The Happiness Advantage


People who are happy and have meaning in their lives are not only more productive and more resilient at work, they take less sick days, they perform better in leadership roles and they receive higher pay. So says Shawn Achor, who lectured on positive psychology for 12 years at Harvard University and so says Martin Seligman and many others who have spent time researching the area.

This is great news for everyone who naturally has a positive outlook. But what about everyone else, for whom happiness is elusive, especially in the arena of work? Can they really learn to become happier at work? Shawn Achor, says yes they can, if they change the way they think about work, success and happiness. “Being happy at work isn’t easy. This is partly because we all have patterns through which we view the world and we get stuck in these.”

The conventional thinking on happiness is that if you work hard, you’ll be successful and by being successful, you’ll become happier. The problem with this is that every time you’re successful, you change the goalposts of what success looks like. If you hit your sales target for the last quarter, you change the target for the next quarter. So, if our happiness depends on our success, we’re constantly making it harder to achieve. Researchers in the Positive Psychology field have shown that our brains actually work the other way around. Happiness fuels success. When our brains are primed to be positive, we perform better than when we’re in a negative or neutral state and our work becomes more enjoyable and rewarding. This is called the Happiness Advantage. However, being happy at work isn’t easy.

This is partly because we all have patterns through which we view the world and we get stuck in these. For example, a tax manager who spends all day looking for mistakes in tax forms is more likely to come home and unwittingly notice what’s wrong in his home life. He’s primed to look for mistakes and he can get stuck in that pattern.

Becoming happier

The learning point for all of us is that it is possible to imprint the brain with a positive pattern by creating a series of habits and mindset changes. By changing what we do, and encouraging others around us to do the same, we can help people to increase their happiness. For example, you could prime your own brain to be happier at work by doing one or all of the following:

1. Create the habit of gratitude

Write down three new things each day that you are grateful for. It could be anything simple or complex, personal or work related, as long as its specific. If you spend two minutes a day doing this, your brain becomes slightly happier. Try doing it for 28 consecutive days. The neurological connections you make can become fixed if done 28 – 30 days consecutively.

2. Exercise

Many people know that exercise releases positive endorphins and that when you exercise you’re more likely to eat healthier. If you could exercise daily for 28 -30 days in a row, the benefits would cascade into other areas of your life.

3. Reduce multitasking

Our brains like to do one thing at a time. When we attempt to multitask, we decrease our success rate on those tasks. To be happier and more productive at work, people should try to do one thing at a time. Allow yourself to value your success and accomplishment for each thing done. 

4. Perform conscious acts of kindness. 

Altruism is a great way to feel good about yourself. Thinking of how you can help someone else changes how you see the world – from how is the world affecting me to how can I affect the world? It may seem a small change but this is very important. Train yourself and your employees to find positive things that they can do for – or say to – other people. These are four suggestions. In your teams, you can discuss these and other habits that would help people to feel more positive if they were introduced on a daily basis.

Ripple effect

Interestingly, when we see someone smile, we smile too. Likewise when we see someone yawn. It’s called the ripple effect and you see it in all facets of life. Why this is relevant to happiness, is because emotions get transferred between people in the same way. Put three people into a room and two of them will leave with the emotions of the one who was the most expressive. Feelings of stress, anxiety and uncertainty – or of happiness – can therefore be spread from one person to another. This is why negativity can spread like wildfire in a company. However, so too can positivity. To create a positive ripple effect, become more emotionally expressive and then train your managers to be expressive. Non-verbally they can smile and make eye contact with others. Verbally, they should give praise, thanks or positive feedback to others, so that people know when they’ve done a good job. Expressing positivity will increase the positivity of those around them so that it starts to spread across the organisation. So, spread a little happiness throughout your organisation and create a lasting competitive advantage.

Blog originally published here.

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