4 Ways to Be Happier – A Scientific Approach

I talk a lot about ways to keep your business from experiencing crises, how to manage your business during a crisis, and stories of those who went through crises and how we got them out the other side. But today I want to touch briefly on a topic that I’ll revisit from time to time because it’s very important as well: happiness.

Running a company or being a manager or whatever leadership capacity you inhabit that makes you read this blog (and I say thanks to all you readers and those who have subscribed recently) can be stressful. And a central topic of this blog is crisis, which is also particularly stressful for most people – that’s why I wrote my list of 5 Foolish Faux Pas of CEOs in Crisis (that result mostly due to stress they don’t know how to manage).

With all this potential stress, it’s important that you are happy. Sure, you can’t walk around with a smile on your face all day long, but you can be a happy – or happier – person and business leader. If you’re not, you should rethink your day job.

What I want to share with you was inspired by a quick blurb in a magazine I was recently reading. It’s 4 ways that studies and research show are scientifically proven to boost your happiness. Without further ado, here they are:

1. Do Good Deeds. We’ve talked about this a lot before – how you can use your time and work and energy to help others. If you want a refresher, check out my 7-Part Series, Giving Back During Tough Economic Times. Helping others, as long as it doesn’t become a repetitive activity, makes us feel happier.

2. Get Exercise. It’s been repeatedly shown that exercise doesn’t have to be intense or sustained to be effective. Just 30 minutes of walking a day is literally the single best thing you can do for your health. No joke! How can you do that in the office? Take your meetings while walking around the office or outside the office for some fresh air or vitamin D. You can also do your phone calls this way. Trust me, a little walk always clears the head, releases endorphins (if you get your heart rate up) and makes you happier.

3. Get Hugged. I don’t mean to be encouraging inappropriate office conduct, but people who get hugs are happier. We need basic human contact. Make sure you’re hugging your spouse or parents or whomever can provide you with this bit of happiness.

4. Get a Pet. This one isn’t for me, because I have allergies, but I love stopping by my kids’ place and seeing their pets. Pets are proven to lower stress and make us feel better.

All four of these ideas are great ways to increase your happiness and destress as you run a business – especially a business in crisis. Make sure that you’re doing the things that let you care for yourself and be happy. That happiness and self care will go a long way in its positive effects on your business and corporate culture.

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As usual, I welcome comments and questions below! I’d love to know which of the methods above helps you increase your happiness.

Giving Back During Tough Economic Times, Part 6

We’ve discussed a lot of different ways over the past few weeks that you can give back during tough economic times. This one happens to be a little trickier, because its effects are – hopefully – not immediate. However, at some point it’s sure to have a big impact.

Write a bequest in your Will to one or multiple charitable organizations or institutions that you value.

You can designate a specific amount or a percentage of your net estate, which, after taxes, probably won’t drastically affect your family’s inheritance. A particularly good idea is to get your children and spouse involved in the decision, so they can learn from your generosity and support your wishes.

The last thing anyone wants while grieving for a loved one – in this case, you – is to have a struggle over where money is going, particularly if that struggle is with a charitable organization.

If you or your children are concerned that an organization may not be what it once was when you pass and leave it money, you could set parameters. For instance, the organization may currently return 90% of all donations directly to those it’s helping (that is, less than 10% of donations are used for administrative purposes). However, you might stipulate that if the organization has gotten sloppy at the time of the bequest – say, using 25% or more of donations for administration – then the donation is canceled. I’m not saying you should do these things (who knows why the circumstances might be what they are), but there may be ways to temper your family’s concerns and potential objections.

One of the most valuable lessons and immediate impacts in the “giving back during tough economic times” sense is the lessons this will teach your family. If your family members see and understand your desires and decisions and the generosity with which you lived your life, they are that much more likely to become charitable people themselves.

I remember once as the CFO of a non-profit business, we were having cash flow issues and couldn’t even make payroll that week. A bequest suddenly appeared that allowed me to make payroll, and it made the biggest difference to the business and every one of its employees because some anonymous donor who had recently passed – at some point in his life – changed his will to add a donation to this organization that he considered worthy. You never know how the timing will help, but in this case the impact was tremendous and integral to the survival of this non-profit.

Have you written charitable organizations into your will? Do you have a comparable way of achieving these ends?

Giving Back During Tough Economic Times, Part 3

Have you ever been alone for the holidays? Have you ever felt alone generally?

I imagine we’ve all been there. In my line of work I encounter many CEOs who feel isolated and alone as their businesses crumble around them. They’ve done all they know how, nothing has worked, and people around don’t understand what they’re experiencing. Heavy is the crown and so forth.

That kind of loneliness is crushing, and if I could wish it on no one ever again I would. Unfortunately, I can’t. All I can do is try to lighten the load of loneliness for those experiencing it.

