A 2017 study on happiness across North America, Europe and Australia showed that a third of workers are generally not happy in their jobs. Canada ranked 5th overall, while the number one spot went to the United States. Moreover, according to the United Nations World Happiness Report, overall happiness has slowly been declining over the past few years.
Why is this? When I ask my clients, I often get the following responses:
“My boss doesn't appreciate me.”
“I am not compensated fairly.”
“I’m stressed out.”
“There are too many demands on my time.”
And the list could go on!
Take a minute and look at the list. What do you notice about it? If you said that the factors are all external, you’d be right. Instead of looking inward to how we process information and make decisions, it is often human nature to shift the blame to external sources, ones over which we likely have little to no control.
Reflexive statements, such as those listed above, are consistently rooted in something real; an experience we have had that informed our actions, and over time, moved its way from a one-time response to an addictive loop. And often, these automatic responses become ingrained, leading to chronic unhappiness.
Take that unappreciative boss for example:
Perhaps there was an occasion where your contribution was not recognized. Your boss might even have gone as far as taking credit for an idea you had. You assess the situation and react negatively and unfavorably, rather than dealing with the situation. Perhaps you become passive aggressive.
Your boss, and indeed others, then react to your increasingly negative attitude.
Things start to feel different, reinforcing how you feel, which influences how you show up every day. Soon, you go from being aware of your response, to just reacting reflexively. And it feels good. It can even be addictive.
You get to be the victim, the martyr, and suddenly, there is drama in the workplace, and people get to choose sides.
This happens every day, to each of us, in all areas of our lives. Yet how often do we take time to notice the mental models we carry, the stories we tell ourselves? How often do we challenge our patterns of behavior, thought processes, and resulting actions? Are we in touch with reality?
The most powerful aspects of my work as a coach are those moments when my client notices a behavior for the first time; one that is so deeply ingrained, it has become invisible. As many systems thinkers like to say, “once you see something, you cannot unsee it,” and in that sight, there is both power and possibility.
The road to happiness starts with noticing: noticing the times we react to a situation. Noticing the times we analyze a situation after the fact, wishing we had said something else. Noticing the reactions of others in the room when you are feeling threatened, or lacking confidence. If these patterns reflect your behaviour, and perhaps you are feeling not as happy as you could be, it’s time to take notice of what you no longer can see.
I often challenge my clients and students to commit to keeping a record of what they notice for a period of time, jotting down the things you are noticing for a period of 14 days. Ask yourself:
What themes are emerging?
Are there any patterns?
Are certain relationships appearing more often than others?
What is the context of each of these patterns? Any additional themes there?
This can be a powerful tool as one peels back the layers of ingrained behaviors and responses, noticing, and then taking action: making dramatic and sustainable changes.
And of course, working with a coach and to understand your own emotional intelligence can help to create a space in which you can better understand and manage yourself to achieve amazing results both personally and professionally.
David LeBlanc, MA, CEC, ACC is a certified executive coach who creates meaningful and sustainable impact with his clients. He is an EI Advantage Associate, and manages his own coaching practice based in Vancouver, BC: www.leblancleadership.com