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How to be happier at work

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Happiness is much in the news this week with the release of Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home, her sequel to the book-turned-cultural phenomenon known as The Happiness Project. In her latest book, she spends a year pursuing domestic bliss. She re-examines her possessions, how she spends her time, how she interacts with her family members and comes up with lots of additions to the happiness toolkit. Go on adventures with each kid. Take up a new challenge. Become a tourist in your own neighborhood. Create shrines to happy memories.

It's all fascinating advice, but while we want our homes to be a refuge, we spend a lot of time at work, too. And so, the book got me thinking: Are there ways to do a happiness project in the office as well?

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I do believe that whatever you are doing now, professionally, you can make your work life better in a million ways. Happiness is ultimately a choice. Here are a few ways to choose it on the job:

1. Put something on your desk that makes you smile. Sure, the photos of your kids are great, but I'm guessing you start looking past them after they're there long enough. Switch them up every few months, and think outside the photo album. What about a bright orange flower? A print? (My mood is improved by several Wendy Hollender botanical drawings on my office walls).

2. Schedule something to savor during every workday. Maybe it's lunch at a new place, 15 minutes reading a good book on your break, or a phone call to an old colleague to catch up. Plan it in, so you can enjoy the anticipation as well.

3. Choose your projects carefully. Hopefully one of the benefits of climbing up your corporate ladder is getting to spend more of your time on things you want to do. When you're excited about a project, you're naturally more focused and cheery. Aim to be in that state most of the time. Seek these projects out and do what it takes to land them.

4. Challenge yourself. We are happiest when working right at the limits of our abilities, attempting things that are difficult but doable.

5. Get a grip on your time. Time wasters (random web surfing, instantly responding to email) are fun in the moment, but weigh you down like eating too much fast food. Fill your work hours with important things, and you'll naturally devote less time to things that don't matter.

6. Make friends. Try to grab coffee with someone new each week. Social ties are a strong component of happiness, and knowing people personally makes work less chilly.

7. Take the long view. You can perceive ambiguous comments as slights, and ruminate on them all day. Or you can remind yourself that you will have absolutely no memory of this incident two years from now. One mindset will definitely make you happier than the other.

8. Choose the bigger life. That's the tagline of Happier at Home, and as Rubin quotes Samuel Johnson, "Life is barren enough surely with all her trappings... let us therefore be cautious how we strip her." We often like to keep things simple. We like to avoid rocking the boat. But while trying to improve a popular product, or reform a storied culture is a huge risk, in the end, we only live once. You can hold your fire, but what are you saving your energy for? Spend out -- and you may just buy happiness.

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