How to be happier at work, according to the captain of fun

The Happy Socks brand is all about spreading joy. For Brenda Berger, that mission starts at the office

Our series What Do People Do All Day? takes a look at the work life, lunch habits, and downtime of people across different industries.

Name: Brenda Berger

Title/company: North America country manager, Happy Socks

Years on the job: 2 years, 2 months 

City: New York

When Brenda Berger was hired to manage the North American division of the Scandinavian company Happy Socks, she was instructed to spearhead a New York City office that was “filled with light and color,” not unlike the brand itself, she remembers. “[The founders] impressed upon me the importance of taking the culture that they’d established and bringing it to the U.S.” At first, she was thrown. “I kept saying, ‘Why do you keep talking about fun? I’m not the captain of fun!” But eventually, she came around. “I realized you can be results-oriented, which I am, and still have fun. It’s proven to be a great lesson.” 

Under Berger’s watch, the brand, which offers a multicolored paradise of patterns—parrots, pizza, pool floats—has expanded to Barnes & Noble, paper stores, Men’s Wearhouse, and museums like the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art. By the end of this year alone, the company will have opened eight stand-alone shops in New York and Los Angeles. And that’s to name just a few of Berger’s achievements. “When I was hired, it was very exciting, because I got to see the emotional response people had whenever you’d mention Happy Socks,” she says. “The brand mission is to bring color and happiness to every corner of the world.” Here’s how she does her part on a daily basis.

Most mornings, I wake up… at 5:15 a.m. By 5:40, I’m doing a Tracy Anderson DVD workout or going for a run. My husband likes to say that my morning routine revolves around my beverage-drinking sequence, which goes like this:

  • 5:30 a.m. Voss water
  • 6 a.m. Black coffee
  • 6:20 a.m. Cucumber- or lemon-infused water
  • 6:45 a.m. Blended smoothie that my children say looks like bodily fluids
  • 7:10 a.m. More coffee 

I start work… As early as 7:30 a.m. or as late as 9. If I’m waiting on key information from headquarters, I will check my email around 7:30, but I find when I check my email as soon as I get up, I’m easily triggered or frustrated. 

I spend my commute to work… Meditating for 30 minutes, then reading or answering emails for 30 minutes.

I spend my commute home… Doing Lumosity brain games for 20 minutes, then reading or wasting time on social media for 40. If I’m being truly honest, I spend a great deal of time fascinated by the oddities of some of my fellow commuters—or horrified by their odors.

Berger gets through the day with infused water, colorful patterns, and brain games. Water: iStock; socks: courtesy of Happy Socks; app: courtesy of Lumosity

The thing most likely to break my focus is… People asking me questions, especially questions that I deem long-winded or incoherent.

Last time I daydreamed in a meeting was… Last week. I daydreamed about how to make the meeting shorter and more focused. 

My open tabs are… WWD for the latest fashion news, Zen Habits for reminders of what is important, Scribd for articles and books (currently reading Sapiens), Pinterest for home inspiration, and websites of retailers that I would like to partner with for business.

I take phone calls… In a conference room or hallway. We have an open floor plan, and I’ve been told I have a fairly loud phone voice. 

I eat at my desk… Way too often. And that goes for snacking as well.

The last toast we had… Was for our accountant’s birthday. We also have a buzzer for any time something great happens from a sales or operations perspective—like if we’ve solved an ongoing problem, we hit the “hype” button. And every month we do an activity around “education and inspiration.” This month we each had to share a quote about being a team, then partner up with a coworker to learn more about them, design a pair of socks that reflect what we learned, and present it. “This is so-and-so, their passion is sports.” The person I got really loved running. 

I bring home socks… A lot. The company gives us a generous clothing allowance. I never paid attention to my socks or my family’s socks before, and now my older teenager, he gets in trouble from his band director when they have a performance, like, “Why can’t you just wear a pair of black socks?” I recently gave a pair to my dentist, because I now notice when people aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to wear something fun.

My starred Slack channels include… None. I can barely figure out how to direct-message my colleagues. 

My Slack pet peeve is… The dinging, and the tyranny of the urgent that’s not really urgent. Part of my job is to focus on strategy and where are we going, and Slack seems to be so short-term. I can accept that it’s perhaps the preferred, generational mode of communication, but I’m not a fan.

The last thing I do for work before bed is… Check email. I usually stop by 10 p.m. I had to change my phone habits. If we’re sitting in front of the TV [as a family], why are we also on a device and having a conversation? The biggest change, though, is not looking at the phone in the morning, at least not until I’m well into my train ride—and then letting go of any guilt I might feel for not being available 24-7. It’s a choice.

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