Happiness At Work edition #133 – we are what we think

 

dreamstime_l_22898332Here is a guide to some the ideas and articles we’ve collected in the latest Happiness At Work edition #133.

Our theme this time is inspired by the excellent Get Happy Neuroscience for Business series of articles, including The 5 Neuroscience Lessons for Leaders and The 7 C’s of Change Management – making change easier with neuroscience.

What these ideas, and the stories that follow, all have in common is the growing understanding we are getting from contemporary research about how much the way we choose to think about things affects the experienced reality of the things themselves.

Never has the need for personal mastery been more vital or more richly informed, and I hope this collection will give you new approaches and techniques to try out and talk about with the people who matter to you.  Enjoy.

How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells and Genes

by Debbie Hampton Writer, blogger, hot yoga enthusiast, brain injury survivor

Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine…

Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results…

Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is showing that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.

The Surprising Scientific Link Between Happiness And Decision Making

by LAURA VANDERKAM

How do you make decisions? Some people want to find the absolute best option (“maximizers”). Others, known as “satisficers,” have a set of criteria, and go for the first option that clears the bar.

While wanting the best seems like a good thing, research from Swarthmore College finds that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers.

This is true for two reasons. First, people who want the best tend to be prone to regret. “If you’re out to find the best possible job, no matter how good it is, if you have a bad day, you think there’s got to be something better out there,” saysBarry Schwartz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Paradox of Choice

This happiness gap raises the question: Can maximizers learn to become satisficers? Can you learn to settle for good enough?

Possibly, but it takes some work. “What I believe is that it’s changeable and that it’s not easy to change,” says Schwartz. Here are some ways to make the shift…

Beyond Brain Basics: 5 Neuroscience Lessons for Leaders

In Brain Basics, we looked at many of the structures in the brain and how they function. In this section we will look more specifically at how they impact leadership and the workplace. Since these are complex issues, especially for people who are just learning about neuroscience, we’ve put together 5 neuroscience lessons for leaders, that will shed some light on the practicality of these notions.

1. The Brain is Plastic

…The brain continues to reform and rewire itself based on how much or how little the pathways are used. That means that we can always learn new things.

The way neurons share information is through sending and receiving neurotransmitters across the small gap. The neurotransmitters trigger a chemical process, which creates an electrical charge that travels through the neuron. This process of electrical charge, neurotransmitters, electrical charge, and so on is what creates the pathway of neurons. There is a saying “Cells that fire together, wire together.” That means that when learning a new task or about a new person, the best way to learn it is to do it multiple times, so that the neurons “fire together” and eventually “wire together”.

It is never too late for a leader or an employee to learn a new skill or a new way of doing things. Change is hard sometimes, but research tells us it is possible.

2. Our Brains Like Rewards

Emotions are an important aspect of how the brain changes and how we learn. Positive feelings activated through the reward system of the brain enhance the pathways and improve learning. The reward system is very complex and has pathways in many areas of the brain, but often it is regulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

There are two main reward systems in the brain that are related to attention and motivation: primary and secondary. Primary rewards are related to primary needs like food, water, and shelter. We feel good when we have those needs met. Secondary rewards help our survival but are not vital to it. They include things like information, power, trust, touch, appreciation, and community.

For leaders, rewards are often an effective way to motivate employees. Based on neuroscience, there are some rewards that seem to release more dopamine than others. You will see that money, or material goods, are not on the list. Many of the rewards are related to social interaction in some way.

Following the science, leaders can review their system of motivation and rewards to consider ideas that are proven to be rewarding to the brain. While each employee is different, there are many categories or rewards that would be useful to implement in order to truly activate an employee’s reward pathway. More dopamine means employees who are happier, more focused, and more motivated.

3. The Power of Mirror Neurons

In the early 1990s scientists discovered mirror neurons. They found that when one person watches another do some kind of action, the neurons of the first person fire as if they were actually doing it. There is a common example that has to do with yawning. Research has shown that yawning can be contagious. Why? Mirror neurons. When one person yawns and another observes, the neuronal pathways for yawning in the observer’s brain are activated, causing them to yawn too.

While this may explain why a yawn can seem to travel around an office, mirror neurons are really important for learning, emotional awareness, and empathy. When we watch someone do something, our brain is actually learning how to do it. When we see someone experiencing an emotion, our brain processes that emotion as well, increasing empathy.

Mirror neurons can be important aspects of leadership as we can see how our emotional and physical states as leaders are actually teaching our employees how to act and how to respond emotionally to us. When mirroring is connected to a certain need and when it is understood from a familiar viewpoint, the effect is stronger. Mirror neurons, again, prove how much humans are social animals. People are highly connected to the people and the environments around them.

Because of this connection, leaders can create environments where people can mirror others who create collaborative and cooperative learning and working atmospheres. Individuals are important to the team and the team is important to the individuals through the power or mirror neurons.

