We’ve all, no doubt, heard the old adage “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” But let’s get real. How many people are actually able to achieve such a goal? Is it even realistic for so many who simply need a paycheck?
Perhaps the problem with that old adage is the implication that it’s your job, career or business that involves doing that thing that you love. Instead, the emphasis should be on finding and regularly doing things that you love, regardless of whether they are work-related or not.
Consider the simple, freeing act of doing something you love simply for the sake of doing something you love — with no “rules” that it must be something productive or thoughts of how you could monetize it or turn it into a job or a business. With that in mind, the thing that you love can literally be anything: mountain climbing, painting, doing yoga, building model trains, collecting rocks, bird watching. Anything.
Now for the science behind it.
Even activities that the workplace may not see as work-related or “productive” are actually very productive and can lead to boosts in your creativity and work productivity. That’s because there’s a handful of “happy hormones” (endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin) that happen to, serendipitously, also be linked to learning ability, memory, stress reduction, motor system function and the ability to trust and bond with others.
Those all sound like good things for pretty much any workplace, right? And those “happy hormones” are released when we do things we enjoy doing. Some examples, for the skeptical:
• Simple sunlight exposure while walking or just soaking it in can increase dopamine, which is a mood booster. It doesn’t even matter if it’s real sunlight or a tanning booth. The only caveat: don’t overdo too much of a good thing and put yourself at risk of skin cancer.
• Exercise is well known to release endorphins (stress and pain reliever) but it also increases dopamine. And you don’t have to be training for a marathon; most research suggests that regular exercise, for 20 minutes at a time, is all it takes. One study found that performing one hour of yoga six days per week significantly increased dopamine levels.
• Making or listening to music. While playing a musical instrument is linked to higher brain function and intelligence, just listening to music you love can increase dopamine levels. It’s also established that being “in the flow” (deeply absorbed and engaged), like you are when you’re focused on playing an instrument or sewing or gardening, reduces anxiety, boosts your mood and even slows your heart rate.
• Getting creative. Whether you’re an amateur or a pro, creative projects can help reduce anxiety and stress, improve mood and give you a fresh perspective, because they help you focus. Whether it’s painting, crafting, knitting or writing, concentrating on a creative endeavor can have the same benefits as meditation.
A side note about creativity: If you work in a creative profession, taking a break to do something else can still help. I noticed this in my own work as a graphic designer before I started We Craft Box. Graphic design wasn’t my favorite thing, and I could get bogged down and stuck. I discovered that returning to the types of art I love — painting and sculpting — was like hitting a reset button for me. I would return to my graphic design project refreshed and with new solutions to stubborn challenges.
Now, as CEO of my own company, I still find that getting away for even just a walk can give me that same reset. I also get an endorphin rush when I hear back from the littles and their families who are enjoying their craft boxes.
You and/or your employer may have a sort of automatic push-back response to the idea of breaking away from work for something you love after many decades of work-is-a-virtue conditioning. Maybe you look at big companies that have gyms, yoga classes, game rooms and other “perks” like that in a cynical way. I know I did. But these “perks” aren’t a way of keeping staff on-site or simply looking progressive. Rather, they’re a great way to help employees re-energize, de-stress and come back to their jobs fresh.
Those big companies are on to something every employer and manager should know: paid work ranks near the bottom in terms of activities that make people happy.
Helping employees find their happy place is a win-win for everybody. Happier employees are more creative, productive and committed to their employer — by 13%, according to an extensive study by Oxford University. That same study also found that “happy workers do not work more hours — they are simply more productive within their time at work.”
If you’re a manager looking to improve work quality and productivity, look for ways to encourage your employees to do what they love, even if that means giving them some flexibility to go coach their kid’s soccer games or attend rehearsals for a performance or get to their yoga classes.
Every person should have time to do the things that make them happiest and fuel their soul. Though taking a break may feel “wrong” at first, you’ll soon discover that the things you do to center yourself overflow into everything else with a spark that nothing else can ignite.