off in your calendar, you are exactly on schedule.
An effective way to be more present for the things you enjoy is creating a ritual around those activities. A ritual will help you pay close attention to the moment you’re in, so you can recognize the joy and renewal you get from it. Suppose you enjoy your work with a particular colleague. You might create a simple ritual like bringing coffee to the meeting each time. Maybe you cherish playing board games with your partner. How about you light a candle for the duration of the game? Even if you only get time to do a thing you enjoy once a week, make sure to turn this activity into a ritual – this way, you’ll feel like you are consciously celebrating a moment of joy rather than giving in to a distraction or ticking something off the to-do list.
If you are not reaching two hours of joy each day, your goal is to add more moments of happiness. This is easier said than done of course, when it feels as if your schedule is already filled to the brim and there are not enough minutes in a day to get anything done. There are two strategies to solve this: The first is to eliminate what isn’t truly important or adding value – this is what the first four entries in this blog series focus on (new to this series? Start from the beginning here). The second is to make the activities you are already doing and not necessarily enjoying better.
Let me give you an example of the second tactic – I call it maximizing joy. I talked to someone recently, let’s call her Anna, who takes on a 90-minute drive across the city and back each morning to drop her child off at school. The five minutes at the school gates have always given Anna immense joy, so she goes out of her way to protect that ritual and makes sure she is savoring the moment every day. But the rest of that hour and a half? Anna used to spend that annoyed about the traffic – the drive was a means to an end, neither productive nor enjoyable. I asked her: “What could you do to actively make these 90 minutes better?”
She has now started new rituals with her child: For example, they have introduced the “Wednesday Win”, where they tell each other a great thing that happened that week during the morning rush hour. Not only have those mornings gotten much more fun and joyful, but both also go about their days with a much more positive outlook, since they are constantly looking for good things to remember for Wednesday. When Anna is alone in the car on her way back from school, she now listens to audiobooks, adding another 40 minutes of joy she wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Adding joy to your day can have a positive impact on your leadership, health, productivity, stress and emotional well-being. Identifying activities that give you joy and taking the time to focus on them can help you live a more fulfilled life. You really only need two hours of joyful time a day, and that can include work, so small changes can make a drastic difference. So, the next time you daydream about quitting your job, try adding a little joy instead first.