Here are some of the highlights in this week’s stories about happiness – and unhappiness – an our current state of flourishing in this time of (at least in America) collective Thanksgiving…
Julian Baggini writes in The Guardian
It’s time to rewrite the story of the financial crisis. Far from being a disaster movie, it was in fact a tale of salvation. As for the green shoots of recovery we are now seeing, they are virulent weeds to be stamped out.
That would seem to be the conclusion to draw from a new studythat suggests ever-rising national wealth is the source of decreased life satisfaction. Looking at data from around the world, Warwick University’s Eugenio Proto and Aldo Rustichini of University of Minnesota conclude that average wellbeing rises with average income only up to around £22k per head per annum. After that, it slips back again. Britain is more or less at that sweet spot, which suggests economic stagnation may be an excellent way of avoiding the problems of poverty without acquiring the problems of wealth.
You may well be sceptical. Even the authors acknowledge that many people “still prefer to live in richer countries, even if this would result in a decreased level of life satisfaction”. In other words, people are overall more satisfied by less life satisfaction, which suggests we should take the whole concept of “life satisfaction” with a pinch of salt…
What the data does appear to show, and which almost all studies support, is that having a low income is more of a problem than having a high one is a benefit. From a public policy point of view, that suggests the priority should continue to be raising the life chances of the worst off, not those of the better off, or even the “squeezed middle”…
In short, the problem is explained by the familiar idea that money is not valuable in itself, but only for what it can do. The failure of western societies to convert greater wealth into greater wellbeing is in essence a failure to use our wealth wisely. This should not surprise us. The majority of people alive today and throughout history have not been accustomed to plenty. Humanity is on a steep learning curve and many of the lessons we need to learn go against our natural tendency to acquire first and ask questions later.
That’s why the debate about the relative merits of increased GDP and “gross domestic happiness” are misguided. They are not mutually exclusive options. The optimal strategy would be one in which we grew wealth but harnessed it better to enable people to really flourish, rather than just have more stuff. What we should be afraid of is the pointless march of a narrow materialism, not the resumption of economic growth in itself. A richer world in which the money was well spent is something with which we should all be well satisfied.
Research from Queen Mary University of London reveals positive aspects of working life – such as high levels of control at work, good support from supervisors and colleagues, and feeling cared for – support higher levels of wellbeing among Britain’s workers….
Stephen Stansfeld, Professor of Psychiatry, Queen Mary University of London (Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry), comments:
“The so-called ‘happiness debate’ has gained a lot of attention in recent years, with economists, politicians and psychologists all hypothesizing on how to create a happy society. If the Government proceeds with the idea of measuring wellbeing as an indicator of Britain’s progress, it is crucial they know what impacts a person’s wellbeing.
“This study shows the quality of our working conditions and personal relationships are key to the nation’s happiness. We believe any policies designed to improve the workplace should not just minimise negative aspects of work, but more crucially, increase the positive aspects, such as a creating a greater sense of control and support among employees.
“The quality of the working environment has a very important effect on how a person feels and greater wellbeing may also be related to greater productivity and performance at work, increased commitment and staff retention as well as effects on physical health and lifespan.”
Infographics on the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers. The reality is often not what we think it is.
Most Americans spend more time working than doing anything else. The average employee spends more than 2/3 of his or her day at work or on work-related activities. That’s more time than we spend sleeping or raising our children. Americans work an average of nearly one month more per year now than in 1970. In 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, in 70 percent of American households all adults work.
America vs. the world:
- Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers
- 260 more hours per year than British workers
- 499 more hours per year than French workers
- Average productivity for American workers has increased 400% since 1950
- In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days. In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.
So it matters what you do… doesn’t it? Because Americans work so much….
Here are the 10 Best AND 10 Worst Jobs in America, 2013 (with median salaries)
Anarchist, Activist and London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber traces the 20th century promise of a 4 hour day and how we got unproductive labour instead.
In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.
Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers….
…productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).
But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”
…While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.
…Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.
I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.
Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.
I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless?
…There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for … a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties … they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.
This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well….
If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.
Randy Conley writes…
In the spirit of today’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I thought I’d share ten simple and easy ways to tell your employees “thank you.” Telling an employee “thank you” is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.
Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.
So on this day of giving thanks, take a few minutes to review this list and commit to using one of these methods to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these strategies myself and can attest to their effectiveness.
1. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being…
2. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – …The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.
3. Host a potluck lunch – …Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.
4. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment…
5. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.
6. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.
7. Reach out and touch someone – …Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. …Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.
8. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.
9. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!
10. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way…
What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list?
by Adam Grant
If I asked you to judge how smart someone is, you’d know where to start. But if you were going to assess how wise that person is, what qualities would you consider?
Wisdom is the ability to make sound judgments and choices based on experience. It’s a virtue according to every great philosophical and religious tradition, from Aristotle to Confucius and Christianity to Judaism, Islam to Buddhism, and Taoism to Hinduism. According to the book From Smart to Wise, wisdom distinguishes great leaders from the rest of the pack. So what does it take to cultivate wisdom?
