Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.
“Do you enjoy going to work everyday?” might be one of the most pertinent yet most overlooked health questions ever asked. Turns out whoever said that work isn’t work unless it is tedious, tiring, or plain painful had it all wrong.
After studying well-being in more than 150 countries and interviewing people of all ages for roughly 60 years, here’s Gallup’s insight:
It makes sense. At work, lower well-being usually means higher stress and anxiety. Higher stress and anxiety translate into higher cortisol levels in the body. Higher cortisol can lead to insomnia, increased appetite, weight gain, a weakened immune function, an impaired cardiovascular system, and accelerated brain cell loss. As if this weren’t enough, Rath and Harter also found that as engagement at work go down, cholesterol and triglycerides tend to rise.
“Career wellbeing might be one of the most important priorities to consider for maintaining good health over the years,” say Tom Rath and Jim Harter, authors of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.
On the up side, and thank goodness for it, Rath and Harter’s research also shows that improving career well-being and engagement at work have all the opposite effects. They further report that people who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths at work are three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.This research ties very well with the Smarts and Stamina approach, which shows that our sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits are mutually reinforcing thanks to the biochemical activity that each generates in the body. In other words, the better we do in any of these four categories, the easier it is to stay on track with the other three. Improving our health habits is therefore better done by looking at the whole and leveraging the interactions. Working on a single habit in isolation is about as effective as buying a cell phone without the accompanying charger. Eventually you run out of juice and it’s game over. (For more details on this concept, see my article, Why Happier People Are Healthier.) Anyone who has lived on both sides of the coin, being crushed by a terrible boss as well as thriving in a supportive work environment, can attest that career well-being boosts mood tremendously. With a boosted mood comes a snowball effect of health-promoting bio-reactions, which in turn benefit our sleep, food, and exercise habits.
Happiness researchers Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener took a different road than mine. Rather than study biochemical activity and its repercussions, they looked at people’s behaviors directly. They confirm that happier people tend to have better health habits, generally speaking.
For the linguists and other sharp-witted readers, let me be precise: Rath and Harter define career well-being as being satisfied with what you do everyday, whether you are a C-suite executive, a volunteer, or a homemaker. I have yet to meet someone who despises what she does all day and stands out as Little Miss Sunshine at the same time. It just doesn’t happen very much.So career well-being has considerable repercussions on our mood and overall health habits. For the employed, the biggest determinant of career well-being is the immediate superior. Like it or not, your boss is either helping or hindering your health big time. Working with a good boss could be even more important than choosing the ideal doctor, no disrespect to anyone who has had the courage, talent, and dedication to survive through med school.
If you need help dealing with a toxic boss, check out the soon-to-be released Profit from the Positive, by Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin. They offer tools for positive contagion. Or consult Jane Dutton’s chapter about corrosive bosses. If neither works, consider that even in these lack-luster economic times, a new boss to work with is much easier to find than a new body to live in…
Author Note: If you’d like to help your clients look at their health habits in synergy rather than in isolation as described in this article, please visit Build your Coaching Business Online.
Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.
Rath, T. & Harter, J. (2010). Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. Gallup Press.
Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2013). Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. McGraw Hill.
Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.
Dutton, J. (2003). Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.