Eighteen Tips for “Little Things” to Boost Your Happiness at the Office.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 18 tips for “little things” to boost your happiness at work.

Your happiness at work will depend mostly, of course, on how much you like your job and your co-workers. But, as Samuel Johnson observed, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

Here are some little things to consider that have helped me find more happiness at work. A few minor adjustments can give a real boost in mood and comfort. Even if these suggestions don’t relate directly to your particular job, you might be able to adapt the strategy for your workplace.

Your work space:

1. Check for eyestrain: put your hand to your forehead in a salute. If your eyes feel relieved, your space is too bright.

2. Get a good desk chair and take the time to adjust it properly. (A friend works at a big company where they have a person who specializes in this task!)

3. Sit up straight and lower your shoulders—every time I do, I instantly feel more energetic and cheerier.

4. Think about how your space could be more pleasant. Could you invest in some desk accessories to help stay organized? Could you replace that hideous lamp?

5. Get a phone headset. I resisted for a long time, because it looks so preposterous, but it’s really much more comfortable, and it lets me walk around when I’m on the phone, which boosts my energy. I also initially resisted the advice to…

6. Get additional monitors. I now have three monitors, and they make me so happy! The ability to have multiple pages up at once saves me a huge amount of time. (Back to #1: after I got my three monitors, I noticed that my face hurt. I finally realized that my three monitors were all set to maximum brightness, so I’d been squinting all day. Turning down the brightness levels fixed the problem.)

6. Don’t keep treats around. A handful of M&Ms each day will mean a weight gain five pounds by year’s end.

7. Periodically, take time to deep-clean the loose papers that have piled up. I usually do this specifically because I need the shot of the wonderful calm it brings.

Your day:

8. Try never say “yes” on the phone; instead, say, “I’ll get back to you.” When you’re actually speaking to someone, the desire to be accommodating is very strong, and can lead you to say “yes” without enough consideration.

9. Take care of difficult calls or emails as quickly as possible. Procrastinating just makes it harder; getting them done gives a big boost of relieved energy. (Here are some tips for making phone calls you don’t want to make.)

10. When accepting a responsibility, imagine that it’s something that you’ll have to do next week. That way you don’t agree to something just because it seems so far off that it doesn’t seem onerous.

11. Be honest about how you’re spending your time. You feel overwhelmed, but are you really working hard? How much time do you spend surfing the internet, chatting on the phone or with colleagues, looking for things you’ve misplaced, or doing a task that’s really someone else’s job?

12. Go outside at least once a day, and if possible, take a walk. The sunlight and activity is good for your focus, mood, and retention of information.

13. Even if you can’t go outside, take a ten-minute break each hour. Studies show that the break boosts your retention level.

14. Don’t let yourself get too hungry.

15. Let yourself stay ignorant of things you don’t need to know.

16. Try to make a lunch date with someone outside the office at least once a week.

17. This may be the hardest: figure out a way to control technology so you don’t feel distracted and hunted. Turn off your email; turn off your phone; disconnect from the internet; figure out a way to set limits so you can concentrate when you need to, and disengage when you need to. Technology is a good servant but a bad master.

18. Be nice to your co-workers. This is the right way to behave, and it will also serve your best interests, if you need that justification. In situation evocation, for example, we spark a response from people that reinforces a tendency we already have — for example, if I act irritable all the time, the people around me are probably going to treat me with less patience and helpfulness, which will, in turn, stoke my irritability.

What else? What are some other “little things” to boost happiness at work?

* I had a lot of fun doing this video interview on the very cool site, Big Think — and also reading the accompanying blog post.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 39,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • celiacinthecity

    Love Wednesday tips! And it’s mid-day at work for me, perfect timing. As you may have seen on Twitter, I am truly enjoying your book. (a trip to the cottage this weekend will be the perfect opportunity for quality reading time!)

    I think I was squinting as I read this… off to adjust my screen settings!