4. Emotions are Everything

Many people want to believe that they can make decisions based exclusively on free will and their rational minds. That is not often backed by science, as research has shown that there are many unconscious processes that influence and dictate why we behave in the ways we do.

Those processes follow brain pathways that were put into place when we were very young. In most cases we have already made a decision before we have actually thought about it. This happens in the limbic system. Our cerebral cortex then has to rationalize the decision through language and planning, leading to, what some may call, the illusion of free will. That is not to say that the cerebral cortex cannot influence the limbic system. This can be seen in people who practice meditation and mindfulness.

As a leader, it is particularly useful to know that when we are faced with stress or a threat, the executive functions of the brain shut down, leaving the unconscious processes of the limbic system in charge of decision making. These parts of the brain react on emotion and survival instincts.

Leaders also need to be aware that in terms of learning and team building, change happens not from the cerebral context but from the limbic system. With effective company rewards and interventions, the slow process of changing the limbic system can start to take place.

5. Creating a Brain-Based Work Environment

The information presented is a starting point for creating a work environment that is based around what is healthy for the brain. Leaders who ignore how the brain functions are leaving a lot to chance. Sometimes things might be great, but then something can happen and they might worsen. Having a brain-based work environment can help leaders effectively navigate the rises and falls in the economic climate.

Be a brain-based leader by helping the people improve the work environment, and the environment improve the people. Both influence the other and, in a working system, there will be an upward spiral of motivation, growth, and productivity. Overtime, this environment will actually change the brains of the people in it, making the team and the organization better able to adapt to change.

see also these articles in the series:

The Basis of Leadership Is Born in the Brain: Why Leaders Should Care about Neuroscience

The 7 C’s of Change Management: Making Change Easier With Neuroscience

11 Ways to Run Your Business with Neuroscience

Your Brain on Hormones: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Leader

Improve Employee Engagement Using Neuroscience

Brain Basics: Neuroscience in Business

Google’s Scientific Approach to Work-Life Balance (and Much More)

…Inspired by the Framingham Heart Study research, our People Innovation Lab developed gDNA, Google’s first major long-term study aimed at understanding work. Under the leadership of PhD Googlers Brian Welle and Jennifer Kurkoski, we’re two years into what we hope will be a century-long study. We’re already getting glimpses of the smart decisions today that can have profound impact on our future selves, and the future of work overall…

…The fact that such a large percentage of Google’s employees wish they could separate from work but aren’t able to is troubling, but also speaks to the potential for this kind of research. The existence of this group suggests that it is not enough to wish yourself into being a Segmentor. But by identifying where employees fall on this spectrum, we hope that Google can design environments that make it easier for employees to disconnect. Our Dublin office, for example, ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” which asked people to drop off their devices at the front desk before going home for the night. Googlers reported blissful, stressless evenings. Similarly, nudging Segmentors to ignore off-hour emails and use all their vacation days might improve well-being over time. The long-term nature of these questions suggests that the real value of gDNA will take years to realize.

…We have great luxuries at Google in our supportive leadership, curious employees who trust our efforts, and the resources to have our People Innovation Lab. But for any organization, there are four steps you can take to start your own exploration and move from hunches to science:

1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are.  Retention?  Innovation? Efficiency?  Or better yet, ask your people what those issues are.

2. Survey your people about how they think they are doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve.

3. Tell your people what you learned. If it’s about the company, they’ll have ideas to improve it. If it’s about themselves – like our gDNA work – they’ll be grateful.

4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you. Take two groups with the same problem, and try to fix it for just one. Most companies roll out change after change, and never really know why something worked, or if it did at all. By comparing between the groups, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t.

And in 100 years we can all compare notes.

How to Reset Your Happiness Set Point

by Alex Lickerman M.D. author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self

The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time. Habituation, a growing body of evidence now tells us, occurs even to things like career advancement, money, and marriage.

On the other hand, other research (link is external) suggests a few events—chief among them the unexpected death of a child and repeated bouts of unemployment—seem to reduce our ability to be happy permanently. Yet some studies also suggest that we can also fix our happiness set point permanentlyhigher—by helping others.

According to one such study (link is external) that analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey, a collection of statistics representing the largest and longest-standing series of observations on happiness in the world, the trait most strongly associated with long-term increases in life satisfaction is, in fact, a persistent commitment to pursuing altruistic goals. That is, the more we focus on compassionate action, on helping others, the happier we seem to become in the long run…

…just as exercise can actually provide us with energy by forcing us to summon it when we’re feeling tired (link is external), helping others can provide us with enthusiasm, encouragement, and even joy by forcing us to summon them when we’re feeling discouraged. “If one lights a fire for others,” wrote Nichiren Daishonin, “one will brighten one’s own way.” Thus, the moments in which we feel happiest aren’t just moments to be enjoyed. They’re also opportunities to increase the frequency and intensity with which we feel them in the future.

5 Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness

by David R. Hamilton, Ph.D. Author, ‘I HEART ME: The Science of Self-Love’ and ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’

When we think of side effects, the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects, too?

