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When you are having a bad day at work, your natural reaction may be to put on a happy face and fake a good mood for the benefit of your colleagues. No one wants to be around a grouch, and maybe if you pretend to be happy, you will actually become happier, right?

Not true, according to a study published this month in the Academy of Management Journal, which studied a group of bus drivers for two weeks to observe their happiness at work under certain circumstances. The drivers were selected because their jobs require them to interact frequently and courteously with a large number of people.

From the New York Times:

The scientists examined what happened when the drivers engaged in fake smiling, known as “surface acting,” and its opposite, “deep acting,” where they generated authentic smiles through positive thoughts, said an author of the study, Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.

After following the drivers closely, the researchers found that on days when the smiles were forced, the subjects’ moods deteriorated and they tended to withdraw from work. Trying to suppress negative thoughts, it turns out, may have made those thoughts even more persistent.

For the drivers in the study, trying to mask their feelings backfired and actually made their bad moods worse. On the other hand, workers who attempted to smile as well as cultivate pleasant thoughts and memories were more successful and were able to improve their overall moods and increase productivity.

Small Ways to Improve Happiness at Work

If you find yourself having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” take these small steps to make that smile on your face a genuine one.

1. Take a break.

You can only stare at a computer or talk to customers or sit in meetings for so long before you need a rest. Take 10 minutes and walk away from your desk and get some fresh air if you can. Breathe deeply and slowly, and let yourself relax away from the chaos of your workday.

2. Don’t force it.

If you are in a bad mood, don’t beat yourself up about it or go overboard on false cheer. Everyone is entitled to have a few off days, and this one will run its course soon enough. Avoid unnecessary interaction with others and tell yourself tomorrow is another day.

3. Think happy thoughts.

Focus on positive aspects of your day or anything you are looking forward to in the near future. Reflect on spending time with your family after work or the client call that went smoothly earlier in the day. Give yourself encouragement to keep going.

How do you improve your happiness at work when you’re in a bad mood? Share your suggestions below.

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