This Ziggy cartoon illustrates the anti-pleasure, anti-joy, anti-happiness attitude that our society frequently imposes on us in the workplace. Ideas such as “work before play” and the notion that we don’t deserve pleasure until all of our work is done, cause many people enormous undeserved guilt and anxiety simply because they took some time to be playful. According to formidable evidence about the relationship between happiness and success, these anhedonic attitudes are likely to be counter-productive.
Anhedonia is the pervasive and damaging mental and emotional condition in which the ability to experience maximum pleasure in life is restricted or curtailed. It wouldn’t surprise me if most people in our culture suffer from some degree of anhedonia. Until they correct it they cannot fully enjoy life. They experience guilt, fear, anger, depression, boredom, tension, fatigue, illness and, variations on those painful emotional themes.
We cannot effectively solve life’s problems, large or small, if we don’t take time off to refresh ourselves and recharge our batteries.
I have long understood that it is not psychologically economical to constantly dwell on a problem. It is advantageous to allow yourself to balance fretful worry with time off.
Shawn Achor, the CEO of Good Think and the author of The Happiness Advantage (Crown Business, 2010), has lots of evidence that happiness is important to the company’s bottom-line. “It’s clear that increasing your happiness improves your chances of success,” he says. “Developing new habits, nurturing your coworkers, and thinking positively about stress are good ways to start. For companies, happy employees mean better bottom-line results. Employees who score low in ‘life satisfaction,’ stay home an average of 1.25 more days a month, a 2008 study by Gallup Healthways shows. That translates into a decrease in productivity of 15 days a year.
He cites another study that found that employees who score high in ‘life satisfaction’ are significantly more likely to receive high ratings from customers. Retail stores that scored higher on employee life satisfaction generated $21 more in earnings per square foot of space than the other stores, adding $32 million in additional profits for the whole chain.”
Achor suggests making a list of the stresses you’re under. “Place them into two groups—the ones you can control (like a project or your in-box) and those you can’t (the stock market, housing prices). Choose one stress that you can control and come up with a small, concrete step you can take to reduce it. In this way you can nudge your brain back to a positive—and productive—mind-set.”
I would add my strong suggestion that the small, concrete step may well involve a short respite from your problems, including time spent in activities that are pleasurable: a nap, a massage, an ice-cream cone, a manicure, a walk, a funny movie, a comedy club. Putting your worries in a compartment where you won’t be distracted by them for a couple for hours or days, may be the best way to let your brain incubate on solutions and come up with the best ones.
Being totally immersed , involved, and absorbed with our problems narrows our perspective so we can’t see all sides of the situation and we don’t do our best thinking about coping and finding solutions. Wallowing in worry is wasteful; we become overwhelmed and our mental faculties overload to the point of shutdown or, worse, making bad decisions.
Claiming permission for our own guilt-free laughter, pleasure, and play infuses more energizing and productive attitudes and emotions into all aspects of life, at home, at work, or wherever, is the process by which we can overcome our anhedonic tendencies.
One of the psychological dynamics of humor is that it shows us other ways of looking at things. The humorous perspective, often referred to as psychological distance, gives us temporary relief from the stress of worry and the opportunity to see more resources and better ways of dealing with situations.
When Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, co-author of “The One Minute Manager”, renowned speaker and management consultant was interviewed by Joel Goodman, founder of The Humor Project and editor of Laughing Matters, he offered thoughts about people, productivity, and the world of work that had a touch of the humorous perspective:
“The ultimate in self-actualization,” Blanchard said, “is when a person is confused about the difference between employment and recreation.”
“A university is defined as thousands of people gathered around a common parking problem.”
“One day a little girl asked her mother, “Mommy, why does Daddy br1ng so much work home at night?” “Because he doesn’t have time to finish it at work,” answered the mother. “Then why don’t they put him in a slower group?” asked the little girl.
“The value of being able to laugh at ourselves when we make a mistake: it helps us get on with our work.”
In and of themselves, humor, laughter, and play may not be solutions, but properly applied they can lead to good solutions and turn run-of-the-mill into fun-of-the-mill. Try them soon!