What is it about the middle that seems to suck away at our happiness?
This week’s headline research news reports a mid-life slump in our happiness levels in the West, which then progressively rise again from the age of about 55 on through to the rest of our lives. And in another research story looking at what really are the factors that contribute to high flying success for women leaders, Harvard Business School researchers point out a mid-career slump in optimism and ambition for women that is not experienced by their male counterparts.
Middle aged people suffer a huge decline in happiness, a new study has shown. The phenomenon discovered by the Lancet Global Health, however, only affects those living in the affluent West.
The study, which uses global survey data, found that western countries, including the UK and USA, experienced a dip in levels of life satisfaction between the ages of 45 and 55, with happiness levels rising again into old age.
The report used four years of Gallup World Poll data from more than 160 countries and covered more than 98 percent of the world’s population.
Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London said that the reasons behind the dip were numerous and highly complex, but that there were potential explanations and many lessons to be learned.
Co-researcher Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, suggested that one reason for the dip in satisfaction could be the increased pressure to become financially successful during middle age.
“This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life,”he said.
The results of the study further showed that levels of life satisfaction worldwide followed a predictable pattern depending on geographical location.
African countries experienced low levels of satisfaction, with sub-Saharan Africa facing prolonged and continually low results.
Other areas such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union saw a steady decline in satisfaction with age.
Despite being the most affluent geographical sector, the West was the only region which saw levels increase after a decline. The increase of satisfaction appears to coincide with the common retirement age, suggesting that the decrease in pressure to earn could contribute to rising levels of happiness in the elderly.
This new research report is interesting for lots of reasons:
- Firstly it uses data from four years of Gallup research and includes 98% of the world’s population and the fact that we can now develop intelligence drawn from the experience of most of humankind is in itself is worth noting.
- Secondly it’s author, Angus Deaton, wonders whether the midlife happiness slump for 45-55 year old Westerners his study has uncovered may be partly due to a peak of felt responsibility to earn at this stage of life, and thus show a connection between earnings and happiness at work that is far less apparent for other age groups.
- Thirdly, this study points up Westerners as the only the group who show an increase in our happiness levels after a decline. The trend for African populations is to stay relatively low throughout their lives, and for Eastern Europeans to become less happier the older they get. The capacity that Westerners have to become happier again from the age of 55 and to keep getting progressively happier right through into our eighties is both wonderfully encouraging and compelling evidence that our happiness is not a fixed state and is influenced as much by our attitude to life as it is to our current circumstances.
- And finally, this study highlights – superbly and once again – that our happiness is a complex dynamic quality of life that cannot be nailed down to any one or two factors. I am always pleased when this point is recognised because the more we try and boil down happiness into something simple, fixed and finite the more useless and even potentially harmful it becomes to us.
Of extra interest is the tangential finding this report references from a different study that suggests we British folk are genetically predisposed told the glums because of a short form of the gene responsible for producing serotonin, the neurochemical responsible controlling for the brain’s happiness levels. This contrasts with the Danes who seem to possess something closer to a happiness gene, and may perhaps help to explain why they routinely top the happiest country index.
This article reports the same story and presents its data in graph form, noting…
In a study published yesterday in The Lancet, Deaton and researchers from University College London, Stony Brook University, and the University of Southern California put the U-shaped curve in context by looking at the relationship between age and well-being across four different groupings: wealthy English-speaking countries, eastern Europe and former members of the Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Looking at data from the Gallup World Poll, which measured well-being in different countries, and the English Longitudinal Study, they found that not all patterns of well-being are created equal. While the U.S. and similar nations did indeed stick to the U-shaped curve, elsewhere around the globe, the relationship between age and overall life satisfaction looked markedly different…
A generation from now, however, the relationship between age and wellbeing—across the board—will likely look different still.
