Sparking Joy in the Workplace

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX


Like a lot of people, I have been binge watching the new Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I love her infectious enthusiasm for organizing, even with faced with some serious hoarding situations. I am also taken in by her deep spirituality regarding physical space and objects. While her practices and rituals obviously reflect the influence of Shinto beliefs in the Japanese culture, I think that many of us would benefit from a little more ritual and mindfulness in our relationship with our spaces and possessions.

Central to the Shinto philosophy is the idea of kami, or the sacredness of all things – rocks, rivers, trees, mountains, animals and people. All of these things share the same energy and gain or lose energy from one another. I know many people who gain a deep spiritual satisfaction in nature and animals. Is it such a large step to imagine the same sacredness resides in our home and our clothes and our stuff? Especially books. As a voracious reader, I can easily imagine that my books, especially my favorites that have inspired me, or helped me through hard times, possess a certain spiritual essence. And certainly, they “spark joy” in me, as Marie Kondo is so fond of saying.

So, as I watched Marie perform rituals, such as greeting each home she visits, and thanking clothes for their usefulness, I started to reflect on how I honor the spaces and things in my life that are important to me. My favorite chair where I spend many hours reading and writing, my collection of coffee mugs which not only hold my “elixir of life” but also remind me of certain times, places and people, my journal which is my daily companion, my car which is the first that I bought entirely on my own, and of course, my books.

At first, it seemed strange to me to thank inanimate objects, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, for me, it was about appreciation and mindfulness. When we slow down to truly think about the things in our lives that spark joy, we learn to appreciate them. And when we appreciate something, we should say thanks. Gratitude has been shown over and over in clinical studies to improve both our physical and mental health. It’s such a simple exercise with comparatively big results.

But how does all this relate to the workplace?

When you first walk into your office, do you get a feeling of joy, or a feeling of dread? Take some time to think about that feeling and its sources. Is it because of the physical surroundings? The people? Or the work itself?

Once you identify sources of joy or appreciation, honor those people, or places, or things. Tell a co-worker that you’re glad to see them, or bring them their favorite muffin. Take a moment to touch a special object or book and recall a pleasant memory. When you sit down to begin your work each morning, close your eyes for a moment and take 30 seconds to be mindful of your surroundings and say a silent thanks. Honor your favorite mug with a ritual tea break each afternoon just to savor a quiet moment. Surround yourself with the things that give you joy to allow their energy to energize you.

But what if your work is not sparking joy? The first step is just to recognize the source of your anxiety. If it’s a cluttered, disorganized workspace, take a few minutes everyday to do a little konmari tidying. If the source of anxiety is people-related, start searching for solutions – better or clearer communications, firmer boundaries, avoidance? You may need to ask your HR department for resources. If the source of your anxiety is literally the work itself, or the workload, it may mean that you’re ready for a career change or need to have a frank discussion with your manager.

Spirituality in the workplace doesn’t always have to mean meditation sessions or yoga classes. Sometimes, like Marie Kondo demonstrates, it can be as simple as slowing down, reflecting, showing appreciation, and creating ritual. Honoring the things in our lives that spark joy, as well as those that don’t, helps us become more self-aware and centered. By seeing the kami, the sacredness, in our everyday lives and work, we will perhaps begin to see more meaning in our everyday lives and work.

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