If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Learning to leverage happiness in the workplace starts one person at a time.

Most of us have either sat around a campfire ourselves and sang the words or we’ve joined along with our own or other people’s children in a sing-along of “If You’re Happy and You Know It…” followed by the random actions chosen by each singer depicting what makes him or her happy.

If only it were that easy to replicate happiness in the workplace by simply clapping our hands together!

So what does it really take to make us happy at work?

Happiness is not just an emotional quality of being. Within the workplace context, happiness is also a person’s sense of satisfaction with work and life in general.

Nic Marks, founder of the Centre for Well- Being based in the United Kingdom, developed the “Happiness at Work Survey,” which can be taken at http://www.happinessatworksurvey.com. Marks highlights factors impacting happiness at work, namely, enjoyment of the work itself and doing what you do best, along with your pride in the organization you work for and the quality of the management you receive.

These factors strongly influence how you perform on the job. Being able to do the work you love and are good at goes a long way toward job satisfaction. Marks highlights how a well-managed organization affects the degree of collaboration between teams and departments and the support received to get the work done.

The Happiness at Work Survey compares happiness at home and work, examines feelings toward the job itself, your relationships at work, the state of the organization itself, and even the social impact or value your work has.

According to the World Happiness Report 2013, edited by researchers John Helliwell, Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs, the United States ranked in 17th position on level of happiness out of 156 countries worldwide.

Their findings suggest happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are better citizens. Helliwell and his colleagues recommend that countries place as much emphasis on their citizens’ mental health as they do on economic growth.

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh and the Delivering Happiness group out of Las Vegas point to Gallup evidence that disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year due to lost productivity, as an indicator of what unhappiness costs us.

These “actively disengaged” workers were defined as “individuals who are unhappy at work and act out their unhappiness.” Unhappy employees affect those around them by their negative attitudes, likelihood for low performance, increased sickness and absenteeism, and other factors that sabotage productivity.

Harvard lecturer Shawn Achor, author of “Before Happiness” and “The Happiness Advantage” and Training 2014 keynoter, states 90 percent of longterm happiness is derived from how your brain processes the world and your life experiences. You might think, “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. Then if I’m more successful, then I will be happier.” The reality is that our view of the world will determine our outlook. Happiness, Achor points out, is an inside job (see p. 114 for more on Achor’s perspective).

Srikumar Rao, the author of “Happiness at Work,” says we must dispense with this flawed “if/then” model for happiness. “There is nothing you have to get, do, or be in order to be happy,” he writes.

Achor suggests doing different activities on a regular basis to draw upon positive psychology principles to bring happiness into the workplace.

For example, to create a lasting positive change, he recommends writing down three new things you are grateful for each day over a 21-day period. You might even start journaling these reflections. This will help change your personal outlook.

One way to bring happiness to others is to send out an e-mail of gratitude to someone each day before reading or responding to other e-mails in your inbox. This starts the day off positively for the recipient, as well as yourself, by sending out positive messages.

Dr. Donald Moynihan of the University of Wisconsin – Madison found that helping others at work actually makes us happier. Even if it is just for a few minutes, altruistic acts make us feel better about ourselves. In fact, his research identified that “being motivated to help and believing your work makes a difference is associated with greater happiness in our analysis.”

Helping others even makes us feel like we have more time, according to Dr. Cassie Mogilner from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Her findings revealed that when people helped others for just 10 to 30 minutes a day, they felt less time-constrained than those who had wasted their time. 

You knew, of course, that being happy makes you a better learner. It seems happiness and learning are closely linked in our minds. Research by Dr. Manfred Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Ulm, showed that people who have positive experiences activate the nucleus accumbiens area of the brain, which is also responsible for accelerating the learning process.

Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, identified similar findings. He notes: “There is a large and growing body of research that indicates that people experiencing positive emotions perceive more options when trying to solve problems, solve more non-linear problems that require insight, collaborate better and generally perform better overall.”

As Learning & Development professionals, we must generate greater happiness and positive emotions around our learning design and development. We need to ask our learners how we can help them gain a greater appreciation for the subject matter being taught or demonstrated.

You and I cannot pretend we can be happy at work all the time nor can we make others happy. This is neither realistic nor desirable. Unhappy experiences happen, and negative emotions are normal.

But we can learn to be happy more regularly and consistently on the job. Then we can positively influence those around us to be able to clap their hands when they personally know they are happy, too!

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit http://www.Rideau.com.

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