How To Make Your Desk a Healthier – And Happier – Place To Work

If you’re like most office worker-bees, you’re probably spending more time sitting at your desk than you spend in any other place, besides your bed.

Do you like it?

Clutter, poor ergonomics, and stifling work environments can all contribute to a workspace that can actually damage your health and well-being. While grand, sweeping changes may not be possible, there are plenty of tweaks you can do make your desk a happier place to be. And, if you’re spending 40+ hours a week there, it’s definitely worth the effort.

Your desk

I know you’ve heard this by now, but sitting for long periods of time can be detrimental to your health, and is associated with diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Yet most of us, myself included, do the majority of our work at a computer . . . while sitting.

The good news is that there are better and worse ways to sit. New research into the best way to sit suggests sitting up straight, with your core strong and shoulders back, while taking large breaths to make sure your muscles are getting enough oxygen. Slouching, it turns out, can not only reshape your skeleton over time, but can cut off oxygen flow.

To combat the sitting effect, some people are turning to standing desks. These can be expensive or DIY (I set my laptop on my dresser when working from home). Don’t overdo it, though – it turns out standing still all day isn’t that great for you either, as reported in this hilarious article by a New York Times reporter who decided to stop sitting for an entire month, and this one from a Washington Post reporter who began getting lower-leg pain after standing at work for an extreme amount of time.

It turns out the key isn’t necessarily standing or sitting, but it’s making sure to move throughout the day.

Your chair

Since you’re more than likely going to be sitting for at least part of the day, it pays to have a great office chair.

Your arm supports should allow the elbows to rest comfortably at 90 degrees along the sides of the body while working at the computer – otherwise your shoulders will start to hunch forward.

The back of the chair should be adjustable, so that it can provide personalized support for your spine. You can also add extra padding to make sure your lower back is supported, which assists the natural curve of the spine and keeps your muscles from getting as fatigued.

Your computer

Experts recommend that you keep your computer set up so that the top of the screen is at eye level to prevent neck and eye strain, that your elbows be at a 90-degree angle with minimal bend at the wrist to protect your wrists when typing.

Switching up sides with your mouse can be a good idea, to prevent the types of shoulder pain associated with mouse use. It may take a few minutes to get used to, but it’ll help in the long run.

Stretching frequently is one of the best things you can do for your body, no matter your computer setup. Need some reminders to get up and get moving from time to time? Check out FitBolt, an app that gives you notifications and exercise suggestions to get you moving.

Your surroundings

Once you’re physically comfortable at your desk, take a look at what you have at and around your desk to make you happier and more productive.

An easy way to lift your mood at your desk is to customize it. Changing up the colors and decor, and bringing in things that make you happy (like photos of your loved ones, or that T. rex bobblehead your kid gave you) will brighten your day, and make you feel more at home in your job.

Live plants can also help lift your mood. If your thumb is verging on the brown side (like mine) try something hardy like a spider plant or succulent.

Strive for the right amount of clutter. Remove clutter to help keep yourself focused on the task at hand, rather than overwhelmed with all the other things you still need to do. But, on the other hand, a certain amount of clutter can help spark creativity.

Studies have shown that natural light has a positive effect on our mental health, and that more exposure to it throughout the day can even help you sleep better at night. It may be unrealistic to move your desk closer to the light, but try getting a desk lamp with a day bulb in it to get your dose of artificial sunlight.

How have you made your desk a happier, healthier place to be? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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I like to spend an hour (or less) on Friday de-clutering my desk. I’ve found if I do it on a weekly basis it doesn’t become too overwhelming. It also helps me see what I’ve accomplished through the week and what still needs action on Monday.

Thanks for all the tips & tricks GovLoop!

Jessie Kwak

Jem, that’s a great point – a regular decluttering time can really help keep you on target. I normally do my desk declutter/planning on Sunday night since I work from home. It helps me sleep easier knowing exactly what I need to get started on the next day.

Linda Sue

I wish I have the energy and my body was fit I will be in retail and/or a job that keep me on my feet. I will alternate office and retail every six months. Office work is so overrated sitting for 7-8 a day at a computer small desk, noise and the smell of food all kinds gets to me.

I have bible verses, quotes and different color easter eggs and kids on my desk. I brought some construction paper and soft colorful tissue paper from the dollar store and covered my wall. I had a welcome mat but due to safety I had to remove it.

Thanks for the article I shared with my co-workers at our meeting.

I want a 3-6 months sabbatical get up whenever, go to bed whenever fast and cleanse for a few days. Take a trip abroad and look for paid work.

Christina Smith

These are great tips – thanks! I try to change my desktop background to pictures that make me happy (like national parks and great mountain scenes); it’s amazing what looking a great landscape will do for your mood! I also have gotten a foot rest for under my desk, which really helps with back pain and sitting for long periods of time. I also try to take a walk outside (even if just for 10 minutes) either by myself or with co-worker friends each day to get some exercise, sunlight, out of my cubicle….what a refreshment that is!