Continuing the mid-point slump theme – this research emphasises the extra need for women to work in an organisation that will encourage and support her development, especially because most women report lowered ambitions in their mid careers, unlike the men who start with high ambitions and tend to maintain high expectations throughout their careers. The research findings here challenge the advice being presented to potential women high flyers to hop-scotch their way up, company by company via high stake roles, and show instead that the majority of the (only!?!) 24 women who lead Fortune 500 companies have stayed a long time with the company they now head up, many starting in the lowliest of positions and working their way up.
Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.
That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her meant “the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and management consulting.”
We decided to put our expensively honed analytic skills to work testing that advice by looking at the career paths of the 24 women who head Fortune 500 companies. What we found surprised us.
Most women running Fortune 500 companies did not immediately hop on a “competitive business track.” Only three had a job at a consulting firm or bank right out of college. A larger share of the female CEOs—over 20%—took jobs right out of school at the companies they now run. These weren’t glamorous jobs.
All told, over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than ten years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO.
Even those who weren’t promoted as long-term insiders often worked their way up a particular corporate ladder, advancing over decades at a single company and later making a lateral move into the CEO role at another company.
The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.
An immediate implication of the long climb is that for ambitious young women, company culture matters a lot. If a common pattern is to spend multiple decades advancing in a single environment, that environment had better fuel female ambition rather than stifle it. A recent Bain survey shows that while women in entry-level jobs have ambition and confidence to reach top management in large companies that matches or exceeds that of men, at mid-career, men’s ambitions and confidence stay the same, while those of women drop dramatically. A company capable of maintaining the drive of its women as they progress in their careers is a better bet for a long stint than one that allows the more common diminishing trend to occur.
It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs.
But they did have to find a good place to climb.
Huge congratulations to my friend and eLearning trainer colleague Pilar Orti on launching her new podcast series: 21st Century Work Life.
This very first episode includes some words I wrote about this subject, as well as Pilar’s own intelligent reflections on why happiness at work has come into importance and what this might mean for us. The second part of this podcast is a virtual coffee conversation between Pilar and Lisette Sutherland.
So, I think the fact that we’re starting to talk about Happiness at Work now makes complete sense. It also shows that our attitude to work is changing. Happiness and work just wouldn’t go together before we talked about things like finding your passion, being fulfilled at work and generally, just knowing that work can be something we enjoy if we have the right conditions.
But also, now, many of us feel like we can be a bit more in control at work. Like we can find information when we need it, like we can connect to others when we want to, not when luck throws us in the same room together. Technology is having a really important effect in our lives by facilitating connections (with others, with information) that we never dreamed we could find. So no wonder that now, we feel like we can control our levels of happiness, to a certain degree. There is still much luck involved, but maybe, just maybe, there are small things we can do here and there to make this world a better, or dare I say happier, place.”
This was also the week that Anne-Marie Rodriguez launched her new radio talk show for urban jazz radio with me as one of her guests. I loved doing this and will hope to bring you the podcast of the show in next week’s post.
Bit by bit, we are all becoming happiness at work experts together…
And here are some more of our favourite articles from this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #116 collection…
by Mark Williamson, Action For Happiness
Happiness relates to how we feel, but it is more than just a passing mood.
We are emotional beings and experience a wide range of feelings on a daily basis. Negative emotions – such as fear and anger – help us to get away from danger or defend ourselves. And positive emotions – such as enjoyment and hope – help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.
Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. We all encounter adversity and it’s completely natural for us to feel anger, sadness, frustration and other negative emotions as a result. To suggest otherwise would be to deny part of the human condition.
Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall. Or, in the words of the biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”
One popular misconception about happiness is that happy people are somehow more likely to be lazy or ineffective. In fact research shows the opposite is true: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it actually leads to a wide range of benefits for our performance, health, relationships and more.
