Happiness At Work #57 ~ altruism, helping others & living ‘the good life’

Photo by Martyn Duffy

Photo by Martyn Duffy

The emergent theme coming through many of the stories of this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #57 considers what it means to be living The Good Life in our 21st century age of abundance and austerity, and the importance of altruism and helping others for our own happiness and even success…

Steve McCurry’s Blog: Light of Faith

Each week Steve McCurry’s new photo collection arrives in my inbox as a little gift, and I always save looking at them until I know I can take my time to quietly enjoy then and ket my mind go wherever they want to take me.  This week’s collection is no exception, and, even if you do not share any of the beliefs portrayed here, I think you might still find, as I did, that these images make worthwhile focus to just stop a moment and notice and consider the importance in all of our lives of reflection, stillness, breathing and breathing together…

I have seen many manifestations of faith during my travels over the past three decades.
Some have been spontaneous, some have been part of a liturgy,
some have been prescribed rituals,
Some have been in magnificent buildings, others have been outside under a tree.
Some people’s faith is embedded in the way they live their lives.  Steve McCurry

Here is the link to these photos

Not All Happiness Is Created Equally, and Genes Show It


photo credit: USACE HQ via photopin cc

photo credit: USACE HQ via photopin cc

Provocative new research suggests happiness or positive psychology can affect your genetic makeup.

However, not all happiness is the same, and different types of happiness may have significantly different effects as the body responds in a unique manner to dissimilar forms of positive psychology.

Researchers from UCLA and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered people who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa) — showed very favorable gene expression profiles in their immune cells.

That is, the “do-gooders” had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities) — actually showed just the opposite.

The “feel-gooders” had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression…

Here is the link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Eileen Delhi via photopin cc

photo credit: Eileen Delhi via photopin cc

Virtue Rewarded: helping others at work makes people happier

Altruists in the workplace are more likely to help fellow employees, be more committed to their work and be less likely to quit, new research by UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs shows.  And these workplace altruists enjoy a pretty important benefit themselves — they are happier than their fellow employees.

“More and more research illustrates the power of altruism,” says La Follette professor Donald Moynihan, “but people debate whether we behave altruistically because of hidden self-interest, such as the desire to improve how others see us.

“Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier.  Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system,” Moynihan says…

Here is the link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Peter Nijenhuis via photopin cc

photo credit: Peter Nijenhuis via photopin cc


Helping Others Makes Us Happier At Work, Research Finds

Here’s a good reason to help your coworkers with an upcoming project or presentation: Altruists in the office are more likely to be committed to their work and are less likely to quit their jobs, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But beyond all that, researchers found perhaps the biggest benefit of office altruism: Those who help others are happier at work than those who don’t prioritize helping others.

“More and more research illustrates the power of altruism,” Donald Moynihan, a professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the university, said in a statement. “Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system…”

Here is the link to the rest of this article

Belongingness: Essential Bridges That Support the Self

by Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D.

Recent research is establishing the critical nature of social belongingness.

…people with greater perceived social support enjoy greater self-esteem, fewer illnesses, and longer lives.  In fact, research in our own lab has shown that people not only demonstrate better outcomes (e.g., less depression, less loneliness, greater self-esteem, greater happiness) from better quality relationships with people, but that even the quality of interactions with one’s dog can provide additional benefits above and beyond human social support (McConnell et al., 2011).  Social connection is a perception rather than an objective quality, and many sources may play an important role in augmenting one’s sense of connection and belongingness.

Promoting happiness: It is better to give than to receive

Another recent lesson from the research literature is that we are actually happier when we give to others than when we give unto ourselves.  One interesting benefit of social belongingness is that we spend a good amount of time caring for others, and recent research has shown that even in a consumer-driven culture, we can be happier when we address others’ needs instead of our own…

Here is the link to read this article in full

Good News, We’re Slightly Happier…But Why?

