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Health & Fitness

Striking the right balance at work

Hate your job? Author Sharon Salzberg offers tips to finding 'Real Happiness at Work'
'Real Happiness at Work' author on how mindfulness, meditation can help with 'email apnea' and other issues

Consider for a moment what you hate about your job. (Everybody hates something about their job, right?) Maybe your boss is a screamer. Your co-workers are conniving backstabbers. And you feel like you're on a dead-end career path.

Now, what if you reframed those work problems as opportunities for personal growth and self-examination?

Sharon Salzberg, author of "Real Happiness at Work," says many Americans who feel increasingly frustrated, overworked and underappreciated have more control over their work lives than they may realize.

The title of the book is eye-catching. It's been sitting on my desk, and people walk by and point to it and say something along the lines of "Yeah, right. No such thing."

I hear that all the time. People say, "Hey, we don't call it 'play'; we call it 'work.' We're not supposed to have a good time doing it." But I think we can all understand happiness as something much deeper than just having a good time. It speaks to a type of resiliency, an ability to recover from mistakes or setbacks. I think everyone actually wants to be happier at work.

So happiness isn't as much about having a blast at work but finding something meaningful in whatever it is you are doing?

Yes. By happiness, we are talking about the challenges of taking our deepest values and bringing them to work. ... We can really have the intention to do whatever we are doing very well, where we're not halfhearted, where we try to make every encounter something where we truly listen and care about the other person and see what comes out of that different sort of awareness.

The trick seems to be how to get to that place. The tools you suggest in your book revolve around mindfulness and meditation.

I've heard this phrase ... "email apnea," where we stop breathing or breathe in a shallow fashion when we are checking our email. That has a profound physiological effect. I think it's powerful to take notice of the moments in the day when we are starting to feel that anger, that anxiety, that irritation, or when we are starting to feel like we are not breathing. I would suggest you begin by trying to establish even a very short period of [a meditation or mindfulness] practice at home, where you even take five minutes to push out all the distractions and focus on the breath.

How does that transfer to the office setting?

When tempers are starting to flare, tensions are starting to rise, we can recognize it and come back to ourselves. It's taking a step back. Mindfulness is about changing our relationship to our thoughts, to our feelings, so we have more balance and clarity. Then you begin to realize when you are starting to get angry. Not when you've written the email and pressed send. One of the great benefits to mindfulness in the workplace is that it releases us from tunnel vision.

So many of the challenges we face at work revolve around communication. We seem to ping back and forth between a fear of asking for what we want or need, or exploding in anger and irritation. Why is it so hard to strike the right balance?

A lot of it is knowing your motivation. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to be seen as right? Do you want revenge? Do you want to get back at someone? Even if we need to say something that is difficult, we can still be kind.

Somebody I spoke to who had a great difficulty saying no [using mindfulness and meditation training], she recognized the feelings, the sense of panic that she'd feel when she was asked to do more and more. She trained herself to recognize the pattern and to draw clearer boundaries. But in a nice way. She was able to grow in herself.

rene.lynch@latimes.com

Twitter: @renelynch

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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