This week our headline stories all provide representations of what we now know about happiness at work: how it can be learned, developed and sustained, how it increases our greater productivity, creativity, and learning, and how it leads directly to greater success in our work, our lives and our relationships.
Studies have shown that when we are happy at work, we are smarter, more motivated, more competitive and, thus more successful.
While it’s widely known that overall fulfilment allows us to enjoy more meaningful relationships and better health, few understand that it impacts a paycheck – significantly:
Nose to the grindstone – the correlation between success and happiness:
There is a big misconception among many corporations and educational institutions that success leads to happiness. Often, we tell ourselves that once we get the promotion we want, the pay raise we feel we deserve or the recognition we desire, happiness will follow.
Until recently, it was widely thought that focusing on productivity and performance, even to the detriment of our well-being, would lead us to become more successful and, therefore happier. Everyone has heard the phrase: Keep your nose to the grindstone.
However, recent research in psychology and neuroscience has proven that fulfillment and happiness are a key ingredient to a successful career. Optimism fuels performance and achievement which, in turn, allows us to advance monetarily.
In simper terms, happiness is not a random event in the distant future. Treat it as such and not only will it hinder your ability to succeed, but it will also prevent you from living life to the fullest.
Dopamine, serotonin and the brain’s reaction:
Countless studies have shown that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best when they are in a positive mindset. When we feel optimistic about our future, dopamine and serotonin are released in our brains.
In conjunction with providing a heightened sense of well-being, dopamine and serotonin allow us to more rapidly organize new information and become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving.
Specifically, a clear head allows for 100% engagement. Conversely, perseverating on your problems exhausts most of your capacity for attention which drains energy as well as performance levels. It’s no secret that, as a group, low performing employees take home sparse paychecks.
Consider the following:
- A recent study at the University of Toronto found that our mood can change what we see. When shown pictures with multiple images, those in negative moods could not process as much as their positive counterparts. Positive emotions expand our peripheral line of vision.
- People who were asked to think about the happiest day of their life prior to a formal exam scored higher than those simply given the test.
Exercises:An individual who can learn to control their thoughts will maintain control of their happiness and, thus career potential. While doing so is easier said than done (it takes significant practice and discipline), below are three easier exercises that could begin making a difference today.
- Think of your brain as a computer disk with a finite amount of space. Consider your surroundings, inner monologue, other people in the room and your desired task as small files that quickly fill that disk to capacity.The more stored on that disk, the less available room there is for intelligently evaluating information and making rational decisions. Thus, it comes useless to allow that disk to be filled with thoughts of self-doubt as you are throwing away valuable space.
- Know what you stand for: define what your core beliefs are always remember to live in the present, resolve with the past and create your ideal future.
- Keep healthy: success requires not only our minds, but our body, energy and spirit as well. Eat well, exercise and when necessary, practice some form of mediation. Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left prefrontal cortex.
In the end:
Happiness is more than a good feeling – it is also a crucial ingredient of our success. Allow your brain the capacity to feel positive and heightened creativity, resilience and intellectual capacity will quickly follow.
If you wish to increase the number on your paycheck, choose happiness as one of your definitive goals. Then, place all your energy, will power and effort towards chasing that goal.
Happiness is a difficult thing to measure due to its subjective nature, but scientists have been trying nonetheless. Here is a compilation of some of the most interesting findings they’ve gathered so far packed into one big infographic.
To achieve greater happiness at work, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in Vermont. So says Srikumar Rao, the author of Happiness at Work. The biggest obstacle to happiness is simply your belief that you’re the prisoner of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to you, he says. “We create our own experience,” he adds. Here are 10 steps to happiness at work, drawn from his recommendations.
Avoid “good” and “bad” labels
When something bad happens, don’t beat yourself up, says Rao. Instead, when you make an error, be aware of it without passing judgment. “Do what you have to do, but don’t surrender your calmness and sense of peace.”
Practice “extreme resilience”
Rao defines “extreme resilience” as the ability to recover fast from adversity. “You spend much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others,” he writes. “You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you’re resilient, you recover and go on to do great things.” (He also says that if you fully take his advice to avoid “bad thing” labels, you don’t have to practice resilience at all.)
Let go of grudges
Rao says that a key to being happy at work is to let go of grudges. “Consciously drop the past,” he writes. “It’s hard, but with practice you will get the hang of it.”
Don’t waste time being jealous
“When you’re jealous you’re saying that the universe is limited and there’s not enough success in it for me,” says Rao. “Instead, be happy, because whatever happened to him will happen to you in your current job or at another company.”
Find passion in you, not in your job
Sure, you can fantasize about a dream job that pays you well and allows you to do some kind of social good, work with brilliant and likable colleagues and still be home in time for dinner. But Rao warns against searching for that perfect position, or even believing that it exists. Instead, he advocates changing how you think about your current situation. For example, instead of thinking of yourself as a human resources manager at a bank, identify yourself as someone who helps other bank employees provide for their families, take advantage of their benefits and save for the future.
Picture yourself 10 years ago and 10 years from now
“Most problems that kept you awake ten years ago have disappeared,” says Rao. “Much of what troubles you today will also vanish. Realizing this truth will help you gain perspective.”
Banish the “if/then” model of happiness
Rao says that many of us rely on a flawed “if/then” model for happiness. If we become CEO, then we’ll be happy. If we make a six-figure salary, then we’ll be happy. “There is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy,” he writes.
Invest in the process, not the outcome
“Outcomes are totally beyond your control,” Rao writes. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you focus too much on what you hope to achieve rather than how you plan to get there.
Think about other people
Even in corporate life, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, Rao advocates inhabiting an “other-centered universe.” If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he may still succeed in less tangible ways. “He may rise later in the shootout,” Rao says. “I’m challenging the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.”
Swap multitasking for mindfulness
Rao thinks that multitasking gets in the way of happiness. “Multitasking simply means that you do many things badly and take much more time at it,” he writes. He recommends instead working on tasks for 20-minute intervals that you gradually increase to two-hour spans. Turn off any electronic gadgets that can be a distraction. He claims that with practice, you’ll be able to accomplish much more and with less effort.
If you want to be a fulfilled, happy, successful person, consider this graph.
The white diagonal line represents what positive psychology pioneer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to as “flow.”
The metaphor of flow is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives. Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone,” religious mystics as being in “ecstasy,” artists and musicians as “aesthetic rapture.”
It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life.
Flow, the psychologist continues, is different from the “passive pleasures” of deep sleep, warm sunshine, or a contented relationship, since those all depend on external circumstances.
In contrast, flow is something you can create.
“This complete immersion in an experience could occur while you are singing in a choir, dancing, playing bridge, or reading a good book,” Csikszentmihalyi writes. “If you love your job, it could happen during a complicated surgical operation or a close business deal.”
Looking at the graph, you can see that in order to achieve flow an activity has to have the right level of engagement with your skills. If the challenge is too great, you’ll feel overwhelmed; if the challenge is too easy, you’ll get bored. The key is to go just beyond your comfort level.
If you do so, you’re in the flow channel: engaged in your work and growing along with it.
But there’s also the matter of how you grow. Writer and philosophy Ph.D. Jim Stone wrote in a Quora post that you can advance from A1 to A4 in the flow channel in one of two ways:
First, you can move from A1 to A2, and then to A4. On this path, you develop new skills without much challenge. And once you start to feel competent with those new skills, and you start to get bored with the way you are using those skills, you can take on a challenge that will use those skills and get your mind back in the game.
This might be the approach of a math student who keeps working on easy problem sets until he gets so good at them that he’s bored, and then decides to tackle a harder problem set.
Second, you can move from A1 to A3, and then to A4. On this path you take on a challenge before you have the skills to meet the challenge. This creates anxiety, and the anxiety drives you to develop the skills you need to meet the challenge.
This might be the approach of a math student who jumps right to the most difficult problem set and fills in her skills as she works on those problems.
Which is better, career-wise? The second, more anxiety-filled one, since it forces you to tackle big projects and get comfortable with the discomfort inherent to the process.
Doing this exposes us to an important mental skill, too. Finns call it “sisu,”the psychological strength that allows you to push through difficult circumstances.
The good news is it can be trained.
Here are 5 tips to increase your happiness at work and supercharge your productivity:
1. Think happy – be happy
We can choose to be happy; it’s a conscious decision. Ok, not all the time – sometimes things happen to devastate us and we have to pick ourselves back up off the floor – but a lot of the time, we can choose to be happy. Did you know, there is evidence to suggest that not only does being happy make us smile, but smiling actually makes us happy? Really! When we choose to be happy, we open ourselves up to experiences that will increase our happiness. It’s apparent in our personal lives as well as at work. If we approach our jobs with an open mind and expect to be happy in what we do – whether it’s sitting on our bums writing articles (hello!), serving customers in shops or repairing burst pipes – we’ll find that, whaddya know, we actually are pretty happy!
2. Do something you love
It’s easier said than done, but being able to do what you love every day is rewarding in and of itself. Whatever it is you love doing, try to make it part of your work. That doesn’t necessarily mean only doing what drives you wild and gets your blood pumping, but if you can dedicate a portion of your time while at work to activities that do have this effect, it’s a no-brainer that you’ll be happier. For example, we love being able to give our learners their certificate at the end of their exciting online journey of learning and discovery – when we focus on this, the hard work we do that directly contributes to making it a reality suddenly doesn’t seem so hard after all.
3. Avoid negativity
Work is inherently stressful sometimes; if it was always easy as pie we’d get sore tummies and fatigued taste buds! But the important thing to remember is not to let anyone else drag you down when they’re feeling stressed. Try to avoid negative conversations, gossip and unhappy people. A bit of complaining is fine – but don’t get caught up in other people’s problems if they don’t concern you.
4. Look for opportunities to learn and grow
We’re passionate about training, self-development, sharing knowledge and learning new things, so we understand how important it is for people to continue their professional development. There’s always something we can improve upon or learn about, and when we do so our motivation is boosted to the nth degree.
5. Take stock of how far you’ve come
Maybe you’re not exactly where you want to be. You might be a sales adviser when you really want to be sales manager, or perhaps you’re sous chef when your absolute desire is to be head chef. Whatever the case, take a step back and take stock of how far you’ve come in your professional development. Remember when you started work in the restaurant all those years ago? You were a dish washer back then, and now you’re supporting the chef! You used to be temporary sales adviser but you rocked so hard your company asked you to join as a full-time employee. When you look back on what you’ve accomplished in your career and see how you have blossomed over the years, you’ll feel happy and comforted in the knowledge that you’re doing the right thing, making progress and seriously kicking butt. You might not be in your ideal role right now, but you know you’re working your hardest, pushing yourself every day, making the most of your talents and enjoying yourself while you’re at it.
It’s easy at first glance to dismiss Epicurus as just another hedonist caught in pleasure’s trap. But as we dig a little deeper into his writings, a slightly different man emerges. By pleasure, he says, what he means is ‘the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul.’ So instead of viewing pleasure as a positive thing to chase and possess, Epicurus asks us to free ourselves of worry and physical pain, so that we may achieve a state of calm and neutrality, which he callsataraxia, or ‘free from worry’. Buddha called it ‘emptiness’.
Necessary and Unnecessary Desires
The first distinction we must make is that between necessary and unnecessary desires, he says. Necessary desires are those that compel us to be free of physical and mental pain, where unnecessary desires cause further pain even after they’re satisfied. All desires of the flesh and of the material world are of the latter sort; though they give us momentary pleasure, they lock us into the pain-pleasure cycle, where we run after more and more pleasure which causes us more and more pain.
Pleasurable pains and painful pleasures
The second distinction is between the different kinds of pleasures and pains. Some ‘pleasures’ result in long-lasting pain, like drinking or taking drugs, whereas some pains – like failure, heartbreak and envy – could lead to resilience, empathy and self-awareness, which are all highly pleasurable states. Epicurus advises us not to judge a pleasure or a pain from what it does to your body right now, but from what it does your mind and character in the long run. Suffering and sadness may make us feel bad today, but we may be better off enduring them if they make us happier beings overall.
Friends, Freedom and Philosophy – the ingredients for happiness
As we may expect of a philosopher, he claims that a life of questioning and debating the deeper questions of life with like-minded people to be the happiest one. In fact, as Alain De Botton presents in the video below, the three things that man needs to be happy, according to Epicurus, are freedom, friends, and solitude in which to reflect. No matter how much you have in terms of material possessions, he says that unless you have these three, it is impossible to be happy. And if you have these three, you will have need for nothing else.
In today’s marketplace, business leaders can’t succeed without the ability to communicate effectively with others, manage their emotions and collaborate on finding solutions to pressing challenges. Perhaps most importantly, they have to be able to connect with employees on a human level, a trait that requires both understanding and empathy.
These attributes are key elements of what is known as emotional intelligence (or Emotional Intelligence Quotient) — being aware of and managing your own emotions and understanding the emotions of others.
A leader with a high EQ is better positioned to instill a deep sense of engagement among employees. Without that sense of engagement, employees are less motivated (and therefore less productive), which can lead to a high rate of turnover that threatens the well-being of the organization.
“True engagement comes from the employee’s relationship with the employer and with the work itself,” note Joel H. Head and Joshua Freedman of the global support network Six Seconds. “By definition, engagement is an inside job.”
Qualities of Emotional Intelligence
Self-awareness is an essential component of emotional intelligence. How well do you know your various emotional states? What are your emotional triggers and what situations tend to set them off? Do you recognize the impact your emotions have on the people around you?
Another critical element of self-awareness is the ability to manage those emotions. This involves understanding what causes stress in your life and developing coping mechanisms (exercise, meditation, etc.) to reduce that stress, so you don’t unleash it on the people around you.
As a business leader, you need to calibrate your emotional states so that you always project an upbeat demeanor and an optimism that employees can rely on. “Once you become a leader, you no longer have the luxury of a bad day,” says leadership expert Amanda Gore. “[People] don’t really care about the boss. They care about what the boss’s mood means for them.”
Self-management also means holding yourself accountable for your decisions and actions. From time to time this requires acknowledging that you’ve erred in judgment and that there’s still room to improve your leadership skills. This quality leads to enhanced trust among the people you hope to lead.
“Employees want to know that you can be trusted; revealing the areas where you can improve makes you more real and genuine,” says business strategist Glenn Llopis. “Employees follow and support leaders who are approachable and relatable, those who will roll up their sleeves and fight the battles with them.”
Social awareness — better known as “empathy” — might be the most critically important element of emotional intelligence. This involves not just listening to what employees have to say, but being able to see it through their eyes.
“Any time you’re dealing with another person … things will go more smoothly if from time to time you put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, ‘What’s going on for this person right now? What’s important to them? What do they want from this interchange?’” says emotional intelligence consultant Andy Smith. “If you get a sense of what’s going on for them, you will find them much easier to communicate with.”
Finally, emotional intelligence includes social skills: Knowing how to communicate with and persuade others to achieve a desired result, as well as resolving workplace conflicts and inspiring people to go beyond what they believe they can do.
Taken together, these qualities help make up the most effective business leadership model available today. A leader with a high EQ is more confident, more adaptable and better prepared to handle unexpected challenges or threats to the business. He or she is also better poised to navigate the complexities of emotion in crisis management.
Better yet, such leaders convey the same emotionally intelligent traits to their best employees. They in turn become better at managing change, solving problems and — for the greater benefit of the organization — learning how to empathize with your customers’ needs and expectations.
“In the end, leaders become more valuable when they can prove to increase productivity, employee engagement and results by creating a teamwork environment that gets the best performance from everyone,” says Glenn Llopis. “This requires leaders to be strong mentors as well as sponsors who can help their colleagues better navigate workplace opportunities and catapult their careers.”
It certainly can, argues Belinda Parmar, who says it is the tool that leads to success. Do you work for a business that understands this? Take the survey and find out…
“Take my advice, Belinda: you’ll never get to the top in this business if you spend all your time worrying about feelings. You’ve just got to sell, sell, sell.”
It took me years to understand just how wrong my manager’s advice had been and that I, like many women, should not have to downplay my empathy skills. Empathy isn’t some soft and fluffy add-on best left to the “dolly birds” in HR, but a hard, teachable skill that opens the door to profit. But he wasn’t the only one needing to wake up to the benefits of empathy. The fact is that the corporate world is an empathy desert: most managers still ladle out dollops of self-centred survivalist Darwinian advice to those climbing the corporate ladder.
Their failure to understand the attraction of empathy is born of a simple misconception; empathy isn’t about people-pleasing. It’s not about being a pushover. Instead, empathy, the ability to understand the impact your actions have on others, is essential to being a player in the corporate game. It needs to be embedded from the boardroom right through to the shop floor.
The evidence shows that emotional intelligence and empathy pays. Among the L’Oreal sales-force, the best empathisers sold nearly $100,000 more per year than their colleagues. Waiters who are better at showing empathy earn nearly 20% more in tips. Even debt collectors with empathy skills recovered twice as much debt.
Yet most companies continue to fuel their empathy deficits, overlooking people who work empathically. The good news is you can teach empathy; it’s like a muscle that can be trained and honed.
This week Lady Geek is launching a campaign to fix this problem: we want to help transform corporate culture, to encourage businesses to become places where empathy and empathisers are valued.
But this is a tall order and we need your help. In order to work out the extent of the problem, we need to collect further data. The corporate world is an empathic wasteland in need of rehabilitation, but to put that right, to redress the empathy deficit, we need to pinpoint those industries and companies in most need of an empathy transplant.
Working with Guardian Women in Leadership, we have prepared a short survey (it will take you no more than 10 minutes) that will allow you to provide your own personal snapshot of the corporate landscape. You can find the survey here.
We want to know about your experiences in the workplace. Specifically, we want you to tell us how the workplace makes you feel. We need you to play your part in the empathy revolution.
Belinda Parmar is the founder and chief executive of Lady Geek.
It turns out that giving at work can lead you down two very different paths: great success, or burnout and failure.
Adam Grant, a world-renowned researcher and Wharton professor, in his book Give and Take, lays out the all the compelling research about giving at work. He teaches how to give in ways that build your career and optimize success and describes how to avoid the pitfalls that can waylay good-hearted people on their way to the top. It is one of the most powerful business books I’ve read since Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage. It syncs cleanly with how happiness and relationships are tied together.
Giving is contagious and grows the pie for everyone
Research results from Christakis and Fowler*, top social network experts, show that giving spreads rapidly through our social connections. When one person contributes to a group at a personal cost, it positively influences others in that social network to contribute. And it’s not only those who are direct friends with the giver; the increased altruistic effect is seen three degrees of separation away (i.e. that person’s friends, their friend’s friends and even their friend’s, friend’s, friends, are more likely to give). And the benefits of the initial contribution to the group were tripled by the end of the experiment, creating a lot more value for the group than the original altruist’s act alone…
For most of us, seeing the giving side of a person endears us to them. It encourages us to be around them more, to do things for them and to share experiences. This builds our trust and keeps us open to connecting more which leads to stronger relationships. And the research is clear that stronger relationships are a central driver of our happiness and that happiness drives our success…
Giving directly drives our happiness
There is a ton of research that shows that giving makes us happier. A Harvard study shows that we get more happiness spending money on others than we do spending it on ourselves. Sonja Lyubomirksy at UC Riverside showed huge increases in happiness by doing five acts of kindness each week are just two recent examples. Giving, whether in our personal lives or our professional lives, can generate real happiness for us.
How to give
This seems like it’s obvious, but not everyone knows what I mean by being a giver. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, describes it like this: “Being a giver doesn’t require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit or making connections for others.” Don’t get caught up in grand — or public — gestures. Just do something nice for someone, something in their interest that isn’t necessarily directly in yours as well.
Find three ways to be a giver over the next week. Have a colleague who is really stressed about a deadline? See if there is something you can take care of for them. Are there two people you think would be able to help each other on something? Invite them both to coffee and introduce them to each other. Or bring in donuts or a fruit salad to the lunch room or a gathering where it’s not expected. It doesn’t matter what you do; the key is to get started. Then see what happens…
Far gone are the days in which I had to spend time correcting people mispronouncing VIA (“vee-uh”), educating professionals who referred to VIA by its previous name of “values in action,” explaining why character strengths are important for various outcomes, or instructing people how to take the VIA Survey online. Professionals in the field now have a working knowledge of character strengths – both of their own top strengths as well as ideas for helping clients identify their strengths. Now, participants are eager to dig deeper and to expand their versatility in working with strengths.
The VIA Institute’s new partnership with Wholebeing Institute does just that. Both entities are interested in contributing to the knowledge of those who are teaching and helping others discover and express their strongest characteristics. We believe this will contribute to greater well-being in the world. This course offers another entry point for learning about strengths.
Join an ever-expanding group of coaches, educators, managers, leaders, and other professionals in learning new ways of applying the VIA Survey and character strengths in your professional life. You will learn ways to help others be more engaged, productive, and happy. Best of all – it’s all online!
All of these articles and more are included in this week’s new collection.