  • Great tips! Just shared them on Twitter. 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Glad you found them useful! Thanks!

  • I spent some time thinking about your tips and #8 really rang a bell for me. I can see myself agreeing or committing to something just because I need to get off the phone.

    “I’ll get back to you…” So Simple!


    • Marci M

      I can see the benefit of doing this – when I’m the one who has to give an answer! But as someone who often NEEDS the answer, can I offer a couple of suggestions?

      Please, if possible, add a date that you will give an answer: “I will get back to you by Friday.” So helpful. Saves the other person from feeling like a nag if she has to call a second time.

      Second, if you know your answer is no, please say so immediately. If I’m calling for volunteers to work at a school event (as one example), I’d rather cross your name off the list and move onto the next person than call back and hear no later.

      I also greatly appreciate a quick response to an email – even if’s a no. (Or, “I’ll get back to you by Friday.”) That way I know the message was received instead of stuck in a spam folder.

      Those little things sure would add to my happiness, anyway!

      • gretchenrubin

        Excellent point, great advice.

        My sister is a TV writer in Hollywood. She once observed to me, “‘Yes’ comes
        right away, ‘no’ never comes.” And that can be a huge pain! It is often very
        helpful to get the ‘no’ so you can move on. Sometimes people don’t want to
        say ‘no,’ because they don’t want to close an option or admit that they
        aren’t going to volunteer at that school event, etc. But it can be very

  • McGreg

    head over to the “Chief Happiness Officer” blog (http://positivesharing.com/), and check out the free eBook about happiness at work “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” — good stuff!

  • qconklin

    I just wanted to let you know tip day is my favorite part of Wednesdays. Look forward to it every week. Number 9 is so important. When we take care of the tasks we are dreading early and quickly it makes the rest of the day brighter.

  • I keep a fleece blanket with me at work. It seems silly, but I absolutely cannot stand to be cold. So if I feel chilly in my cube, I can put the blanket over my shoulders to warm up. Something so easy makes me feel so much happier – and more comfortable – at work.

  • I love these tips.
    One that works for me (kind of about the technology tip) is when I’m having a hard time composing an e-mail that may be taken the wrong way, I walk over and have the conversation in person.
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve avoided getting into a potential disagreement simply by doing that. It’s also a good way to meet your colleagues.

  • Natasha

    haha take a ten minute break each hour hahah. See how lowng you stay employed. Oh wait, you don’t work at a real office you work at some pretend one where you write your own books

    • phoenix1920

      Ouch, Natasha. Not only do I disagree with your post, but you really sound like bitter and unhappy. If you are unhappy with your life and your employment, you control your own future.

    • Sarah

      While I see your point, Natasha, in that a full ten minute break of the sit-down-in-the-back-room-and-put-your-feet-up variety is hardly always feasible (e.g. most days in most retail environments), much less on an hourly basis, I’d still dare to say that you’re missing the point of the tip. Chatting with a coworker, heading to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, or even switching down to a lower-intensity task in your work routine, are all “breaks” of a kind — it’s healthy to remind yourself to gear down regularly for a little bit throughout the day. If you’re truly working your eight hours or more with no mental (or physical, for that matter) breaks at ALL, you’ll burn yourself out.

      • gretchenrubin

        What strategies work for you, given the circumstances of your work?

        • Ana

          I noticed that a lot of people in the healthcare field didn’t find these tips very well. As someone with a similar job to Sara, I disagree! Some of these tips (modified) are applicable to any job: I often have to make phone calls to patients’ families—they are almost always difficult. Trying to get them done early instead of hanging over my head all day is definitely a happiness booster. Same goes for any unpleasant task, I would assume, not just phone calls. Trying not to get too hungry is even more important when you are on your feet and dealing with difficult situations all day. I have obviously had days where it is not possible to sit and eat a lunch, but having portable snacks & water to prevent getting dizzy and exhausted is invaluable! Be comfortable! While I don’t have a chair to adjust, comfortable shoes & clothing are a must. And # 15 and 18 obviously can apply to any kind of job.
          Thanks for the tips!