This is an especially important time of year to alleviate the loneliness of others as it’s the time many of us are most reminded of our families, especially those members who may be gone.

One way I give to others is by opening my home to those who could use a place to go, not necessarily for monetary reasons, but because it’s tough to be alone and I can make that better. You can open your home, too. It’s a great way to give back during tough economic times. As holiday meals always have leftovers that go to waste, why not just include more people?

Open your home to the singles in your community: the widow or widower, the divorcee or a person in transition. I’ve named some general titles here, but I’m confident that there are others who don’t fit quite so neatly into these categories – just the new person in the neighborhood or community, a friend who’s more estranged from family than he talks about, or whomever could use the company.

The holidays may be the most poignantly lonely times, but the rest of the year may be even more challenging because those are the days that drag on and pass, especially when one is lonely.

An invitation to a meal with your family, a birthday party or any other occasion is a wonderful way to welcome someone into your home and life. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing to make someone feel loved and watched out for.

I remember how lost my 36-year-old widowed mother felt by being excluded as a “third wheel” after my father died. Fortunately, she remarried several years later and rebooted her life, but I’ll always remember the look on her face sitting at home alone.

These days, I always invite an old friend of my parents whose husband died a year ago to all of our family affairs. She’s elderly, quiet and sweet, and I know it means a lot to her to be around friendly faces for special occasions, even if they’re not the faces she wants to see the most.

Do what you can to give back by opening your home to others.

Who do you invite and how else do you give back?

Giving Back During Tough Economic Times, Part 2

Last week I discussed the importance of giving back during tough economic times, and I promised I’d make suggestions that weren’t hard on your wallet.

We discussed the importance of making humane decisions when laying people off and how to ease their burden. A colleague who read the post reiterated the challenge of offering someone a lesser position in your company. He pointed out that this could be embarrassing for the person who’d been severed, and mentioned other problems that might arise when continuing to employ someone who had been effectively demoted.

That’s what has brought me to my next suggestion for how to give back during tough times (and all times).

Become a mentor.

One way that I choose to use my time and that I hope you will as well is mentoring those who need some assistance. In a weird way, this can be the perfect accompaniment to letting someone go or being there for someone who has been let go.

Help that person hone and display his or her marketable skills. Assist that person in pursuing other gainful employment or counsel that person in those areas that are your strong suits as s/he pursues an alternate path, be it entrepreneurial, educational or otherwise.

Become a mentor to those who need your expertise and who are eager to learn from your gray haired, no haired or wrinkled status.

This person doesn’t have to be someone recently severed. He could be anyone: a child, co-worker, or someone you met at a social gathering.

And don’t mentor just one person, but as many as you can. Spread your knowledge and be compassionate. Those who benefit from your wisdom today could be the leaders of tomorrow and the financial footings of your community.

Mentoring is an amazing way to give back in difficult financial times – especially if those times are falling particularly hard on other people.

Do you mentor? How did the relationship come about?

Giving Back During Tough Economic Times, Part 1

In writing consistently about our flagging economy, the problems we’re facing and the expected duration of this situation, I’ve realized that the tone and scope of my articles have been increasingly depressing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not depressed, but I recognize that the tone has nonetheless been dour.

That’s why my upcoming series of articles will provide a variety of ways for you to make a positive difference during these times of hardship. It’s important that we don’t all adopt the Turtle Mentality and keep our heads in our shells. We need to be a part of our community and give back however we can, even and especially if that giving back isn’t or can’t be monetary.

My first piece of advice is about layoffs.

As a CEO, owner, or manager, you may understand all too intimately that these times have unfortunately required layoffs and company closures.

As a turnaround professional, I understand better than most that cash is tight, but if you find yourself in a position like this or advising someone who is, be especially sensitive to the personal needs of those severed. Be sensitive when you have those difficult termination meetings; be sincere, and it will show.

Consider offering options like out placement services, extended health insurance and networking meetings. Let people know – if it’s true – that when positive cash flow and profits return, their jobs will be filled again by them, if possible.

This kind of approach deepens your understanding of others’ plight and demonstrates that you have compassion for your fellow human beings.

In some cases it might be appropriate to create lesser positions within your company part time. Though this may be insulting to some and result in a lessening of benefits and pay, it will allow them to remain employed in some capacity and ensure that when the time comes, they will be easily able to restart their previous positions (this can be very challenging and quite uncomfortable for all involved as a subject but weigh the benefits and ask those to whom you might offer this to do the same).

In short, do whatever you can to soften the blow to those less fortunate when the economy requires that you downsize in ways you would prefer not to.

Please stay tuned for more posts on giving back during a touch economy. I think that this series will allow us all to generate and act on some ideas that will be to the benefit of our community and country.

Please share your ideas for giving back below.