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The Simple Secret to a Happier Life

If you want to get it all done — and perfectly — at work...

Museum educator Nikki Manning used to feel compulsively driven to complete all her work by the end of the day — and when she couldn't, she carried her anxiety home. "I'd wake up in the middle of the night and begin to write down things I needed to do the next day," says the 27-year-old from Columbia, SC. "My bathroom mirror was covered in sticky notes."

Sure, being a productive and valued staffer is a good thing, but knocking yourself out day after day — whether to achieve perfection on a project or feel "done" — doesn't make sense, since at any well-structured job there will always be fresh deadlines to meet, more paperwork to do, and the like. (It's sort of like the laundry at home — you're never completely caught up.) Plus, if you're consistently working late, you're likely neglecting your well-being, health, and relationships, notes Robinson. Ultimately, the satisfaction that you get from being "on top of things" is fleeting and not a true source of happiness — and it simply isn't worth the steep personal price you're paying.

How to Let Go

Watch what you tell yourself. "Saying things like, ‘I'll never catch up,' or ‘I'm always stressed,' will overwhelm you further and keep you working late," says Robinson. Instead, she advises, repeat calming (and true) messages such as, "When I clock out at a decent hour, I'm so much more productive the next day," and "Nothing tragic will happen if I turn this in tomorrow morning instead of at 8 tonight."

Try to step back and pinpoint why you're being so obsessive about your job. Could it be that you're avoiding problems at home or other personal issues? That your self-esteem hinges entirely on your career? "Ask yourself, What's missing in my life? What would be fun? " suggests Robinson. Then, make little steps toward positive change — get yourself to the gym instead of staying an extra hour at work, or meet a friend for coffee on the way home.

For Manning, letting go meant carving out official downtime. "I promised myself that two days a week I'd walk away from my desk at 5:30 p.m.," she says. "I literally scheduled time with my husband and daughter so I'd be forced to leave, and vowed not to check e-mails or my BlackBerry at home." Setting boundaries made all the difference. "Now I can sit and breathe and enjoy dinner with my family," says Manning. "I'm still getting as much work done — yet I have a life now!"

If you'd like your husband to be Mr. Romance...

It's a lovely daydream: Your husband surprises you at your office with flowers on Friday afternoon and whisks you off for a romantic weekend getaway. But the reality is that he's tied up at work, there's the Saturday morning soccer carpool to deal with — and, really, who would watch the kids all weekend?

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