        • Sarah (also)

          The things that work for me are attempting to strike a balance when I am outside of work. I have medical friends with whom debriefing gives me tremendous strength and happiness. Seeing my non-medical friends, reminds me that there is more than illness, death and tragedy in this world.

          At work I do the best I can for as many people as possible in an overstretched system.

    • mdingo98

      haha good one Natasha! Wanna come work in my ICU? Seriously what makes it a tolerable place to work is my co-workers. Teamwork gets us through the day.

  • I love this. I think the single most important thing one can do to be happy at work is to make just a single work BFF. I recently read, and posted about, the fascinating statistic that people who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. (http://mwfseekingbff.com/2010/03/12/why-everyone-needs-a-work-bff/) And people with at least three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their LIVES. It’s really amazing, considering how long corporations tried to discourage work friendships. Perhaps making a best friend at work is considered a big thing, but it has a BIG happiness payoff.

  • Kristin

    You’ve got me wishing I could turn down the lights in here! My workplace is very bright, but it’s all overhead fluorescents. I don’t even have one directly over my desk. I’m half tempted to bring in a visor or something to see if that helps. My eyes aren’t bad, but I notice the glare! Especially now that you’ve mentioned it.

    Another good workplace happiness booster: headphones and good music. I use it to block out conversations around me — especially ones about politics, religion, and complaints about coworkers. Those conversations drag down my mood any day of the week. Music lets me ignore them while enjoying something I love! Plus, I get distracted easily, even if there are no conversations around me. Music helps me disconnect from my surroundings and just WORK.

  • kmoonan

    Great tips!

  • I so need to deep clean my papers:) Awesome tips, thank you Gretchen!

  • Hi Gretchen.

    #8 there is a smart one that makes sense to use. When we are on the phone, we are way more likely to accept items that we would normally turn down. We don’t want to sound unhelpful or out of place. That point about telling the person that you will get back to them is a great way to keep things in control.

    #14 about not letting yourself get hungry makes a lot of sense. We have to keep our food intake at a smooth rate so we don’t have a huge drop of focus.

    Valid set.

  • #1. The eyestrain one…very appropriate! March is Save Your Vision Month, and the American Optometric Association has tips on its website for reducing eyestrain. http://www.aoa.org/x14313.xml

  • sbtokyo

    On #18:

    When I worked in companies, there always seemed to be someone who was a jerk who made my day bad. Instead of dealing with that person’s lousiness each time, I created a rule to make it a positive interaction for me. The rule was: Be Nice to Your A$$hole.

    Although I did not seek out interaction with that person, when I did come in contact, I did all I could think of to be over-the-top nice. It made me feel good to be able to avoid a negative reaction and to cultivate generosity. And since I didn’t care what that person thought of me, I was free to be as egregiously generous as I could imagine.

    I reinforced the rule by taking it literally and always buying the very best toilet paper. It was a true win-win situation.

  • I need to say “no” more often. I try to squeeze way to much in sometimes and then when everything isn’t going the way I planned I’m ornery with my kids and husband. I like the idea of telling someone you will get back to them. I say yes and then regret it half the time.

  • Diana

    Getting out of my office and walking around and talking to people really boosts my happiness. I know it’s not feasible for all people, but I love when I can spend some time working on my laptop in a coffee shop–it often doesn’t feel like work.

  • Terri

    nice tips if you have an office job! I’m a night-shift nurse. Not much for me here… the second number 6, 14, 15 and 18 work, though.

  • Megan

    Gretchen– You may want to title this “office work.” While certainly helpful, these tips are narrow in scope in relation to the diversity of jobs out there.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good suggestion. Done!

