In this blog I have often covered the mental health and wellbeing problems that may come with doing a PhD, if we are not careful. In this series of posts I look at the flip side of that, diving into the research on thriving at work, to find out which practices may help us be a little happier during our research, and how to diagnose ourselves about what aspects of our research activity can most be improved.
This series of posts is based, to a large extent, on a series of online courses on positive organizational psychology developed by UC Berkeley: “The Foundations of Happiness at Work” and “Mindfulness and Resilience to Stress at Work”. However, I have also extended some of the ideas and tools provided there with my own search of this rich area of the research literature. The series is organized around “four pillars” or main aspects of cultivating happiness at work (which spell out the acronym PERK). It is thus composed of five posts:
- Happiness in the lab, part 1: What is happiness?, where I look at the non-trivial problem of defining what happiness is and what it is not – or, at least, what researchers in this area mean when they talk about “happiness”.
- Happiness in the lab, part 2: Purpose, reviews the first of four pillars for greater happiness at work – to find that the (research) work we do is meaningful, both personally and for others. The post tries to help you diagnose the degree to which you feel this sense of purpose about your work, and what simple practices could help you develop it.
- Happiness in the lab, part 3: Engagement is the second pillar. The post tries to help you diagnose how engaged you feel in your research activities, and goes over several things you can change to make your research work more appealing and delightful.
- Happiness in the lab, part 4: Resilience, looks at how we can become more impervious to setbacks and rejections, which are bound to appear during the PhD process. The post refers you to research-backed instruments to measure your resilience and daily practices that can help you become “grittier”.
- Happiness in the lab, part 5: Kindness looks at the fourth and last pillar – the importance of prosocial behaviors for a great research workplace atmosphere (from generosity and gratitude, to civility or compassion). Again, I point you to diagnostic tools to evaluate these different aspects of a kind workplace, and several sets of practices and behaviors that may help you and your colleagues improve.
Continuous bliss during your research is impossible (maybe, not even desirable!). Yet, I hope that, with these ideas and a bit of work, you and your colleagues can transform the time you spend in your research workplace into a consistently more supportive experience.
Luis P. Prieto
Luis P. is a Ramón y Cajal research fellow at the University of Valladolid (Spain), investigating learning technologies, especially learning analytics. He is also an avid learner about doctoral education and supervision, and he's the main author at the A Happy PhD blog.