For example, economists at Warwick University showed different groups of people either a positive film clip or a neutral film clip and then asked them to carry out standard workplace tasks under paid conditions. The people who were primed to feel happy were 11% more productive than their peers, even after controlling for age, IQ and other factors. Similarly, researchers at Wharton Business School found that companies with happy employees outperform the stock market year on year and a team at UCL has discovered that people who are happy as young adults go on to earn more than their peers later in life. In healthcare, doctors who are happy have been found to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, even when this happiness was induced simply by giving them the small gift of a sugary sweet. In education, schools that focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing experience significant gains in academic attainment as well as improvements in pupil behaviour. Happiness has also been linked to better decision-making and improved creativity.
So, rather than success being the key to happiness, research shows that happiness could in fact be the key to success.
But it doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behaviour – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.
But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others. There is even evidence that happiness is contagious, so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.
When it comes to the happiness of society as a whole, however, the sad truth is that in recent decades we have become substantially richer but no happier. The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion. We’ve also reached the point where mental ill health is one of our greatest social challenges – causing more of the suffering in our society than either unemployment or poverty. This is why increasing numbers of policymakers and leaders are now calling for measures of progress to be based on human wellbeing and happiness, not just economic factors such as growth in GDP.
Here in the UK, the government has introduced a programme to measure national wellbeing, and influential figures – including former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – are calling for wellbeing to become the overall measure of prosperity and the main guide to public policy.
This shift towards prioritising happiness is important because this also reflects what the majority of people want. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults said they would prefer a society with the “greatest overall happiness and wellbeing”, rather than the “greatest overall wealth” (8%). The findings were consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.
So happiness does matter – the scientific evidence is compelling.
The pursuit of happiness is not some fluffy nice-to-have or middle-class luxury; it’s about helping people to live better lives and creating a society that is more productive, healthy and cohesive. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Of course, being happy is not some magical cure-all. Happy people still get sick and lose loved ones – and not all happy people are efficient, creative or generous. But, other things being equal, happiness brings substantial advantages.
Perhaps the most powerful insight of all comes, not from the research, but from the responses I’ve heard from many hundreds of parents when asking them what they want above all for their children. Nearly all say something like: “I really just want them to be happy.”
adapted from an artcle by Debbie Nicol
Things will always challenge a leader; after all, a leader creates the future.
No recipe exists explaining how to build the way forward. No secret formula has been written for the unknown, as a leader creates it as progress occurs.
A leader lives in a world of vulnerability, something painfully evident when a challenge comes out of seeming nowhere and stamps its presence in every thread of the organisational fabric: a government law with huge financial consequences; a competitor’s new strategy; a customer’s negative review — all have the propensity to put pressure to potential breaking point on the organisational bubble.
But with resilience, the pressure from those events will never burst it completely
Resilience is to a leader as resourcefulness is to Richard Branson. So what conditions must exist for leaders to apply the concept of resilience?
Inner confidence and positivity about themselves and the future, for one. This allows any pressure to be circumstantial, matched or even negated. A positive attitude towards pressure allows it to be welcomed as an invitation to find new ways for change — it becomes just another source of reflection and learning.
The American author Bruce Barton says it so well: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances”.
That inner confidence and the ensuing resilience can influence others to follow, and with an army tagging along no amount of pressure will ever be able to take hold. Resilience is also about staring down the barrel of challenge, and so a balanced approach and a good state of mind will minimise risk of an explosive response. When the source of agitation has become a source of learning, balanced perspective and even hope become possible.
Many leaders find it easier to be resilient in times of change when they feel they have control over their life; they have a healthy work-life balance in place and plenty of personal time. Nothing can faze the leader who is both grounded and balanced. Resilience, when combined with optimism, ensures no pressure will destabilise completely.
Resilient leaders seem to live in the world accepting that we ourselves can’t possibly predict what’s right or wrong, so it is best to move ahead, knowing that the pressure could result in myriad solutions — meaning we become the creators of the future. Take, for example, an inefficiency in a business that is having a draining effect. Resilience allows this inefficiency to be viewed as a sign that something else is trying to happen in the business system and there would be no better time than now to explore that. An open-minded environment is one that will see things not for what they are but for what they can be.
