How Small Work Joys Add Brightness to Duke Workdays

Savoring satisfying tasks and sources of satisfaction are easy steps toward reducing stress

A photo of a pen, a desktop, a person dusting, a happy group and a sunny hallway.
On Mondays, Aaron Zalonis takes time to dust the pieces in the Nasher Museum of Art's galleries. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

“It helps me put things into perspective,” he said. “I might be freaking out over whether we’ve updated the software on a certain server, or worrying about how one system might work with another system. But realizing that the people hundreds of years ago who made these objects also had their worries, it’s a reminder to concentrate on the more important things in life.”

Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workforce Report said 53% of American workers experience daily job-related stress. According to Keisha-Gaye O’Garo, Associate Professor in the Duke Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, one way to combat daily stressors is to follow Zalonis’ lead and savor every small, positive piece of your workday.

“By being aware of something that brings you joy, you gain a sense of appreciation, a sense of value,” O’Garo said. “It allows you to feel grounded. We move through life so quickly and we aren’t always able to take a moment and process what’s really, truly going on and how good it is.”

From fountain pens to sunny walks, here are a few of the small joys appreciated by colleagues from across Duke.

Jessica Pritchard finds joy in writing with her vintage fountain pens. Photo courtesy of Jessica Pritchard.

Writing Happy

When she’s taking notes or jotting down ideas, Duke Department of Population Health Sciences Research Project Leader Jessica Pritchard relishes the extra fine point and satisfying friction of her vintage fountain pen.

Pritchard has three fountain pens – two she found on eBay and one rescued from a box of her parents’ old stuff – that she uses while working. She refills the ink cartridges herself with ink sourced from a small company in Pennsylvania. And in addition to enjoyable feel of the pen, she enjoys that fact that it means she won’t need to send used-up ballpoint pens to the landfill.

“It’s a small thing, but it makes me happy on many levels,” Pritchard said “I get to reduce waste. It’s fun to use. I think my penmanship is better when I write with it. And I’m supporting a small business.”

Dose of Sunshine

When he reaches the midday break in his busy schedule helping patients, Duke Regional Hospital Clinical Social Worker Jeff Mynhier leaves his office in the Duke Behavioral Health North Durham clinic and heads to the hospital’s cafeteria for lunch.

There are quicker ways to get there, but Mynhier prefers to take a less-direct route down a long window-filled hallway so he can enjoy some sunlight.

“It’s usually the first chance I have to get a look outside,” Mynhier said. “We talk to patients about issues like divorce or cancer, so in between, you need a little reset, and that can be something as simple as a little walk.”

Jeff Mynhier enjoys the quick, peaceful moments of his daily walks to lunch. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Joy Knowles, second from right, cherishes the time she gets with the students she works with in the Duke Identity & Diversity Lab. Photo courtesy of Joy Knowles.

Youthful Spirit

Two years removed from her time as a student at Emory University, Joy Knowles, Lab Manager for the Duke Identity & Diversity Lab in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, isn’t that much older than the 22 undergraduate and graduate students who work alongside her in the lab.

But through their thoughtful gestures and infectious curiosity, the students bring a dose of energy and fun to her day. She said they make her feel appreciated when they send her an occasional thank you note or share fun stories about their experiences on campus.

“They’re not just motivated to do quality work, they’re also motivated to learn and support each other,” Knowles said. “Our lab has become a real community and a safe space.”

A Clean Screen

As Duke University Libraries’ Senior Data Management Consultant, Jen Darragh often teaches students, staff and faculty how to store project data in ways to keep it organized and accessible.

Periodically, Darragh puts her lessons into practice by taking time to clean and organize her computer desktop.

“It’s so easy to let your computer desktop get crazy,” Darragh said.  “What I try to do – if not every week then at least once a month – is to sit down and put everything where it needs to be.”

Once her screen is uncluttered, Darragh said it’s easier to dive into another workday.

“If I do it on a Friday, on Monday, I can start the day with everything neat and tidy,” Darragh said. “All is well.”

A clean computer desktop helps Jen Darragh feel ready to take on whatever a new week brings. Image courtesy of Jen Darragh.

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