The Psychology of Happiness and How It Affects Our Writing

What do you feel when writing  is the last thing you want to do? 

You probably feel bored, uninspired, lethargic.

Next, what do you feel when you’re fully absorbed in your work? You know, those moments when you can write thousands of words like nobody’s business.

Maybe you feel happy, energetic and you feel a sense of purpose in what you’re doing.

Turns out, psychology has a good handle on this phenomena. Researchers suggest that positive emotions and high motivation work well together as a team.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work highlights the science behind happiness and how it affects our work. Watch this funny and insightful talk below to get the idea behind this concept.

Another study conducted by psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer also confirms the concept that happiness plays a major role in the quality of our work.

After interviewing 600 managers, their analysis showed  that there’s a disconnect between what managers think will make employees happy and the things that actually does that.

Managers thought that salary raises, bonuses and other monetary rewards will motivate their employees. However, as revealed  by over 12,000 employee diary entries that were studied,  employees are actually more motivated by the sense of accomplishing a meaningful job. In short, emotional rewards trump financial incentives.

As Amabile and her peers put it:

“On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak. On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.”  

These  studies, and many other supporting research, tell us that emotions do play a key role in how much and how well we do our jobs. When paired with positive experiences, our productivity takes off and results to higher satisfaction.

And this certainly applies to us content publishers. Writing is after all, an arduous job that demands our physical and mental energy. So it only makes sense to cooperate with how our brains are wired to work to make the task easier.

So how do you get enthusiastic on writing and other creative work you do? Here are a few ideas.

1. Get realistic

You’ve probably heard this tip before. Breaking a large task into bite-sized chunks is an effective way to remove the overwhelm. But what most people don’t know is that it also cultivates positive emotions.

Facing a large task is a surefire way to procrastinate leading you to feel sorry for yourself later on. And the more you feel bad about the task, the more you’ll try to avoid it.

Author Monica Mehta explains this well in her book The Entrepreneurial Instinct: How Everyone Has the Innate Ability to Start a Successful Business. She suggests that the brain likes little accomplishments.  For every success we make, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine — the area of the brain responsible for pleasure and motivation. When this happens, we feel more inspired and motivated to reenact the positive experience.

So don’t scare yourself with a large task such as “Write an ebook” or “Write a long-form blog post” Instead, break it into small, more realistic tasks like the following:

– Create a writing plan

– Create an outline

– Research first section

– Write intro

– Write draft

– Proofread

– Copyedit

2. Record small wins

For some content publishers, the emphasis is on the big wins — an ebook published, a month’s worth of blog posts written and X number of subscribers collected. But here’s the rub: big wins, career-defining as they are, don’t keep us motivated and happy. Since they usually come with huge time and effort, experiencing the thrill of these wins don’t come routinely.

It’s the small wins: the words written, the revision done, the images and links added, that are the ones that keep us going.

And that’s why it’s important to track these small wins. Doing so gives you a sense of accomplishments for the things you’ve done no matter how small they are. And with this comes the motivation to do even more.

Amabile recommends keeping track of these small wins with a work diary to harness positivity in your work and keep yourself motivated.

So consider keeping a section in your note-taking tool for “Accomplishments” and after each workday, record the tasks you have completed.

Alternatively, consider using iDone This, a simple, dedicated tool for recording your accomplishments for the day. Keep journalling these small wins and you’ll notice a positive shift in your mindset and productivity. Remember, no accomplishment is too small.


3. Celebrate These Small Wins

They say that the fulfillment is not in the destination but in the journey. Cliche I know, but it’s also true in your work. And what could be a better way to enjoy the journey than by celebrating your accomplishments?

In addition to recording your small wins, give yourself a reward for the job well done. They don’t have to be extravagant. Look to the small things that you genuinely enjoy. For me that would be listening to a favorite song, a dessert, a YouTube video or playtime with my irresistibly cute kittens.

Small rewards from small accomplishments lead towards something bigger. And that is why you should really take time to define a reward.

One thing about rewards. See to it that you don’t mistake it as a task that you’d like to squeeze into your schedule but you don’t actually enjoy.

For instance, taking a nap and reading a chapter in a novel are good rewards. Sorting emails and decluttering your desktop are not. (unless you find genuine happiness in those things)

4. Find a Fun Angle in Your Post

If you’re free to direct  whatever angle you want for your content, why not consider adding some fun into it?   No matter what your topic is,  you can always find a quirky slant that will engage your interest and that of your readers.

One way to do that is by narrowing down and associatiating your topic to something completely arcane. Here’s a nice post about how to write about the most un-interesting topics.

5. Find meaning in your work

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us suggests that a sense of purpose is a powerful motivation factor. We find pleasure not in the finished output but on how it can make a difference in the world.

When people lose sight of the intrinsic benefits of their work, they get demoralized and their work suffers.

In the same way, when you know that your work will have a bigger impact beyond just completing a blog post, you’ll be more motivated to do it and carry through in spite of  challenges.

This is why it’s important to always find meaning in your work. For instance, instead of just looking at your newsletter as a 1500-word content you need to cross off your to do list, see it as something that could educate struggling entrepreneurs.

6. Get intimate with your readers

Along the lines of the point above, consider going the extra mile by really spending time with your target audience.

Putting a human face to your work cultivates empathy which leads to purpose — a primary motivation factor according to Dan Pink. It’s amazing how you can get better insights by personally hearing from them their challenges, goals and motivations.

Writing will become easier this way. As a bonus, you get a collection of anecdotes you can share to infuse emotions in your content.

7. Compete with someone

When writing starts to feel like a chore, adding a spirit of healthy competition is a great way to perk things up.

For instance, you and your friend might challenge each other to complete a long form blog post each week. The one who finishes earlier is the winner. Whoever loses should buy lunch for both of you the next time you meet.

8. Learn from your favorite authors

Reading the works of your favorite authors and bloggers is another great way to get inspired.

But there’s more you can do. Many successful bloggers recommend to take a copy of your favorite author’s work and copy it longhand. It’s a simple exercise that teaches you how to emulate your favorite writer’s style.

When you do this, you get a zoomed-in view of their phrasings, transitions, use of emotions and other elements that make their writing unique and compelling.

As you absorb their distinct fashion, your subconscious stores the lessons and you slowly develop the same style in your own writing. Easy but powerful stuff if you’re serious about improving your style.

9. Get active

It seems that there’s no end to the benefits of exercise. And for us writers, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know that it also boosts our mood  among many other perks.

Researchers explain that exercise releases endorphins also known as the happy hormones that stimulate energy and happiness.

In addition, it’s also great for our brains. Countless studies such as this have shown that exercise has positive long-term effects on the brain.

I personally find that after a sweat session, I’m more energetic and able to tackle a writing task. On a similar note, when I’m inactive, writing is a struggle and ideas don’t flow as well.

Wrapping Up

Writing demand lots of effort and time.

Great news is, it doesn’t have to be a fight against willpower or something you have to rely on muse.

There are habits you can develop to establish that writing is fun and enjoyable. Keep doing this in your daily work routine and with positivity on your side, you’ll be writing with ease and consistency.

What are the things that make you happy to work? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: Hubspot