On the other hand, a closed-minded environment will become stuck in what is, as it is argument-based, divided into camps of right and wrong.
Environments open to possibility can separate the issue from the emotion, gaining clarity first and foremost to what the issue is. This does not mean that no mechanism exists for the emotional side, it means it does not cloud future possibility. If a leader has been made redundant, resilience shines through when that leader is observed almost immediately going into another direction — creating something that was not possible in the past environment, perhaps choosing to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into her own business.
With resilience there’s just no way for a leader to be derailed; the inner push is simply too powerful to allow any source of external agitation to have a permanent detrimental effect.
We have noticed in our learning and development work with organisations over the last several years that the word ‘collaboration‘ seems to have completely replaced what we used to call team working, and is now the main word for all group activity at work. I am not convinced this is always – or even often – what we really intend, and the word could use some stronger interrogation before we hurl around the room to the people we are about to work with.
Executive coach, Mary Jo Asmus agrees – offering this clarification…
Three words that begin with “C” broadly describe the types of interactions and relationships you may have with others. On a continuum, they look like this:
Competition ◊ Cooperation ◊ Collaboration
Collaboration is a step above cooperation, and it’s rarer than hen’s teeth. When people collaborate, they give up their own vested interests for the greater good (often the greater good is fostered by a “compelling vision” of the future). They’re driven to work through their differences to achieve a goal while trying to understand other’s viewpoints, being open and genuinely willing to change their minds. The stakes may be high, but such people are able to collaboratively bust through barriers to reach the end goal.
If you look hard enough, you may see “moments” of true collaboration in your organisation, but it generally doesn’t happen as often as it should. It takes time, effort and ongoing attention by a leader to make collaboration work.
True collaboration is a powerful way of making great things happen. Listening for understanding, co-creating the way forward with all interested parties, and a willingness to sometimes let go of deeply held beliefs can make collaboration part of the culture.
Not to mention that collaborative work can be great fun and seem almost magical for those involved.
Strategic planning has been under assault for years. But good strategy is more important than ever. What does that mean for the strategist?
Achieving real impact today requires strategists to stretch beyond strategic planning to develop at least one of a few signature strengths. Several important facets of the strategist’s role emerged from our research, including reallocating corporate resources, building strategic capabilities at key places in the organization, identifying business-development opportunities, and generating proprietary insights on the basis of external forces at work and long-term market trends. A number of these roles are more appropriate for some strategists and organizations than for others. But the core notion of stretching and choosing is relevant for all.
Since 2010 we’ve sensed, in our work with a wide range of global organizations and strategists, a growing recognition that traditional strategic-planning processes are insufficient to absorb the shocks and disruptions characterizing their markets and to stimulate the ongoing deliberation that a top-management team requires. Increasingly, they recognize a need to rethink their approach to strategic planning and to embrace a more frequent strategic dialogue involving a focused group of senior executives.4Effective organizations seem to be transforming strategy development into an ongoing process of ad hoc, topic-specific leadership conversations and budget-reallocation meetings conducted periodically throughout the year. Some organizations have even instituted a more broadly democratic process that pulls in company-wide participation through social-technology and game-based strategy development.
These experiences are consistent with our own findings. We’ve found that companies that consider themselves “very effective developers of strategy,” and that enjoy higher profitability than their competitors, for example, are twice as likely to review strategy on an ongoing basis (as opposed to say annually or every three to five years). They are, for instance, twice as likely to have a corporate-strategy process that goes beyond the aggregation of business-unit strategies.