. Director of Action for Happiness

…Research suggests that the external circumstances of our lives generally have a smaller impact on our happiness than our attitudes and actions. And at Action for Happiness, our review of the latest evidence has identified ten areas where actions we take as individuals tend to increase our wellbeing. We call these the Ten Keys to Happier Living. They include having positive relationships and strong social connections, giving to others, being mindful, staying physically active, taking a resilient approach to adversity, pursuing life goals and being part of something bigger than ourselves. These are the real drivers of wellbeing just as much as having a job, good health or being married.

The ONS identified the Jubilee celebrations and Olympics as factors that may have contributed to our boost in wellbeing since last year. I suspect this may indeed be true. But if so, this is not thanks to our love of the Royal Family or our outstanding sporting success. It’s because these events encouraged actions which helped us to connect in our communities, to share enjoyable times together and to feel part of something bigger. Although these once-in-a-lifetime events won’t be repeated any time soon, there’s still so much more we can do to create and maintain those community connections and that positive and outward-looking spirit…

Here is the link to read the full piece by Mark Williamson considering what the first year-on-year UK national happiness statistics might mean.

How Do We Measure A Good Life?

How do we measure a good life? Do we judge it by the quality of an individual’s relationships and sense of meaning and purpose?  Or, do we judge it according to an individual’s wealth, status and power?  These external measures of success seem to count for a lot and yet, they clearly don’t buy happiness.  Park Avenue psychiatrists and their patients know this all too well.  Complaints about burnout, loneliness, meaninglessness and broken relationships are often at the core of their unhappiness.  They spend so much time ticking boxes that they lose sight of what really matters. In the name of “success,” they often sacrifice their mental and physical health.

If tangible achievements don’t amount to happiness, then what does? …  As I began exploring the meaning of “the good life” a few years ago, I learned about the field of Positive Psychology.

In broad terms, Positive Psychology focuses on human strengths and well-being.  Essentially, it is the scientific study of what makes life worth living versus traditional psychiatry and psychology that studies mental illness and pathology.  Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, Positive Psychology focuses on what’s right.  Along these lines, Positive Psychology is interested in a different kind of success: Success with a capital “S” that focuses on well-being.

One of the key takeaways from Positive Psychology is that relationships with other people matter most…

Here is the link to read this article in full

Guardian Books podcast: The pursuit of happiness

 Is positive thinking the route to happiness? Oliver Burkeman and Jules Evans make the case for looking on the dark side, while the narrator of Joanna Kavenna’s latest novel takes off in search of a new way of living…

For Oliver Burkeman, a contented life must embrace uncertainty and get friendly with failure. But could the active pursuit of happiness be part of the problem?

Jules Evans takes a more can-do approach, looking back to the wisdom of ancient Greek philosophers and tracking it through to the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy of today, which helped him to escape depression in his early 20s…

Here is the link to listen to this podcast

photo credit: profzucker via photopin cc
photo credit: profzucker via photopin cc

And here is a link to the video of Jules Evans talking about his journey out of depression with the help of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and its connection to the Ancient Greek’s idea of what Living A Good Life means…

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

…Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me…
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard…
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings…
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends…
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Here is the link to read this article in full

photo credit: scion_cho via photopin cc

photo credit: scion_cho via photopin cc

Searching For Happiness: What Makes Life Meaningful?

by Amie Gordon

Picture it – a cabin in the woods next to a gurgling river, a garden out back with beautiful flowers and delicious produce, a feeling of being close to nature, like my ancestors.  More time for important social interactions, which are really at the heart of a meaningful life.  No more random interneting or hours spent ignoring my husband in favor of my smart phone. Instead I’ll spend my days doing meaningful things, going to bed with the setting sun and sleeping as much as I need.  Really, imagine it.  Don’t you all want to come and join me in the woods?

