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Happiness and Productivity

Happiness and Productivity

Getting Things Done, Even When You Don’t Feel Like it 

By Matthew Peinado 

The relationship between productivity and happiness is concrete. A study from the University of Oxford found that when people are happier, they are able to be more productive. In fact, happy workers were found to be 13% more productive. [1]  

Being happy is not a constant. As a writer for Psychology Today, Nancy Colier put it, “[happiness] is an addiction because it provides relief for short periods of time and then fails us over and over again. It is an addiction because we are consumed with the need to be happy.” Colier argued that happiness will always be fleeting and we will likely spend our whole lives pursuing it. [2] 

How then can we achieve happiness and how can we stay productive even when we are not happy? 

Happiness and productivity are linked closer than you would think. Even journaling once a week can lead to a boost in mood. Photo from Uploaded 1/9/2015.

Dr. Alice Watson wrote an article for the American Psychological Association detailing four research-proven, effective strategies for increasing happiness.  

The first strategy Dr. Watson wrote about was recording gratitude. In a 2005 study, it was found that taking time to write down things one is grateful for increased their own happiness. It is so effective that doing this exercise once a day for one week can boost happiness immediately and last up to six months later. [3] 

The second strategy is to visualize the future. Dr. Watson wrote, “A 2011 study in Emotion found that students were happier after they wrote for 15 minutes a week about their ideal selves and what they wished for themselves in the future.” By doing this, people are able to organize their ideal goals and understand that they are attainable. [4] 

The third strategy is simply being kind to others. Citing a 2010 study from the Journal of Social Psychology, doing “small acts of kindness,” greatly increased one’s own happiness. In a subsequent 2012 study for the Journal of Happiness Studies, it was proven that spending money on others makes one happier than spending money on themselves. [5] 

The fourth and final strategy is to get some exercise. Exercise is shown to improve one’s mood as well as alleviate symptoms of individuals diagnosed with depression. The author of the study, Dr. Walton, noted that 30 minutes a day is the recommended minimum. [6] 

Sometimes, especially for those who suffer from certain mental health conditions, none of these strategies will work. Even though an individual may be unhappy, school, work, and social obligations often demand people’s productivity regardless of their mood.  

In an article for Psychology Today, social worker and therapist Sheila Robinson shared what she found to be most effective in her client’s battles with depression. Robinson wrote, “Motivation and inspiration are found in the doing.” For Robinson, she’s seen bouts of depression most easily and quickly lifted in her clients by them doing small tasks and preparing for depressive seasons. [7] 

Cleaning a desk, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, and making the bed are small things one can do. Though these tasks may seem small, they can help a person feel productive and release ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain, encouraging the depressed individual to continue doing productive tasks. [8] 

Robinson recognizes that it is not easy to be productive when depressed. “Often there is no elegant solution when depression moves in. We must force ourselves into motion,” wrote Robinson. [9] 

Robinson has found that preparing for depressive seasons is the best way to cut them short. She recommended three strategies to do this.  

First, try to work backward. Robinson uses the example of eating. If you are somebody who does not go outside and eats poorly when depressed or anxious, at the first hint that you are becoming depressed go to the grocery store and grab healthy food. [10] 

Second, call in the troops. “Isolation is dangerous and often makes depression worse,” wrote Robinson. Try to call or visit family or friends, people supportive of you. [11] 

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Third, is to accept and commit. Fighting depression or anxiety without admitting that you are depressed or anxious only makes the battle that much harder. By accepting that you are not where you want to be and committing to making your life better, you can be more able to take the necessary steps to achieve your ideal state. [12] 


1. Happy workers are 13% more productive. (2019, October 24). University of Oxford.   

2. Colier, N. (2017, July 24). Why happiness doesn’t last, and why that’s okay. Psychology Today.  

3. Walton, A. G. (n.d.). Come on, get happy. American Psychological Association.  

3-6.  Ibid. 

7. Robinson-Kiss S. (2020, September 2). Depressed and productive? Psychology Today.  

8-12. Ibid. 

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