Well, it does! And positive ones at that.

…when we are kind, the following are some side effects that come with it:

1) Kindness makes us happier.

When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, … we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside us that says, “This is who I am.”

On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.

Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.

Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.

3) Kindness slows aging.

Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.

But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.

There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body in what is known as the inflammatory reflex. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist lovingkindness meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

4) Kindness makes for better relationships.

This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.

Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome.

Today, when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

5) Kindness is contagious.

When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.

A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a “pay it forward” type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The “domino effect,” as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.

The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think

by Carla Herreria

According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.

While all vacationers enjoyed pre-trip happiness, the study’s authors found that people only experienced a boost in happiness post-vacation if their trip was relaxing. If their vacation was deemed “stressful” or “neutral,” their post-trip happiness levels were comparable to those who hadn’t taken a vacation at all.

Pre-trip happiness, however, is a different story entirely. The study found that all vacationers experienced a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because, as the researchers suggest, the vacationers were looking forward to the good times ahead…

Is Artistic Inspiration Contagious?

by Scott Barry Kaufman

In a recent study, Todd Thrash and colleagues conducted the first ever test of “inspiration contagion,” using poetry as the vehicle. They looked at specific qualities of a text and the qualities of the reader. It’s a rich study, with 36,020 interactions between all of the variables! Here are the essential findings…

…The more writers privately reported that they felt inspired while writing, the more the average reader reported being inspired. This is despite the fact that there was no actual contact between the reader and the writer other than the text itself!

…Readers higher in openness to new experiences were more tolerant of the new and sublime. The more that the reader was open to new experiences, the more they experienced inspiration transmission, and the less the originality and sublimity of the text hindered transmission.

Reader inspiration was not the only outcome of writer inspiration. Writer inspiration also brought out feelings of awe and chills in the average reader. These feelings of enthrallment were transmitted particularly through the insightfulness and sublimity of the text.

…However, these findings suggest that good writing is more like talking, an expression of one’s inner state of being. Perhaps the most helpful way for aspiring writers to view writing is as a natural vehicle for capturing personal insights and expressing them.

New data science research shows how we manage our long-term happiness

by Colin Smith

Most theories of motivation have championed the pleasure principle, where our choices of daily activities aim to maximize our short-term happiness. However, it was not clear to researchers how to reconcile this idea with the fact that we all have to engage routinely in unpleasant, yet necessary activities.

To address this question a team of researchers, including an Imperial academic, developed a smartphone application to monitor in real-time the activities and moods of approximately 30,000 people.

The team found that, rather than following the pleasure or hedonic principle, people’s choices of activities instead consistently followed a hedonic flexibility principle, which shows how people regulate their mood. Specifically, the model shows that people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities such as playing sport when they felt bad. When they felt good they engaged in useful, but mood-decreasing activities such as doing housework…

The model revealed that firstly, people’s future decisions to engage in one activity rather than another are related to how they currently feel. Secondly, the interplay between mood and choices of activity followed a very specific pattern.

When participants were in a bad mood, they were more likely to later engage in activities that tended to subsequently boost their mood. For example, if people’s current mood decreased by 10 points, they were more likely to later engage in things like sport, going out into nature, and chatting. All of these activities were associated with a subsequent increase in mood.

see also:

Finding Happiness: Your Mood Decides Whether You Live In The Moment Or Focus On Future

By

…More or less, we can all be split into two groups; Those motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and those who prefer to secure their long-term welfare. A new study has attempted to understand the motivation between these two conflicting philosophies.

Our likeliness to live in the moment or prepare for the future is not a permanent feature of our personality and changes according to our mood at the moment. The study revealed that when a person is in a good mood, they are more likely to do housework and other unpleasant yet useful activities over the next few hours than when they are in a bad mood. When feeling bad, people tend to choose activities later that day that are more pleasurable, such as playing sports and spending time with friends, apparently in an effort to feel better…

25 Freelancers (Re)Define Success

Profundity by Col Skinner, a UK based Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist

…if we all take some time to review what success actually means to us and what we want from our working lives then we might find it doesn’t (have to) match the archetypal clichés in society. The archetypal perception is that success is something status led that is achieved through sacrificing your personal life in order to commit hundreds of hours to earning tons of cash in a ‘kill or be killed’ business environment. All very 1980’s Wall Street if you ask me. I think shows like The Apprentice / Dragons Den, along with business dinosaurs like Donald Trump, also have a lot to answer for.

I thought it would be interesting to hear how people who have quit the rat race, define success.  So I went and sourced a range of Freelancers who very kindly gave their personal definitions of SUCCESS. This may help give clarity to those who currently struggle to define their own goals…

You, and no one else, are the one that sets or defines what success looks like. Don’t fall for the cliché trappings of a successful life. Aim for goals that matter and make a difference to you or those around you. I will leave you with this great quote by Anne Sweeney:

“Define success by your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”

Happiness At Work edition #133

All of these articles and more can found together in this collection.