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micro skill

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2018 winners of the award at

Registration is now open for the 2019 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards at

How significant is depression as a global cause of disability?

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide as well as a major contributor to other types of chronic disease and to premature death.

The antithesis of depression is happiness. With treatment, a person with severe depression can overcome this chronic disease before it totally erodes any chance for hope, health and happiness.

Due to stigma and inadequate access to care, many people with depression never get the help they require. As a society, we can do more to create access to care by using innovations such as Morneau Shepell’s internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy. As well, organizations can improve their total health strategies so employees are awareness of their mental health and what can be done to positively impact it.

With the right information and context, employees suffering in silence with depression can be encouraged that they’re not alone, that this condition is affecting many people and is treatable.

To normalize depression, it’s important to put it in context. Consider a person who has cut their hand and is bleeding profusely. Besides direct pressure, evaluation and stitches, it’s the body’s chemistry that plays a major role in stopping the bleeding by clotting the blood so healing can begin. Could you imagine a person yelling at someone to stop bleeding, or judging them because of their body’s blood chemistry?

Mental illnesses like depression are invisible to the eye but not at a cellular level, as they impact brain chemistry. Not everyone who’s blue, down or not happy has clinical depression. While depression can be due to genetics but it can also be due to chronic stress and a failure to focus on creating more happiness in your own life. Happiness can be learned with attention and purpose.

This micro skill of happiness first aid provides people who may not have a severe mental illness with insight on how they can improve their daily mental state. It also can be helpful to individuals with depression who have had professional treatment and are under control.


What we focus on expands. If we focus on negativity, we become negative. If we focus on positivity, we can learn how to be happier. It doesn’t need to be complicated; it can be a choice. The sooner we learn this choice in life, the happier we can be. Someone with major depression will benefit from professional help to get their brain chemistry stabilized before a micro skill like this will have any major benefit. Having more happiness means accepting that happiness is a trainable skill that will evolve the more we focus on it. Happiness is not all about luck and circumstances.


It’s important to not assume that a person with severe depression can turn on a dime to move from feeling despair to feeling happiness. However, with the right support, treatment and programming they can, over time, change their brain chemistry so they can experience more positivity and happiness.

People who don’t have a mental illness can take proactive actions to change their focus from negativity to positivity, provided they take responsibility for their mental health and are motivated to be happier.


For many, not experiencing enough happiness is akin to not being physically fit. To be physically fit we need to work to enjoy the benefit. Being happy is similar. Like strengthening a muscle, to become happier we must with practice activities that promote happiness.

Daily happiness first aid prescription

Commit to this happiness prescription for 90 days and complete your happiness IQ quick screen on days one and 90.

Engaging in the five daily behaviours listed below will train your happiness muscle. One benefit for strengthening your happiness muscle is that you’ll start to notice more good in your life, as it puts less attention and value on minor setbacks and negativity.

One key to happiness is to learn to put the same weight on the good things in your life as things you preferred didn’t happen. Happy people have tough days. However, they have fewer tough days because they’re focused on what they can control and enjoy.

· Each morning, write down three things you look forward to in the coming day.

· Before you go bed each night, write down three things you’re grateful for having in your life.

· Write one e-mail or note each day where you acknowledge and thank someone.

· Smile at a minimum of 10 people each day. Notice how many more smile back than not, and how you feel when someone smiles back. Happiness can be contagious when we allow ourselves to engage in it.

· Consciously find three positives when you first engage your most important relationships before you point out a negativity. For example, when you walk into the house and notice dirty dishes but also flowers on the counter, practice scanning over negativity and look for the positive first. Make it a priority to find the flowers.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

You can find all the stories in this series at: