Did you know happy workers are more liked by their co-workers, earn more money, are seen as performing better and as having more fresh ideas than their less happy colleagues according to research. Happier workers stay with their employers longer, are more likely to contribute beyond the requirements of their job and help out colleagues, take fewer sick days and are more punctual.
In fact our psychological well-being can impact on our physical health, which in turn impacts our ability to perform. The good news continues in that happiness is contagious – it spreads to others within work, at home and in our communities.
At Outstand, we like to tackle the big subjects, so in this article we look at the recent research behind what is happiness and how can we achieve it in work.
What is Happiness?
A common problem that clients share with us in coaching sessions is “I’m not happy“. Our first question in reply is “What is happiness to you”? Academics, scientists and philosophers have been trying to define happiness since the times of ancient Greece. In recent years the field of Positive Psychology led by Martin Seligman has pioneered research into happiness. Positive psychology is concerned with three issues; positive emotions, positive individual traits and positive institutions.
Research has looked at how culture, religion, gender and parenting has an impact on our levels of happiness. There are some incredibly interesting trends that emerge. For example, evidence suggests that most people become generally happier with age, with the exception of the years 40 – 50.
In his research on happiness, Seligman initially carried out extensive research on the differences between happy and depressed people. He thought this might help him identify the components of happiness. However, he found that being happy was very different from not being depressed. Interestingly, he identified that the skills to achieve happiness are different from the skills needed to relieve misery.
He found there are 3 different ‘happy’ lives that we can aspire to:
1. The Pleasant Life
2. The Good Life
3. The Meaningful Life
1/ The Pleasant Life
The pleasant life is about seeking as many pleasures as possible and learning the skills to savour them through techniques such as mindfulness.
2/ The Good Life
You don’t necessarily need to live your life in the conventional way society encourages you to in order to be happy (e.g. the perfect family, friends etc.) For example, Seligman met with Len, a highly successful trader, who was not successful in relationships and appeared not to have positive emotions. However, the research identified him as one of the happiest people in the study. His happiness comes from the theory of ‘flow’ and experiences of ecstasy when on the trading floor doing the job which he loves and was highly accomplished at. It’s about perspective and defining what happiness is to you. To really achieve the good life, it’s important to identify your signature strengths and re-craft work, love, and play to suit you.
3/ The Meaningful Life
This is about identifying your signature strengths and applying them in the service of something larger than yourself. It’s about membership to positive organisations such as the family, workplace, social groups and society in general.
Seligman found that the ‘Good Life‘ and the ‘Meaningful Life‘ were the most important to achieving long term happiness and that the “Pleasurable life” has a more short-term effect and the feel-good effect wears off. He described it as the icing on the happiness cake.
It’s important to understand what you think happiness is and if you were to strip back all of societies assumptions about what is supposed to make us happy e.g. material wealth, good looks, health, relationships, money, successful career, perfect family etc. What is it you want from life? Happiness is subjective and therefore the definition of it is varied. But some people view it as fulfillment, contentment, inner peace.
Research has highlighted happiness at work comes down to simply doing something that you love and is worthwhile at the same time.
Moving towards happy
Our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) surprising affect only about 10%. Up to 40% of our happiness is accounted for by our daily activities and our life choices. This means that our actions really do contribute to our levels of happiness.
10 Keys to Happier Living
Here are 10 keys to happier living as defined by actionforhappiness. The first five keys are based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing developed by nef as part of the UK Government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital.
Seligman summarises it well when he says that “The pleasures of good conversation, the strength of gratitude, the benefits of kindness or wisdom or spirituality or humility, the search for meaning and the antidote to “fidgeting until we die” are birthrights of us all”.
It’s important to take the time to define what is happiness to you, rather than have it defined to us by the media or our peer group.