  • Nice post! Ergonomics are very important in an office setting – especially if your there for a long time! Personally, I prefer standing than sitting at my desk – I tend to get more work done. Excellent tips!

    • gretchenrubin

      Winston Churchill had a standing desk. I really want a treadmill desk!!! But
      my office is waaaaay too small.

  • Direct, practical, to the point – thumbs up!

  • auntiewoolie

    #8: When people ask me to do them a favor, I’ve learned to respond, “If I can.” It works! And I avoid office gossip (#15) like the plague.

  • mdingo98

    everyone works in an office? they sure deserve to be happy!!! those folks with unlimited web access and wear real clothes to work and don’t have to look at real pain and suffering and have a lunch break and go home after eight hours make me so sad. try one day as an icu nurse. then you’ll go back to your little desk with your donut and coffee and be so happy….

    • gretchenrubin

      You have such a stressful, important job. What strategies have you found to
      help you cope with the challenges of your work?

  • Hi Gretchen, You know I’m a big fan of small steps (little things) and this list offers plenty for those who work in offices. Any one or more of them could lead to a bigger step … enjoying your day (week, month …) more. Thanks.
    Have fun, Jim

  • timderoche

    I try to engage in a “continuous improvement” process with my work space…Seems like I can always make it cleaner or more organized or more efficient.

    I know some people function well with a messy desk….But I need my desk to be clutter-free in order to think and be creative.

  • Paddy

    Bring in food to share occasionally – just pretzels or dried fruit is enough. It makes you popular, especially if you tend to be a solo worker.

  • I always enjoy Tip Day! Re: the ergonomics of the chair (and its relationship to the desk), I used to be in charge of that! Well, that wasn’t all I did, but it was part of my job. It’s pretty easy to remember right angles: Adjust your chair so that all of your joints are at right angles: Arms should hang directly from the shoulder with elbows at right angles. The keyboard should be more or less in your lap or just above–if you don’t have a keyboard tray, get one. Having the keyboard and mouse on your desk causes pain, soreness, and aggravation. Feet should be flat on the floor with knees at right angles. My desk is a non-adjustable height, and my own non-adjustable height is only 5’3″, so I have a footrest. Eyes should look straight forward at the screen. Chair back should be straight up with lumbar support. Yes, I do all this, and yes, it works! Thanks again, Gretchen!

  • travelpurses

    Great post! this is very helpful in the office environment.

  • Alison

    I realised today something that makes me happy at work – I use a word in my password for how I want to feel (along with a few other letters or numbers). As I need to log into my computer many times a day (after each time I walk away), it reminds me that I am happy (or focussed, or smiling or whatever).

    • gretchenrubin

      This is such a great way to build a reminder into your day. A mindfulness
      practice for modern day.

  • david ackerman

    I just discovered your blog.. It’s amazing thank you. I love your idea about not saying yes on the phone immediately.

  • Great list! Love your book!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks!! So glad to hear that .

  • Thank you for this! Very helpful! 🙂

  • Nicole Larsen

    I say point #1 should be “Be nice to Gretchen!” She’s going out of her way here every day to help share tips and strategies with the rest of us. Everyone will have a slightly different situation, just modify her tips for yours. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you! (or, the hands that feed us happiness)
    With that said… some tips I have for office happiness:
    – Have a plant. Ikea sells small (and surprisingly hardy) plants for a buck or 2.
    – Keeping a jacket/lap blanket.
    – Always have a cup of water (bring a reusable one from home for bonus green points) handy, in case of conference call throat frogs…
    – I am particularly obsessive about the layout of my computer screen. I have it set up so that I can see at least a corner of every open window so that I can click it. I open programs in a particular order so they are easy to find on the taskbar at the bottom, and the notepad is always at the bottom off to the right. I can never find Post-Its quick enough!

