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May 17, 2013
On the Path to Finding Happiness: Part 1
 
The first time I saw Life Coach Helen Mumford Sole speak about the topic of workplace happiness was following one of the happiest times of my life; she gave a motivational talk at my company’s all-staff meeting last June, which happened to be my first day back to work after my honeymoon. My husband and I had just spent two weeks in Africa and I was still basking in the glow of newlywed bliss. In fact, I was feeling so relaxed that day that I even forgot my computer password when I arrived at work in the morning. At the time, I did not put much thought into engaging in any further training on the topic of happiness; I was as happy as could be, right?
 
I have always thought of myself as a positive person, albeit with self-deprecating humor to make it through the rough patches. I also work at a media agency (MEC), which prides itself on a creative environment and that typically helps me manage my work-related stress. However, late last year, about six months after that all-staff meeting, my boss took on a larger role, and I in turn was promoted and asked to take on some of her previous responsibilities while still managing my existing workload. It wasn’t long until I became quickly overwhelmed and found that my negativity was rising to the surface due to the added stress. I realized I needed help.
 
When I received an email that MEC was offering a Happiness course for employees taught by the same life coach I saw last June, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Not only was the timing right, but I was eager to hear more about the topic of happiness, and how it could help me more effective and productive in my job. Since this was actually the second Happiness course MEC had launched with Helen since that company meeting, I reached out to colleagues that participated in the first round to hear about their experiences and determine whether this was the right path for me. Since employees are selected through an application process, I then spent some time thinking about what I would say to justify my acceptance.  I decided to focus on my current experience and the challenges I was facing in finding a way to happily succeed in the new position. I realized that I needed to improve not only my stress level but my attitude to ensure it was not impacting those around me.  I recognized that as a leader, I needed to set a better example.
 
When I found out that I had been accepted into the program, I was thrilled. I arrived at the first session early this past Monday morning and met with a group of co-workers from different areas within the agency — some familiar, some whom I was actually meeting for the first time — to talk about the subject of happiness.
 
During the first session, Helen asked us to share why we were all there, and we participated in a couple of happiness exercises. We spoke about what happiness meant to each of us and explored various happiness studies and theories that Helen had researched to inform her methods. Representing all ages, levels, and backgrounds, what was most interesting to me was how different everyone in the class was, and how uniquely we all approached the topic of happiness. Some folks were there for personal reasons — there were new parents, new employees that have recently joined the agency and even just moved to NYC, team members that have recently switched accounts — while others were there to simply be inspired, learning more about the concept of happiness to better understand their state of mind and how to lead by example. I felt grateful that my company was investing in this program and that I was given the opportunity to focus on improving myself for a change.
 
At the end of the class, we were given homework: to think about what happiness means to each of us and chart happiness levels over the course of our lives. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this the past few days. Many of my happiest times are in recent memory — my engagement, my wedding, getting new jobs and promotions — but I also realized that with each of those times also came a lot of stress. Thinking about my feelings during those phases of my life reminds me that happiness isn’t only about what happens when something good takes place; it’s much more a state of mind than circumstance. By knowing this and changing my attitude, I think I can better manage negativity.
 
Yet when I was asked to write a blog about the course, I immediately focused on the negatives, most notably my lack of writing experience. However, after I calmed down and understood that no one expected me to write a novel on the topic, I realized that this could be a good exercise for me to get even more out of the program and to consciously reflect on my experiences.
 
I am really excited for the second class. In addition to stress management, I am looking forward to changing my perception and attitude while at work. I would like to teach the junior staff on my team about what I learn and inspire them to do the same. And I know that if I am able to get to a “happy” place at work, I’ll be able to apply this to my personal life as well. While the honeymoon was over a few days after returning to work, my husband and I are approaching our first anniversary soon. I would love to find that same level of positivity I had during that company meeting last summer, and look forward to chronicling my experience and sharing my learnings with you.

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Karen Kwarta heads the Digital practice at MEC. She has been with the agency for over three years, and was previously a Group Director. Prior to her roles at MEC she was an Account Director at Razorfish. She has her BBA in Marketing from University of Michigan.
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