The Russians have a saying: Work is not a wolf; it will not go back into the forest. In other words, don’t work so hard, because work will always be there. Yet we are often at odds with our work lives and out of balance from the stresses and complexities of earning a living. Office politics can be exhausting, and often the integrity we uphold outside the workplace is compromised when we’re in it, making us feel like different people at the office and at home.
Too often our jobs become something we endure because we have to, but are not a source of joy. In her new book, Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace (Workman Publishing), Sharon Salzberg—one of America’s favorite meditation teachers and an authority on Insight Meditation and Lovingkindness practice—offers ways to rewire this dynamic.
Salzberg begins by explaining basic meditation practices: following the breath; walking meditation; and generating lovingkindness toward oneself, others, and finally all beings, no one excluded. She then gives us myriad wonderful and applicable ways to adapt these meditations to our livelihoods, like a special practice for engaging a difficult colleague or boss, exercises for developing patience and mindfulness in speech, and deep listening skills that aid in creating a balanced and happy work environment.
What I’ve found most helpful about Real Happiness at Work are the eight qualities Salzberg identifies for happiness on the job:
- Open awareness
It’s a useful checklist for bringing purpose and joy into our careers. Each chapter is devoted to one of these qualities, and together they draw a map for navigating toward happiness in our workday, whether it’s 9-to-5, telecommuting, or a solitary night shift. This checklist helps me not only in my work as a freelance writer but in my personal life as well.
Salzberg also shares a series of “stealth” meditations that can be done on the sly at your desk, in meetings, or even when you’re interacting with colleagues. My favorites are:
- Pay attention to how you hold your coffee cup. As a devoted coffee drinker, I find this meditation a natural one to return to many times each day. Am I tense? Am I holding my cup in a relaxed way that lets me connect with where I am in the moment? It’s transformed my coffee habit into a mindfulness practice.
- Think about the people who have helped you develop your work skills and acknowledge your interconnectedness. When I feel lost and alone in my work, this meditation opens my heart to abiding support and I become centered and happy thinking about my benefactors, past and present.
- In situations of personal conflict, ask yourself what you would want someone to say if he or she were upset with you. In other words, let compassion guide you in peaceful conflict resolution. This technique reminds me of the Tibetan Buddhist practice of exchanging self with others, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes—essential to any type of conflict resolution.
- Send emails to yourself first, before sending them to their intended recipients, and look at your message through their eyes. In engaging in this practice, I see my words and tone in a very different way and am able to craft my correspondence for clearer communication and less risk of misunderstanding.
At the end of each chapter of Real Happiness at Work, Salzberg includes career-themed conversations she’s had with her meditation students. The questions are universal and Salzberg’s answers clear and wise. Some of the most compelling topics include how to reconcile mindfulness practice with work, how to interact in a nonabstract and human way via email and our electronic devices, and how to use tools of mindfulness to deal with irritating colleagues.
Work is not a wolf. But in these challenging times—when many of us are adjusting to new financial realities, overall structures in the workplace are in flux, and unemployment and underemployment are at record highs—work is an uncertain reality. Real Happiness at Work offers strong hope and practical tools for making our work life a happy one, no matter what the shifting economic and career winds may bring.