But would I really be happier if I gave up modern conventions and moved to an isolated cabin?…

Here is the link to the full article to find out how Amie Gordon answers this question

photo credit: keppet via photopin cc

photo credit: keppet via photopin cc

The Quality of Life


This is a long and deliberately provocative, fiery and funny essay that challenges many of the ideas and principles we believe and build our work towards.  While I do not agree with every thing written here, it is rich with ideas worth thinking about.  Here is my deliberately biased and unapologetically biased précis of this essay:

The idea of quality of life is very twentieth-century.  It sparks associations with ideas like statistical quality control and total quality management.  It is the idea that entire human lives can be objectively modeled, measured and compared in meaningful ways.  That lives can be idealised and normalised in ways that allow us to go beyond comparisons to absolute measures.  That lives can be provisioned from cradle-to-grave.  That an insistence on a unique, subjective evaluation of one’s own life is something of a individualist-literary conceit…

…That conception of the quality of life, as the sum total of material conveniences acquired and brutalities of nature thwarted through technology, seems naive today.  But with hindsight, it was much better than what it evolved into: baroque United Nations statistics that reflect institutionally enabled and enforced scripts, which dictate what people ought to want.

In 2013, the concept of quality of life is effectively drowning in the banality of self-reported statistical surveys based on unreconstructed concepts overloaded with institutionalised connotations.

Just looking at (for example) the Gallup well-being survey categories – career, social, financial, physical, community – depresses me.  It’s not just that the words themselves denote banal categories with which to think about life.  You know that they also have the force of committee interpretations by statisticians and economists behind them.  Committees that probably included no writers of imaginative fiction or speculative philosophy…

Nobody, other than bureaucrats who fund research and economists, asks the question “how much income is needed to be happy?”  We already know that talking about happiness without talking about what trade-offs we are making to pursue it is meaningless.  The rest of us real people ask the question “how much wealth is required to be free of scripts that dictate what trade-offs you are allowed to make?”…

…The problem isn’t specific stupid numbers or specific ideas about how to live on certain incomes.  The problem is that we have stupid discussions about numbers because we cannot have intelligent discussions about what quality of life means.  Our culture forces us to argue about how others ought to pursue quality-of-life. You there, save for college.  You there, buy a house.  You there, get your calories and daily protein requirement before you get your psychadelics…

…It is easy to dismiss such ideas as the  criticism of hard-working bureaucrats in thankless jobs by first-world residents working the top of their Maslow hierarchy of needs.  Perhaps those navigating the bottom of the hierarchy of needs in Africa benefit from hard-nosed attempts to reduce poetic thoughts about freedom into clean-edged models and metrics.

The problem is, this approach doesn’t work in Africa either.  And it is paternalistic to suggest that it does…

…When you actually meet people living in tough conditions, you realise that they don’t exactly make up dreams for their lives in some UN-approved sequence; water first, food next, healthcare third, money fourth, philosophy when I am rich, alcohol and marijuana never.  With “democracy” injected somewhere along the an S-curve from pre-industrial squalor to post-industrial anomie.

Humans are capable of nurturing rockstar dreams even while they are schlepping their twenty-miles-a-day to fetch water.  There is a reason there is music and art in all societies, not just the privileged ones…

…Even for those literally living on less than a dollar a day, the quality of life is about more than a hard daily scramble for the “basics.”  Humans strive to live full lives whatever their situation.  This requires freedom…

…So the search for meaning in life does not wait on the satisfaction of basic needs.  Any notion of quality of life that starts with a breakdown and classification of quality of life into more and less basic needs is starting in the wrong place.  Any model that conceptualises development as a progressive fulfilment of needs in a predictable sequence, and offers aid constrained by that sequence (or worse, penalises attempts by beneficiaries to break out of the sequence), is headed for a very quick unraveling.

