Happiness Matters: 3 Strategies for Leaders

In January of this year, I was burnt out. I had delivered dozens of speeches over the previous months, traveled to multiple states for the holidays, and was faced with preparing for 30 more speeches in the coming months.  On top of that, the projects I was leading weren’t running as well as they should have been. When one of my close friends who I hadn’t spoken to for a while called to say hi, I got frustrated with him. In short, I was being a mega grouch to everyone, including myself. My attitude had deteriorated and many of the important parts of my life were suffering as a result.

This type of thing happens to many leaders. We have so many demands on our attention and time, that we frequently neglect ourselves to make sure everything gets done.

From time to time, we all have to put on a pot of coffee at 11:00pm and work through the night. But if we push our limits for too long, we start to fall apart. This is not just a disservice to ourselves and our projects it’s also a disservice to the people we lead and serve.

Though this is not something that is discussed very often in leadership studies, one of the most important things you can possibly do for yourself and your team is to invest in happiness. When you take the time to make yourself happy, your stress levels decrease, your productivity increases, and you’re a better all-around leader.

I want to share three strategies for happiness that have really improved my life personally and as a leader. You can use any one of them individually to give yourself a boost, or you can string them together for a powerful formula.

1)  Spend time each day alone and away from distraction. Chances are that you have countless demands on your attention at any given time. From approaching deadlines, to inbound work, to social obligations, most of us have less time than we need. Consequently, we are always reacting to the chaos instead of controlling it, and we fail to create time for ourselves.

One of the best things to do for your own happiness (and as a bonus, this is amazing for productivity too) is to take a small amount of time each day completely for yourself. Personally, I like to spend a few minutes meditating by closing my eyes and focusing on my breath. Others like to have a slow cup of coffee or tea, go for a walk without their phone, or spend time journaling. Different things work for different people.

Whatever it is you do, by carving out a small amount of time each day for you to be alone and distraction free, you will be making yourself happier and more centered.

2) Eliminate the vampires. We all have things that don’t actually add value to our lives and leave us feeling apathetic or even exhausted when we turn our attention to them. These are vampires. To the extent that we can, we need to eliminate the vampires from our lives.

Vampires come in a few different forms. One is in the form of negative people. If you have friends or family who are highly negative, who don’t believe in you, and who leave you feeling down when you’re with them, they are vampires. It is your job to reduce or eliminate the time you spend with these people.

The other common form vampires appear in is in the form of poorly used time. Do you go out for drinks often but actually hate it? Do you spend more time on Facebook than you do reading? Do you contribute to projects at work or in your personal life that you don’t believe in? If so, these are vampires. Your job is to cast them away by reallocating your time to something you find more meaningful and life affirming.

3) Indulge. The final trick is to periodically indulge in something that you really enjoy, but don’t often do. Perhaps the most important aspect of happiness is taking good care of yourself, and that means giving in to temptation from time to time. If you’ve been working hard, go ahead and book that massage you’ve been dreaming of. If you have had a wildly productive week, cancel your Friday afternoon meeting, play hooky, and see a movie. Instead of going out with your friends when you’re not excited about it, buy a bottle of red wine and read your favorite book.

The point is to celebrate you. Invest in your happiness by occasionally replacing some of the mundane with something special. It doesn’t have to be lavish or expensive; it just has to be nice for you.

As a leader, your job is to help build a better world for the people you serve. While leaders can get by through absorbing insane amounts of stress and responsibility, this only works for a short period of time. If it continues unchecked, it can lead to breakdowns and low quality work. Instead of red-lining yourself, your best bet is to invest in your own happiness. This will not only serve you, but zenfully, it will also serve others.


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