Happiness was a hot business topic in 2016, and something tells me it's not going away in 2017.

The research that has come out over the last several years published in books by positive psychology researchers like Shawn Achor, Martin Seligman, Tal Ben-Shahar, and Barbara Fredrickson confirms that resilient and positive minds can raise productivity levels and transform how organizations work and profit.

But in our quest for the latest productivity hacks to keep adrenaline high during the day, is too much productivity a good thing?

Enter research psychologist Emma Seppala. In her new book The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, Seppala warns those of us who like to work too much to drop the frantic approach to productivity because "not only does workaholism double the risk of depression and anxiety, it actually lowers productivity and decreases work performance."

Now imagine the prospect of a whole bunch of workaholics under one roof and what do you get? A company at risk for more "stress-related accidents, absenteeism, higher employee turnover, lower productivity and higher medical costs," says Seppala.

So what's the source of this overwrought and agitated culture of work we live in? Seppala believes it's our constant fixation on the future, that in order to be successful and happy, we have to keep grinding it out and focusing on what's ahead because, we think, the eventual payoff from our nonstop productivity will be all worth it.

In essence, we worship a false god under this belief system. By living in a perpetual state of anxiety, we relinquish our personal happiness in the present with the false hopes of a better future. The end of the road is a chronically-stressful lifestyle, lack of sleep, and less joy.

The Solution

Seppala cites several studies that pave the road for a much better outlook in life. It's as simple as making three changes:

1. Detach from work.

Science has found that people who simply unplug and detach from work on their downtime recover from stress faster and increase their productivity. Some recommended activities in the recovery phase include exercise, walks in nature, and picking up a hobby not related to work.

Another way to recharge and recover faster--and raise happiness levels--is to think and reflect on the positive things about your workday and job that benefit others. That's according to research by Sabine Sonnentag and Adam Grant.

2. At the risk of starting a national riot, wait for it...reduce your caffeine intake.

While drinking coffee is a necessary cultural norm that keeps us alert and productive throughout the day, a daily caffeinated fix can have spiraling effects that wreak havoc on the body. Here's the potentially dangerous cycle that Seppala says many of us may find ourselves in:

  • Caffeine being a stimulant, it raises cortisol levels (the natural "stress" hormone the body produces to help us wake up) above normal when we drink coffee.
  • The unusually-high levels (and all the jitteriness that comes with it) from consuming too much caffeine make us dependent on the anxiety that now fuels a typical work day. You'll find the same results from stimulants like sugar, energy drinks and addictive drugs like Adderall to help us stay up and focus for long hours.
  • Now that we're over-stimulated and unable to calm down when we come home, we turn to depressants like alcohol, sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication to achieve balance.
  • This back-and-forth between stimulant-induced anxiety and depressant-induced drowsiness places an enormous burden on our already exhausted nervous system.

Seppala's recommendations for better daily energy management comes down to the right balance: Cut back on stimulants and cultivate calmness. The latter can be practiced through yoga, nature walks, and tech-fasts.

3. Breathe.

No, we're not talking breathing normally but "conscious breathing," a focused form of yoga-based, breathing meditation.

Seppala investigated the effects of conscious-breathing as an intervention on combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. Learning conscious breathing helped significantly reduce their stress and anxiety levels--sometimes in minutes.

Another research cited suggests that taking deep breaths and longer exhales than your inhales helps you to relax and gives you more energy.

Seppala warns adrenaline junkies: Stop wearing yourself out so quickly in the day by infusing some calmness and taking a breather (literally and figuratively). This will help you to restore yourself, manage your energy without crashing, and ultimately lead you to become a more accomplished and happier person.

Published on: Dec 21, 2016
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