You need music and literature even when you are hungry and ill.  There is a reason middle-class revolutionaries stir up popular passions among the hungry and dispossessed with theology, philosophical rhetoric and self-actualization narratives rather than narratives driven by the logic of access to basic resources…

…So to repeat, the Maslow pyramid isn’t some sort of sequential script for life.  Once truly acute stressors — we’re talking being chased by lions right now – are removed, the quality of life is a function of the whole pyramid, not just the level you happen to be navigating at that moment.  Life isn’t a video game.  You never really complete a level and move on.  You don’t need to complete a level before being afforded a glimpse of the next one.  You don’t need to tackle the levels in a set order…

…Human life, modeled by economists, measured by bureaucrats, and celebrated by statisticians, seems to miss the point in some deep way.  If we need those sorts of experts to tell us what constitutes a good life, and whether or we’ve achieved it, something is already very wrong…

…A deep truth about the human condition as captured in the Maslow hierarchy is that it is much easier for humans to help each other with acute needs at lower levels of the hierarchy.  For all non-acute needs, and acute needs in the upper levels, the only defensible way to help others is to increase their freedom of action.  Whether they choose to make themselves happy or miserable with that freedom is up to them.

So how did we get ourselves into a situation where institutions, politicians and economists are trying to tell us what quality of life ought to mean?  How did we get to the point where arbitrary ideas like home ownership and a college education have been inserted into the script of oughts and shoulds?…

…Right problem, wrong approach.  Not aesthetically or ideologically wrong, but physics wrong.  But still, it is better than the not-even-wrong approach of UN economists.

So it is a start.  We have asked the right question.  What does it mean to live a quality life today?…

…Freedom is not the same as access to entrepreneurial modes of being. That is still provisioning with an element of gambling.

But at least we’ve made another small improvement.  From not even wrong questions and answers to right question, wrong answer, we’ve arrived at right question, workable starter answer. 

We are getting somewhere.  Frustratingly slowly and painfully, but we’re moving.

It’s a start.

Here is the link to read Venkat’s provocative and thought-provoking essay in full

Janis Ian’s The Great Divide with pictures

Last night I went to watch Chasing Ice, a devastatingly beautiful and frightening film about photographer John Balog’s portrayal of the dying icebergs as they crumble away, and then when I went looking for Janis ian’s song The Great Divide to add to this post, I found this photo essay tribute made by rjbalano reminding us of climate change catastrophe.  If you need still need convincing about why all these ideas matter so very much and so urgently, I hope you will watch this…

One Guaranteed Way To Boost Your Happiness

By Jeanette Leardi

…“Happiness is a sense of wellbeing we experience when we are engaged in meaningful and manageable projects in our lives,” says Carleton University associate professor of psychology Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D, and author of “The Procrastinator’s Digest.” “One of the key attributes of humans is that we are goal-oriented beings.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., University of California–Riverside professor of psychology and author of “The How of Happiness,” would agree. “People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” she writes. “Find a happy person, and you will find a project.” …

But committing to a goal won’t automatically guarantee that you’ll feel better about your life. Sure, you’ll be busier, but not necessarily happier. That’s because some goals are unreasonable, inappropriate, impractical or unachievable. Explains Lyubomirsky, “The type of goal … that you pursue determines whether the pursuit will make you happy.”

So what kind of goal will help you lead a happier life? …

Here is the link to find practical answers to this questions and read this article in full

photo credit: c@rljones via photopin cc

photo credit: c@rljones via photopin cc

What makes a great talk, great: Chris Anderson at TEDGlobal 2013

It’s an alchemic question that’s very hard for us to answer: what makes a great TED talk?‘ writes Kate Torgovnick in her blog post about this…

In this talk, which was given to a gathering of 100+ TEDx organizers from 43 countries during the TEDx Workshop at TEDGlobal 2013, our curator Chris Anderson stresses the incredible power of a well-structured, honest talk.

We’re giving someone a new worldview that, 30 years later, might make them think differently, might make them act differently,” says Anderson in this video. “Sometimes I think a  (presentation) is like playing Tetris with the brain. All these ideas are coming in and you’re trying to fit them in and slot them so that they are received.

