Happiness at Work

May 1, 2014

Over the past week, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to a couple of workshops by Nic Marks on happiness in the workplace and society at large. Nic has created the Happy Planet Index to measure the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them.  Below are some notes from the talks.

Happiness is a universal emotion. It has an evolutionary function – otherwise, why would we have 40 muscles dedicated to communicate emotions? Anger and fear are well understood emotions that elicit the fight and flight responses; they immediately galvanise energy to respond to these emotional inputs. Other negative emotions like sadness indicate a lack of support with the effective response being to save energy and tread carefully until conditions improve.

Barbara Fredrickson has developed a “Broaden and Build” theory of positive emotions. Happiness broadens our ability to respond to the environment; we are more flexible if we are in a good mood. Happiness also builds self-confidence through positive experiences through learning physical and emotional skills as well as the willingness to take risks to enhance themselves. In addition, we have more peripheral vision if we are happier; happy waiters are more likely to attend to your needs than surly ones.

Unlike the negative emotions of sadness, fear, anger and distrust that indicate threats, positive ones (enthusiasm, interest, contentment) are about opportunities and thriving. Happiness is a social emotion – it’s contagious like a virus; if someone is laughing alone, they are often considered mad! Happiness and sadness are known to impact (statistically significant) on the third degree of separation (friends of friends of friends).

Happiness is not just an outcome but also a predictor of future success. Happiness is twice the predictor of future high performance than high performing teams are a predictor of future happiness. There is a virtual cycle between the two.

Happiness is a better predictor of life longevity than smoking or obesity are predictors of lower longevity. So therefore, we should be spending more time and resources on building supportive environments for happiness. There is also a correlation between income, marriage/divorce, health and whether someone is smiling in their college year book photos.

Too much positivity is bad. The optimal range is between three and eight positive behaviours or utterances to negative ones.

You want to be able to give people a broad array of emotional experiences as well as strong decision making skills (cognitive regulator function). A stable supportive positive environment is better able to respond to a negative signal than unsupported work environments that may miss the significance of such a signal.

The currency of happiness is time; about being available. There are two ways of thinking about happiness. The first is satisfaction such as “I am happy with …”. The second is more emotional – I feel happy”.

Trust and happiness are critical to learning outcomes in school environments.

In 2008, the UK Government through their Foresight area produced a report on Mental capital and wellbeing and offered 5 ways to better wellbeing

  1. Connect – with other people
  2. Be active – emotions we feel in our bodies – if in bad mood, move!
  3. Take notice – reflective, meditative, mindfulness
  4. Keep learning – not about formal learning, but hobbies, etc
  5. Give – we feel good when we give to others – needs to be authentic

Finally, you can’t make people be happy – but you can invite them into a space where happiness could occur.