  • Marilyn

    My favorite happiness-at-work tip: get to work a few minutes early. It gives me time to get my day organized, decide when I have time to do projects or calls, put my lunch in the fridge, say hi to some coworkers, and review patient files before my first appointment. It’s amazing how much better the day goes with this 10-minute investment! (Plus, it eliminates all the stressing on the way to work about whether I’ll be late!)

  • MB

    I love this tip: 15. Let yourself stay ignorant of things you don’t need to know.

    I started doing this about a month ago, and I can’t tell you how free it has allowed me to be. I realized that I spent too much time feeling the “temperature of the room” around the office every day. It was so stressful to take in everyone’s issues. Now I am trying to let others do their own work of fixing the issues that bother them. Thanks for stating this so clearly. I will post this post at my desk!

    • gretchenrubin

      I know, it’s weirdly difficult not to feel like you should know everything
      that’s going on…but it takes so much time and energy!

    • natashakaisa

      I think I have the opposite problem. My boss is what I’ve come to call a Positive Thinking Nazi. He refuses to ever complain about anything from a minor concern to a head cold to a major break-up. What’s worse, he polices everyone else. In two years I’ve never been able to say anything negative without getting interrupted, a dirty look or a short comment! HELP! I need venting time. I once even got told off for looking sleepy when I had the flu. His New Year’s Resolution this year: Smile more! Put on a happy face! urrrrggggh. I don’t consider myself a negative person, but I do like to be honest about how I’m feeling.

      • gretchenrubin

        I know what you mean. Trying to stay positive is a good thing — to a point!
        But it can be oppressive if you’re made to feel that there’s no room for
        criticism, expressing bad feelings, etc.

        “Moderation is pleasant to the wise” — can’t remember what Greek
        philosopher said it, but it’s true.

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  • Claudia Rosas

    Get out of your way to show a new co-worker how to use the scanner or the copier machine or the coffee maker 🙂

  • kmarkin

    I was reading the Sun-Sentinel newspaper here in Florida and your book was mentioned and here I am checking it out.
    Love it!
    I’m in the midst of emotional relationship challenges and working through my happiness factor.
    A good friend says there must be deconstruction before new construction.
    Looking forward to reading your book!

    • gretchenrubin

      I hope you enjoy it and find it useful as you deal with your happiness

  • kmarkin

    Just saw your book review in the Sun Sentinenal Florida newspaper – here I am checking out your site.
    Look forward to reading your book.

  • Kent Graziano

    Thanks for the tips! I just realized my moniter was at 97% brightness. I definately needed to turn it down. No ownder my eyes hurt!

  • m65

    I say point #1 should be “Be nice to Gretchen!” She’s going out of her way here every day to help share tips and strategies with the rest of us. Everyone will have a slightly different situation, just modify her tips for yours. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you! (or, the hands that feed us happiness)
    With that said… some tips I have for office happiness:
    – Have a plant. Ikea sells small (and surprisingly hardy) plants for a buck or 2.
    – Keeping a jacket/lap blanket.
    – Always have a cup of water (bring a reusable one from home for bonus green points) handy, in case of conference call throat frogs…
    – I am particularly obsessive about the layout of my computer screen. I have it set up so that I can see at least a corner of every open window so that I can click it. I open programs in a particular order so they are easy to find on the taskbar at the bottom, and the notepad is always at the bottom off to the right. I can never find Post-Its quick enough!


  • Close the door and move! Stretch, plank, pushups, squats – it always makes me feel better 😉

    And of course, pandora is a moodbooster – I have an easy breezy station that is great for work!

    Great post – thank you!

  • Good tips..the focus here is how to differentitate between a good distraction and a bad one .

    Bad distractions – IM, Email, Internet, Phone calls etc etc which prevent you from being productive.

    Good distractions – 10 min break each hour, talking a walk at the park, etc etc which will increase your productivity level.

    • gretchenrubin

      Excellent point. Mindfulness – always mindfulness!


  • I really enjoyed reading this.  I am now going to follow you.  My blog is Chasing Joy.