The Happiness Advantage

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What are the advantages of happiness in the workplace?

Notes from the coaching room

From our early years, many of us are taught that effort brings happiness and that the first causes the second. Our sporting heroes are regularly on our screens crediting their sheer hard work from childhood for the silverware in their hands, neglecting to mention the coach, teammates and self-management that brought them to the kick-off in peak mental condition and failing to acknowledge that the players in the team they’ve just beaten have made equally herculean efforts that have not been equally rewarded.

What if this is an attribution error? What if it’s not hard work, but happiness that brings success? And what if the stress that leaders so often reveal in the coaching room is too high a price to pay for believing that working harder is a better choice than time spent with friends, family or the sort of self-care that brings them to work ready to do their best?

In other words, shouldn’t happiness be the focus rather than hard work? Would it be unreasonable to suppose that happier people are more successful than those possibly making themselves miserable by continually striving?

In 2010, Harvard Psychologist Shawn Achor published a book, ‘The Happiness Advantage’, which argued for believing that happiness is the pre-requisite for success.

Drawing on the growing body of work from Positive Psychology, Achor has gone on to establish a business, Good Think, that works with organisations around the world to embed seven principles to achieve greater happiness which has, in turn, delivered a claimed 31% productivity gains and 23% stress reduction in those businesses.

  • Principle #1 - believing that happiness brings success helps to concentrate the mind on doing the things that deliver happiness rather than persisting with something that doesn’t work. If the workplace is a source of stress, change it and make it a place people can be happy.

  • Principle #2 - being happy is often a choice. Being unhappy is sometimes a choice, too. Choosing happiness when we can, makes us better to be around and more helpful to others. Managing our mindset to one of positivity and optimism is powerful for ourselves and others.

  • Principle #3 - examining the unhelpful habits you’ve acquired and changing them is a step on the path to happiness. Whether it’s listening to talk radio or sighing when another unwelcome email arrives from that department or individual, each of us does things out of habit that doesn’t always make us happy. Singing along in the car to a music station or picking up the phone to that source of irritation might just be the change of habit that sets a happier course.

  • Principle #4 - ‘Glorious opportunity – they don’t have shoes yet!’. Achor tells the story of two shoe salesmen sent to peddle their wares in Africa in the 1950s. After two weeks they report back by telegram to their Head Office. One replies ‘Situation hopeless, they don’t wear shoes’, the other replies with the first sentence of this principle. Achor uses this as an illustration of what he calls a ‘counterfact’. However bleak the situation may feel, there is another way to look at it.

  • Principle #5 - don’t try and eat the elephant. Finding a small change one can make is empowering. Looking at everything there is to be done is intimidating. Breaking every change into small pieces and tackling them one at a time is a stronger approach than trying to do everything at once.

  • Principle #6 - there’s a reason that diets generally don’t work. It’s the same reason that most of us are more likely to keep going to the gym that’s on the doorstep than the one on the other side of town. Willpower is never enough. Once a change has been decided, the next step is to make it easy to do it. The human mind is unnervingly drawn to the path of least resistance. Making it easy to do the right thing is a surer way of doing it than trying to tough it out.

  • Principle #7 - don’t do it alone. Share the commitment, share the investment in happiness. Encourage others to do the same. Talk about it. We’re pack animals, really, and when the rest of the pack is pulling with us, the burden is lighter.

Things for modern leaders to consider:

  • What are you doing to invest in your own happiness? In the happiness of your team? What is the thing that makes you least happy at work? What is the actionable first step that you can take to remove it?
  • What habits have you acquired that are in the way of your happiness? What about the team? What can you do to look for the counterfact and make a change?

Xytal is one of the leading British consultancy developing leadership in the health sector. Notes from the coaching room is drawn from our real experience of the issues faced by many leaders in improving their practice. If you found this article beneficial, contact one of our team to learn more.

What if it’s not hard work, but happiness that brings success?