How to Be Happier at Work—and Everywhere Else, Too!

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Do you know what I’ve found to be the easiest way to make myself happy at work?

It’s so simple you probably won’t believe it.

But honestly, it’s to have gratitude for what I do have and not focus on what I don’t. And, to share that feeling with all those around me by simply saying, “thank you,” as often as possible.

And not just saying it … but really meaning it—authentically and spontaneously.

When is a “thank you” most appropriate?

  • When an employee or colleague does something particularly well.
  • When they surprise you with their initiative or inventiveness.
  • When a boss does something that you are truly grateful for.
  • And don’t forget to thank yourself when you know you’ve done an amazing job.

Why does a simple “thank you” pack such a wallop?

Survey after survey says that what employees crave the most is being thanked, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why more leaders don’t say thank you more often.

One of the leaders who does understand the power of these two little words is Oprah, who believes there is no better way to create abundance in your life than through being thankful for what you have right now.

In fact, she learned that lesson from Maya Angelou, who set her straight one day when the talk show host was complaining about being the focus of so many ugly tabloid stories. Angelou just smiled and told Oprah to say thank you.

“I didn’t understand,” Oprah admits. “Why would I say thank you? This is horrible. It’s not true.”

Angelou explained: “Say thank you because you know that there’s a rainbow in every cloud, and wherever you are right now, you’re going to come out on the other side of whatever it is and all you’ve got to do is walk right through it. So say thank you right now for allowing me to walk to the other side.”

Best-selling spiritual author Anne Lamott agrees with Angelou.

“Everything is an opportunity, from meeting strangers at the airport to standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Lamott says. “If your heart is open, you start flirting with people. If you’re a person who’s here because you understand we’re so hungry for giving—not hungry for getting—people start responding. You create the love you weren’t feeling. You create this energy. You get in a good mood.”

So why not start applying these principles at work?

Saying thanks, walking around feeling better about yourself and your place in the company—and the world—goes a long way toward making the workplace a better place for everyone to be spending their day.

Do it for a week. I promise, your employees, colleagues—and your boss, too—will feel rewarded and engaged.

In fact, 76 percent of employees who responded to a The World of Work survey published by the Atlanta-based employment services firm Randstad, said feeling valued was the most important factor for happiness at work.

I have seen this in action.

Recently, when I was working with a client, I quietly watched a new manager take the initiative to create a Welcome Notebook for every new hire.

She included all sorts of valuable information to help the new hire be productive as quickly as possible. She said she thought about what she would have liked to have known when she was hired and used that as her guide.

When she showed the notebook to her director, the director nearly jumped for joy at having an employee who went the extra mile. The director thanked the manager privately and then, at their all-employee meeting, thanked her publicly.

As you can imagine, this manager glowed with pride at having done something that was so well-received by the organization. She has been told that her work is being shared with other managers and will form the basis of standard operating procedures for the entire department.

She will, no doubt, be rewarded with more than thanks down the road, but the simple act of being thanked was reward enough—I know, since I was there to see her face as her manager praised her actions. This is the kind of small action that gets a big payoff.

How does your organization thank employees?

Are managers encouraged to say thanks? Do you have formal rewards and recognition programs? If so, have you taken a look at them in the past few years to see if they are still relevant to your workforce?

How do you personally acknowledge good work? Hopefully, like the example above, you say “thank you” early and often to encourage employees and to let them know that you are acknowledging them for their commitment to you and to your organization.

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.