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You walk into a meeting room and see a colleague whom you’ve noticed over the years is always smiling and looking happy. This time she’s alone and you muster up the courage to speak to her.

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“Hi, how are you? I hope you’re okay. I’d like to ask a question and learn from you. It appears that you’re always happy at work. I can’t remember ever meeting you when you’re not smiling. What’s your secret?”

Her response, “I’ve learned from my partner, a behavioural scientist who shared a researcher’s findings on three variables that influence our happiness. The first is genetics, which accounts for around 50 per cent of our happiness. Ten per cent depends on our current life circumstances with respect to our experiences with our family, community and the people we work with, and 40 per cent is within our control. I focus on what I can control, paying attention to what I’m thinking, and when I do this I find it easy to feel happy and smile. I spend a lot of time thinking about my family: how grateful I am to have a loving partner in my life and people who care about me. This makes me feel happy.”

This micro skill introduces the concept of what we can do to build happiness habits. These are the conscious things we do daily to engage in activities and thoughts we enjoy that are within our control and promote happiness.

Awareness

One way to influence happiness is to become aware and in tune with our brain when it’s not focused on tasks or goals and moves to its default model network mode. This mode kicks in like a screensaver that flips on when a computer isn’t being used for a task. The brain in this mode wanders and daydreams. It can tap into positive, negative or neutral memories that can influence our emotions.

Researchers have found that a wandering mind that spends lots of energy and time focused on old negative memories (such as a romantic breakup or a sad event) can result in increased risk for unhappiness. This can be significant, because the average person’s mind wanders about 47 per cent of the time. Where our mind is focused when we’re not fixated on a task or action is important to our mental health and happiness.

Learning to master the happiness habit begins with paying attention to the percentage of time our mind is focused on positive versus negative or neutral thoughts. The more we can focus on positive thoughts, the happier we’ll be.

Accountability

Think of a time that you would define as being a wonderful and happy moment in your life. Now write out this event and pay attention to the additional details, people who were involved, and why you enjoyed this moment.

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When we replay positive memories, we influence our emotional state in a positive way. Building a happiness habit starts with accepting that we can’t control everything in our life, however, we can choose what memories we want to focus on.

Like any healthy habit such as exercise and good diet, training our brain to become happier takes focus and intention. Because we have control over 40 per cent of our happiness each day, what we focus on plays a significant role in shaping our perception of our happiness, which influences our mood and behaviour.

Action

Making a commitment to focus on building your happiness habit daily can promote and improve your overall general mental health and life satisfaction. Happy people typically have a higher life satisfaction than less-happy individuals.

Coaching tips for promoting happiness:

Make time each day to notice the good and acknowledge it – Because many of us are moving fast from point A to B, priority to priority, we may not take time to notice the good things we have in life. When someone says hello or opens a door for you, offer them a compliment – take time to stop and notice the good in your life.

Change the channel – When your mind starts to wander and you focus on a negative memory, instead of allowing the loop to play over and over, train your brain to change the channel. This can be done by engaging in an activity (such as calling a friend) that distracts the negative thinking and memories. The less time we allow our brains to spend wandering through old, unfavourable memories and projecting these as what we can expect in the future, the less likely we’ll experience happiness.

Carry positive anchors – Consider putting on your smartphone pictures or short videos that you can use as aids to recall positive memories, like a childhood incident, sporting event, concert or vacation.

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Focus on your strengths daily – Each day when you’re working with others, keep top of mind your best two personal attributes (such as honesty and dependability). Apply these to help you link to your purpose and the kind of person you want to be.

Look forward to interactions – Be open to enjoying all social connections in the workplace by setting positive expectations. When we start with the notion that interactions can be positive, we influence our desire to be open to what can be possible. We can’t control how others behave, but we can control our expectations for what we’d like to see happen and how we’ll behave.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and former chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell.

Readers can also join a panel of experts from Morneau Shepell as they talk on an online webinar about the future of employee well-being on Dec. 13 at 11 a.m. ET. To register click here.

You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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