Our research also supports one of our major observations about what it takes to innovate in the development and delivery of strategy: over and over, we’ve seen that the chief strategists best at driving more dynamic approaches have a professional credibility that extends well beyond a traditional process-facilitation role. At the same time, we’ve seen tremendous diversity in the characteristics of effective strategists. In a quest for greater precision, we applied statistical cluster analysis to the 13 facets that chief strategists responding to our survey described as most important to their efforts. The analysis yielded five clusters in which the strategist’s role becomes more than the sum of its parts. Widespread across industries, these clusters embody choices that face every strategy leader:
Our Five Chief Strategist Archetypes
The Fund Manager
The complexity of today’s strategic landscape places a premium on good strategy. And just as crafting strategy requires tough choices, so does shaping the role of the strategist. The good news, according to our research, is that strategists have a range of powerful options for adding value to their organizations, and nearly 90 percent of the strategists responding to our survey thought they were effective at the elements of the role they prioritized. The bad news is that over time it’s easy for mismatches to develop between those areas of focus and a company’s strategic needs. By identifying those mismatches and reprioritizing accordingly, strategists, chief executives, and other members of the top team can boost the quality of their strategic insights and actions.
The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Management, used existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, a term coinedby American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971.
Clark refers to this as the difference between workaholism and work engagement. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, when there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism,” she said. “The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”
The study revealed that other aspects of a workaholic’s life are negatively affected by this behavior—such as stress level, health, and relationships—which ultimately causes one’s productivity to suffer as well.
“My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they’re at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety,” she said. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction.”
The next generation of workers inspire hope that the workaholic culture will not last, said Clark, making way for a more family-friendly culture. She noted that millennials tend to “care more about work-family balance than previous generations,” which could mean that in the future, more companies will promote a healthy work-life balance over working too hard.
When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on?
Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
Here are this week’s best practical tools and techniques
“Happier people are more successful, more creative, energetic, resilient,” says the founder of Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree. “They work better together. They absorb more information. They have more tools in their tool belt to help them handle whatever life throws them. They are healthier, they live longer—and they show up at work more often.”
There’s a common assumption, he says, that you will be happy when you are successful. But the reverse is actually true, and not just anecdotally. Hard neurological science supports the idea that happy people have more capacity to succeed. And beyond that, that happiness is not a genetic mandate, or a product of circumstance. It’s a choice.
Crabtree boils this choice down into three opportunities for change that can make people happier, and are also the building blocks of high performance:
1. Achieve greater flow and engagement by structuring your goals, making them meaningful and aligned to your strengths (and then avoid multitasking)
2. Prioritise people
3. Practise positivity (you can retrain your brain to maximise your happiness advantage)
Twelve simple everyday routines to change to live a happier life, including not slouching when we walk, not taking pictures of everything, less procrastination, less multitasking, more exercise, more sleep, more time alone and more conversation…
- Step away from the email
- Just say “no”
- Work smarter, not harder
- Leave work at work
- Forget about perfection
- Don’t be a martyr
- Ease off the adrenaline
- Think about retirement
- Make ’em wait
- Set your own rules
- What are you willing to take a stand for?
- What do you believe will happen if you let go of control?
- What do you really believe about making mistakes?
- What standards do you set for yourself?
- What do you expect from your team?
1. Resilience is critical to success in leadership
Denise Brosseau in her book Ready to Be a Thought Leader: How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success
2. You must bridge the communication gap created by leadership
3. Leadership is, at its core, about the mobilization of ideas
John P. Kotter in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World
4. Good leaders are highly aware of their own vulnerabilities
Robert Bruce Shaw in his book Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter
5. Leaders equip people for success beyond their own purview
Derek Lidow in his book Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises
6. The role of a leader is primarily to care for others
Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
7. Take time to reflect and lead in the moment without stopping only to focus on problems
Kathryn D. Cramer in her book Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do
8. Trust in leadership can be distilled down to four basic elements
Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie in their book Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact
9. Body language trumps spoken instruction
10. Hope in leadership comes from analyzing success and feedback
Stewart D. Friedman in his book Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life
Harnessing the power sources of the three golden principles of
- Authenticity and
- Human Touch
- Periodic Checking In
- Shared Expertise
- Simplified Experience
All of these articles and more are collected together in this week’s new clutch of ideas, tips and news stories