Simple secrets that will help you smile more at work

Like many of you this time of year, I recently got back from a summer holiday. I hope yours was as wonderful as mine. No alarm clocks, a lazy schedule, some fresh air and some new sights. 

One of the constants for our family while on holiday is eating in restaurants. My wife is a bit of a foodie and is always looking for a great place to go. (I actually think she could open a side business consulting on the latest and greatest).

Aside from the food, I find restaurants to be a great place to see engagement and collaboration in action all built around the biggy – customer service. 

We went out several times, but one night, a particular place stood out for me, not just because of the great food but because of the amazing service. The place was jammed! Every table was filled with people and piles of food.  It was bustling, lively & exciting. It wasn’t just a meal but an experience! We spent a fortune and frankly, I wished I had worn stretchy pants. (Sorry, TMI). 

But by far the star of the night (other than the food) was our waiter.

Supremely confident, knowledgeable, and obviously unflappable. I couldn’t help but notice how happy he was. I would see him carrying piles of food to tables of 2, 4, 6 or even 10 people. He was laughing, smiling and carrying on, having great interactions with every table. He seemed to have boundless energy. I had to know how he got through these nights and more importantly I had to know his secret to being so happy at work.  
Why this struck me is because we all know it’s important to have a positive attitude at work but it can be hard to do.  Challenges, problems, even interactions with certain people can chip away at whatever positive attitude we might have arrived with. 


I have shown up at many an orchestra rehearsal, pumped about performing a great piece of music, only to have my enthusiasm quashed by a conductor who is more bent on his own displaying his own importance than that of the music we are playing, thereby turning a probable great day into drudgery. Sometimes it has been a band mate who is just in a foul mood and who puts a damper on things. Heck, sometimes it’s even me who is the “Downer”.

I wanted to put some numbers together for you to get a sense of how happy Canadian workers are. Most lists talk about the happiest (best) places to live, which encompass many factors other than work. We all hear about these from time to time in the news.  I did find a list of the The Countries with the Happiest employees and it appears we’re not doing too badly, but we’re not in the top 10 either. 

So back to my waiter friend and our amazing meal.  I simply had to stop and say to him “You look like you really enjoy your job. This place is jammed, you seem to never stop moving and it looks like your having a great time.  How do you do it?”

The look on his face was one of surprise and humility. “It’s no big deal”, he said, “it’s two things”:

Simple & True

1) I treat people the way I like to be treated, not just the customers but my colleagues too. (This was obviously working because other waiters would come by and take care of us if he was busy elsewhere, contributing to a seamless dining experience for us)

2) I never lie to a customer.  (More on this in a minute) 

He went on to say that he had started at the bottom, washing dishes in this very restaurant 20 years ago.  (He might be around 40 now).  He said he had worked every job in the restaurant over his 20 years, so he really knows how the place runs when it is at its best. That’s what he strives for every night.  He doesn’t preach to his colleagues to be like him. He just leads by example. 

He left me wondering about his responses.

The idea of treating people the way you want to be treated makes a lot of sense and I am sure it’s something you have heard before.  I think most of us plan to do that but I know for myself I sometimes forget.  It’s a great thing to keep top of mind. So simple but so effective in working with others.

But the idea of never lying to a customer was something I had to think about. Not that I am for lying to customers, but it caught me off guard as something someone would say is a motivator for being happy at work. 

It's all about reputation

In thinking about it, I was imagining it might mean delivering some bad news to a customer, like the kitchen can’t cook something a certain way or they are out of something that’s on the menu. He’d be telling the customer they can’t get something they want. You could see that this could lead to some degree of unhappiness on the part of the customer and this waiter would have to deal with that. But he felt it was important to be honest. And that’s about reputation. No smoke and mirrors here. What you see is what you get and that’s kind of refreshing, isn’t it?  I know I’d go back there in a heartbeat. But I will be fasting for a couple of days first. 

So what can you do to keep a positive attitude at work?

1) Look around for some inspiration.

Who do you know that is like that waiter I describe, working with a smile?  We all know someone or have seen someone who stands out like this. (I’d love it if you could take a moment to tell us about them in the comments)

2) Come up with your own mantra.

Find your over-arching attitude towards work and your interactions with people, two or three simple thoughts that drive your positive attitude.  I think most of us have one but have you ever really articulated it?  If not, write it down somewhere, maybe get a plaque or a small sign made that you can look at everyday to remind you because, remember, there is always something or someone chipping away at your positive attitude.

(Again please feel free to post in the comments so yours can become an inspiration for someone else) 

3) Don’t dwell on the negative!

 I think this one is important and very hard to do. I know I fall into this trap sometimes. It’s possible to spend a lot of time looking at negative things (office gossip, others’ mistakes).  But think of how that makes you feel. It’s not a positive feeling.  All that stuff is out there but so is the positive.  Look for the positive and surround yourself with as much of it as possible. 

4) Humour.  

You don’t have to be a comedian, but don’t we all love someone with a good sense of humour? It is possible for all of us to see things and say things that are a bit funny. I am not saying you should go out and learn a pile of jokes but I have always loved it when someone says “This reminds me of a joke!”, and we all stop what we are doing for a moment and enjoy. It just makes the day better.

5) Make sure you take time to do things that make you happy.

It’s easy to get bogged down staring at your computer, going to meetings and answering emails.  If you feel you haven’t smiled for a while and the idea of being happy at your job is too overwhelming, maybe you haven’t spent enough time making yourself happy outside the office. Find a hobby or an activity (exercising, reading, knitting, btw -  I could use a new scarf) that makes you feel happy and that puts a smile on your face. 

It's up to you to find it.

Know that we all need to get our happiness from somewhere and the happiest people seem to get it from their approach to life. They take the time to appreciate their good fortune whatever that may be (good health, job, family etc.) and that their attitudes are contagious. 

If you know me then you know I have my own happiness tools: my collection of drums.   I have seen them make even the most cynical folks crack a big smile after hitting just a couple of notes. I think everyone should have one in their office, frankly, just to blow off steam and reset. If you never tried them you should spend a couple of hours with me and you'll see for yourself.

And remember, this is about being the best you can be. And when you’re the best you can be, people will enjoy working and interacting with you. The mention of your name will put a good thought in their head. The downside is you might need to keep your door closed to get some work done.



Oh yeah… Want to know the name of the restaurant and where it is?  Just ask. I can’t wait to go back.