In an enlightening study led by psychologists Paul Baltes and Ursula Staudinger, a group of leading journalists nominated public figures who stood out as wise. The researchers narrowed the original list down to a core set of people who were widely viewed as possessing wisdom—an accomplished group of civic leaders, theologians, scientists, and cultural icons. They compared these wise people with a control group of professionals who were successful but not nominated as wise (including lawyers, doctors, teachers, scientists, and managers).
Both groups answered questions that gave them a chance to demonstrate their wisdom. For example, what advice would they give to a widowed mother facing a choice between shutting down her business and supporting her son and grandchildren? How would they respond to a call from a severely depressed friend? A panel of experts evaluated their answers, and the results—along with several follow-up studies—reveal six insights about what differentiates wise people from the rest of us.
1. Don’t wait until you’re older and smarter. The people with the highest wisdom scores are just as likely to be 30 as 60. …. Cultivating wisdom is a deliberate choice that people can make regardless of age and intelligence…
2. See the world in shades of grey, not black and white. …
Wise people specialize in what strategy expert Roger Martin calls integrative thinking—”the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads”—and reconcile them for the situation at hand. In the words of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, “fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
3. Balance self-interest and the common good… It’s neither healthy nor productive to be extremely altruistic or extremely selfish. People who fail to secure their oxygen masks before assisting others end up running out of air, and those who pursue personal gains as the expense of others end up destroying their relationships and reputations. Wise people reject the assumption that the world is a win-lose, zero-sum place. They find ways to benefit others that also advance their own objectives.
4. Challenge the status quo. Wise people are willing to question rules. Instead of accepting things as they have always been, wisdom involves asking whether there’s a better path…
5. Aim to understand, rather than judge. By default, many of us operate like jurors, passing judgment on the actions of others so that we can sort them into categories of good and bad. Wise people resist this impulse, operating more like detectives whose goal is to explain other people’s behaviors. …Over time, this emphasis on understanding rather than evaluating yields an advantage in predicting others’ actions, enabling wise people to offer better advice to others and make better choices themselves.
6. Focus on purpose over pleasure. In one surprising study, Baltes’ team discovered that wise people weren’t any happier than their peers. They didn’t experience more positive emotions, perhaps because wisdom requires critical self-reflection and a long-term view. They recognized that just as today’s cloud can have a silver lining tomorrow, tomorrow’s silver lining can become next month’s suffering. However, there was a clear psychological benefit of wisdom: a stronger sense of purpose in life. From time to time, wisdom may involve putting what makes us happy on the back burner in our quest for meaning and significance.
In his 2013 Chief Executive’s Lecture, Matthew Taylor puts the focus on good employment, and how to move this from an idea with general support but very mixed take-up into something which is available to all employees and supported by wider society.
French artist Béatrice Coron creates stories from cut paper. And while this one—told in stunning 3D, with a soundscape—contains castles and fire-breathing dragons, it tells a tale we all can relate to: of the constant, everyday battles we face. Says Coron, “It seems there is always a dragon to slay, a kingdom to be won, a Holy Grail to find … I win some battles but the war is never over.”
RACHEL FINTZY shares a story along with her suggestions for building a sense of gratitude when times are tough…
Sometimes circumstances we consider to be horrendous turn out to work in our favor. We usually don’t see the big picture until much later, if ever. The following parable illustrates this concept:
There is an ancient story of a farmer whose only horse ran away. Later that evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was thought to be such bad luck. “Your farm will suffer, and you will not be able to plough your fields,” they said. “Surely this is a terrible thing to have happened to you.”
The farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The next day the horse returned but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came to congratulate him and exclaim his good fortune. “You are much richer than you were before!” they said. “Surely this has turned out to be a great thing for you.”
The farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
Then, the following day, the farmer’s son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses. He was immediately thrown from the horse and broke his leg. With this injury he couldn’t work on the farm. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy to the farmer for the incident. “There is more work than only you can handle, and you may be driven poor,” they said. “Surely this is a terrible misfortune.”
The old farmer simply said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of his broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors heard this they came to visit the farmer and said, “How fortunate you are! Things have worked out after all. Most young men never return alive from the war. Surely this is the best of fortunes for you and your son!”
Again, the old man said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
…Who knows but that you were let go from your last job so that you could put some time and energy into contemplating and pursuing your real passion? Perhaps a relationship didn’t work out, and thus you developed greater inner strength and autonomy. Maybe that addiction you’ve battled for so many years will lead you to effective treatment, a support group, and the ability to help many other people, based on your own experience and recovery. You can make your mess your message.
So, be kind to yourself if you’re having a tough time feeling gratitude at this moment. This is a great opportunity to practice self-acceptance of your full spectrum of emotions and to also practice “acting as if” you’re grateful. Although you may be gritting your teeth, you can still ask yourself, “What’s the good in this?” As has been said, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but only if we’re able to learn from the experience. Your lesson may come to light down the road, so no worries if you don’t see it now – but keep your eyes open.
All of these stories and more can be found in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #74.