The 3 Keys to Staying Happy at Work, According to Google’s Personal Growth Guru

September 14, 2016

Research tells us that happier people are more successful. But when it feels like there are a million roles to fill and little hiring budget, it can be hard to feel happy all the time. However, according to happiness guru Chade-Meng Tan, affectionately called “Meng,” 24/7 happiness is possible – it just requires a little brain training.

For years, Meng trained thousands of Googlers to access inner joy on demand. Meng started doing this after years of being what he calls a “highly miserable” person and finally realizing that happiness was something he needed to make an effort to achieve.

While he started off as one of Google’s first engineers, in 2006, Meng—along with a small team—started a two-day mindfulness-based emotional intelligence course called "Search Inside Yourself," which became Google’s most popular course and helped shape the company’s current culture. Overall, Meng helped teach Googlers how to stay happy, no matter what their workday threw at them.

Recently, we were fortunate enough to get some face-time with Meng, who has now given TED talks and even spoke at the White House. Over cups of green tea, the now retired Googler shared with us how happiness is a trainable state of mind. He also shared how to become a happier version of yourself at work and three easy steps any recruiter can follow:

1. Take deep breaths every time you wait and you’ll uncover inner peace

If you’ve ever met anyone with inner peace, you know they’re just happier and often, more successful people. That’s because they don’t let every little thing that goes wrong throw them off course. This kind of inner peace is also being a good recruiter, as it requires keeping your cool when working with demanding hiring managers and diva candidates.

Now, if you’re not naturally a calm person, then you need to train your brain into making this feeling a habit. How? The answer can be found in the New York Times’ business reporter Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, which says that a habit is formed when it is repeated so often that the brain creates a new neural pathway for that particular action. Once the neural pathway is formed, the habit becomes unconscious, like putting toothpaste on your toothbrush—you just do it. For your brain to form a habit loop, three things need to occur: a cue, then an action, followed by a reward.

TIP: In order to create a habit loop that will lead to inner peace (or calmness on demand), Meng advises taking deep, meaningful breaths any time you have to wait for something. In the land of recruiting, we all know there’s a lot of waiting around—whether that be for a candidate, for the hiring manager, for the budget to come through—so train your brain to stay in a happy, peaceful state by taking mindful breaths.

In his new book Joy on Demand, Meng assures that even after one breath, you’ll start to feel immediately happier. Take in that feeling as the reward you’re gaining from the deep breathing action. This will reinforce the action again the next time you have to wait and pretty soon, you’ll find that you’ve created a habit of taking long, deep breaths in discouraging waiting situations.

2. Notice life’s “thin slices of joy” to train your brain to think positively

It sounds simple enough, but many of us are so busy in our overly connected lives that we don’t really take the time to track moments of joy when they happen. As a result, our moments of joy are fleeting compared to times when we feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Get out of this downward spiral by familiarizing your mind with joy in the first place, advises Meng. The easier it is for your brain to recognize joy, the more effortlessly it creates conditions for you that are conducive to joy.

TIP: When something joyful happens, activate your brain to make a note of these “thin slices of joy,” writes Meng. That is all. Just take the time to recognize it. For instance, enjoy that moment a candidate accepts an offer or you see them having fun on their first day at work. Or simply just take a moment to enjoy the first taste of your meal or the first few seconds of a warm bath or shower.

And what if you’re having a horrible day? What if there is no joy to take note of? Meng tells us that’s when you should just be. In other words, don’t focus on how unhappy you are, but rather recognize that there is an absence of joy currently in your life.

3. Wish success for others and you’ll receive the “happiest mental state”

In his book, Meng writes that compassion is “the happiest mental state ever measured in the history of neuroscience,” so when you make it a habit to wish success and happiness for others, you’ll quickly find you’ll also become a happier person.

TIP: Once an hour every day, look up from your work and wish happiness and success for the first two people you see – it could be a fellow recruiter, hiring manager, or just one of your work buddies. Maybe even someone you don’t know! It should take less than 10 seconds and after a few times, you’ll create a habit loop for compassion, says Meng, which will eventually just makes you a happier person.

It’s pretty well known today that Googlers are a happy bunch. A lot of the company’s current culture—centered around happiness which leads to feelings of less stress and higher productivity—comes from Meng’s teaching and inspiration.

Sitting across from him while he asks you, “how can I help you change the world?” it’s easy to assume that Meng might have always been a jolly good fella. But he wasn’t—and he even writes in his book that “happiness is not something that came naturally” to him. Instead, it was a skill that he had to learn and it’s a skill that he’s passed on to thousands of Googlers—and now, to you too.

*Image from Kung Fu Panda 2

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