A happy auditor? It seems a bizarre topic for what has been popularly dubbed the most depressing month of the calendar year. Post holiday blues, broken resolutions, bleak weather (in the northern hemisphere at least) and strapped bank balances do not augur well for a happy auditor.
And for many in audit this is by far the busiest time of the year. A glut of December year ends with brutal January reporting deadlines conspire to accrue overtime, like no other earthly pursuit. So whether you are a mere mortal susceptible to the ubiquitous January blues or a super-being, busy-season grafter, the happy auditor is for you.
Happiness is... a philosophical enigma
It's not easy to define, but we do know when we are happy, or more to the point, we know when we are NOT happy. But do you realise how much control you have over happiness? It may seem unlikely if you are stuck in a relationship that has gone sour, a job that bores you to distraction or facing long, dark days on the treadmill of life but the latest science suggests that we may have more influence over our personal state of mind than we once thought.
Glass half full or glass half empty? Just fill it up please!
There is no doubt that our circumstances do play their part; money, relationships, health, all influence our mood and our outlook on life. And some of us do have a more pronounced 'happiness' gene which shapes our natural disposition. But circumstances and genetics are only part of the story; experts suggest that up to 50% of happiness is within our own individual control. And science now has much to say on how we can make the most of that percentage, as we will see in the following ten steps:
Steps one to four: resilience and happiness, a perfect pairing
Let's not split hairs on whether happiness contributes to resilience or resilience is a pre-cursor to happiness, it's suffice to say that the two are mutually inclusive. So if you've been with us since part one of this resilience programme, you will already be aware of some the key steps for taking an active approach to your happiness, namely:
- Building and sustaining physical health. Exercise, fresh air, healthy food and hydration plus quality sleep all affect mood and boost our well-being. For more detail check out The Resilient Auditor, Part 3: Let's Get Physical
- Goals and life purpose. Having a life purpose may not make you happy on its own but not having a life purpose to give meaning to day to day experiences could be a big factor in your short and long term fulfilment. Take another look at The Resilient Auditor, Part 2: Purpose.
- Resilience itself, that is the ability to survive setbacks and thrive by learning from them, is a key life skill in a world where the only constant is change. The full story can be found at The Resilient Auditor, Part 1: Resilience.
- Self acceptance - knowing and understanding yourself and managing your emotions and behaviour is core to your self confidence. Stay tuned to this Resilience Programme for our full article on this topic, which is also linked strongly to your happiness levels.
Steps five to ten: reasons to be cheerful
- A growth mindset translates into an assumption that you believe your abilities, competencies and worth can be developed; you will actively engage in new opportunities and build confidence by learning from failure. With a fixed mindset, you'll accept your inherent qualities as static, you'll seek perfection, avoid taking risks and your confidence will be more delicate requiring constant success to sustain it. Each of us is somewhere on a continuum between a growth and a fixed mindset, influencing our capacity for optimism and indeed happiness. But courting a growth mindset is something that we can deliberately choose, by taking internally, the locus of control. With an external locus of control, you'll hear yourself say 'it wasn't my fault', 'there's nothing I can do about it'; you'll be defensive to feedback and you'll look for answers or blame from your environment or other people. With an internal locus of control, you recognize that you have a choice; making no choice is actually a choice in, and of, itself, and it's your choice to allow other people or events decide for you. Flex your growth mindset by watching your self-talk. Look out for that inner gremlin that, as you approach a challenge, will be quick to tell you that you're not good enough; you can't do it so there's no point in trying. Talk back, be assertive and remind yourself of all the benefits of a growth mindset.
- Find flow to know what makes you happy. Flow is the state when you are fully immersed in what you are doing, one hundred percent focussed, totally concentrating, almost oblivious to what’s going on around you. It feels great and is most likely linked to an activity that provides stretch but is just within your capabilities. Know what gets you into flow and schedule the most accessible pursuits to brighten up the long January days. Your flow activity could be anything; getting lost in a novel, engrossed in sudoku or total immersion in a game of football; it could even be a work activity (balancing a set of accounts used to do it for me).
- Connecting. Friends, family, colleagues - they might not all love you but they are a major contribution to your feelings of connectivity, belonging and sharing which can give life meaning. Even in the heart of the busy season, make time for these relationships. Social interaction is vital in itself but simple acts of kindness and merely helping others all make us feel good.
- Gratitude. Studies suggest a strong correlation to personal well-being, linking gratitude to a boost in positive emotions and optimism. Gratitude involves noticing, valuing and appreciating what you have. You could keep a gratitude journal or you could become more mindful...
- Mindfulness or being present in the moment can be a challenge in these days of manic multi-tasking. But registering even the tiniest moments of pleasure - ten seconds here, ten seconds there, can literally rewire the brain for happiness by shifting our negative tendencies. Simple moments of pleasure to savour could be: your first cup of coffee in the morning, a lunchtime stroll in the park or basking in the recognition of a task completed and a job well done.
- Smile and laugh. Merely thinking about something nice that brings a smile can make you feel happier, and laughing is thought to relieve stress, lower anxiety and boost mood. So use your gratitude and mindfulness to build a store of positive memories and access them daily to get a further shot of pleasure.
Too much of a good thing?
Life is a mix of good and bad and it would be a mistake to expect happiness every minute of the day. We will never eliminate all sources of pain and displeasure. We have to accept that good and bad are two sides of the same coin; the very things that make happiness possible are often also the potential source of our greatest unhappiness. It is the contrast between the two that enables us to recognize happiness. But the good news is that we can take control and use these ten evidence-based steps to boost our happiness quotient - even in the busy season!
Carol McLachlan FCA
Carol McLachlan, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. Her 18 year career at Ernst and Young in Audit and Assurance as a client handler and as Director of Resources has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that auditors face.
As theaccountantscoach she works in partnership with individuals and organisations - quite simply - helping them to be the very best they can be. She has helped accountants and auditors move from employment to entrepreneurial pursuits, prepare for their next promotion, become inspiring leaders and engaging presenters and manage their work life balance. Carol writes and lectures extensively on a wide range of professional development topics and is currently researching 'CPD in accountancy' for her master's degree.
For the agony aunt service on career issues, contact Carol here