“What are the two things you need to do if you want to persuade a group of people to come with you on a journey?  Well you need to start where they are and you need to persuade them to come with you…”

In this talk Chris Anderson reminds us how astonishing it is that we can transmit a complex idea from our head into the heads of a listening group of people just through communication.  But, of course, we can also fail in this and leave our audience unchanged, unknowing and uncaring about what we wanted them to understand, care about about, act upon…

Here is the link to this talk to hear what Anderson considers the key to a good talk — taking the audience on a journey. In it, he shares his advice on how to do so authentically, without forcing it…

photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer via photopin cc

photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer via photopin cc

Chris Anderson shares his tips for giving a killer presentation

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick

In this essay in The Harvard Business Review’s June issue, Anderson shares his fine-tuned advice for delivering a powerful talk. Here are some of his words of wisdom…

We all know that humans are wired to listen to stories, and metaphors abound for the narrative structures that work best to engage people. When I think about compelling presentations, I think about taking an audience on a journey. A successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterward.”

If you frame the talk as a journey, the biggest decisions are figuring out where to start and where to end. To find the right place to start, consider what people in the audience already know about your subject—and how much they care about it. If you assume they have more knowledge or interest than they do, or if you start using jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose them. The most engaging speakers do a superb job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and convincing the audience members that they should, too.”

“Perhaps the most important physical act onstage is making eye contact. Find five or six friendly-looking people in different parts of the audience and look them in the eye as you speak. Think of them as friends you haven’t seen in a year, whom you’re bringing up to date on your work.“

There is a link to the full article by Chris Anderson at the end of this TED Blog post

photo credit: MendezEnrique via photopin cc

photo credit: MendezEnrique via photopin cc

Dr Mark Williamson: My Manifesto for a Happier World

…what does a happier society look like and how can we make it happen? As Director of UK-based Action for Happiness, a growing global movement of people who care deeply about this topic, I’ve had the privilege to meet with many of the world’s leading experts as well as engaging with many of our 80,000 supporters and followers to hear their views.

My conclusion is that a happier society is possible – and rather than being some nebulous or idealistic dream, there are some clear actions needed to make this happen. It will of course require a shift in priorities for our governments and institutions. But it will also only happen if we as individual citizens play our part, particularly by choosing to live in a way that contributes to the happiness of others.

So below is my 12-step manifesto for a happier world, which calls for change not just from our leaders but from all of us. I’m not pretending these are simple changes or can happen overnight. But if we were to put these ideas into practice I’m certain we could create a society which is not only happier, but also more productive, caring, fair, responsible and sustainable.

For our political leaders:

    • Ensure a Stable Economy…
    • Focus on Wellbeing
    • Support the Disadvantaged…
    • Prioritise Human Relationships

For our institutions:

    • Healthcare for Mind And Body…
    • Education For Life…
    • Responsible Business…
    • Balanced Media...

For each of us as individuals:

    • Family Values…
    • Contributing In The Community…
    • Making A Difference…
    • Taking Care of Ourselves…

Together our actions make a profound difference…

Here is the link to read the detail of Mark Williamson’s Manifesto

photo credit: Fukecha Nabil via photopin cc

photo credit: Fukecha Nabil via photopin cc

Happiness Infusion Blog

You might like to check out this pretty comprehensive set of tools, techniques and gentle knowledge bringing that Eric Karpinski, a.k.a. The Happiness Coach, offers every couple of his weeks via his blog.  As he writes in his introduction:

These biweekly “Happiness Infusion” posts are the place to find key ideas and tips from the exciting science of positive psychology.  I share powerful conclusions backed by controlled studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  My goal is to make these fully accessible to those with little scientific training and succinct enough that a two-minute read will get you something thought-provoking or useful in YOUR life.

Here is the link to the summary of contents of all of his posts, very helpfully listed under the headings of:

  • Fundamentals of Positive Psychology
  • Happiness Habits
  • Making Time for Your Happiness
  • Managing Negative Emotions
  • Sleep and Happiness
  • Mindfulness and Meditation

And here is the link to the rest of this week’s Happiness At Work #57 collection of stories, articles, research news and practical techniques.


Photo by Martyn Duffy

Photo by Martyn Duffy

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