Learn about a definition of happiness and the return on investment in focusing on it.
- What is happiness, exactly? Ask five people and you'll get five different answers. In fact, I posted that question on my LinkedIn profile and got answers like being totally fulfilled, feeling a sense of wellbeing and joy, and being in a spiritual and physical good place. Several people said something about feeling empowered or having control, or remaining at peace, even in tough times. Notice, none of these answers refer to an in the moment feeling like I'm happy when my kid gets an A at school or I get a thank you from my boss, and according to researchers, happiness really is a prolonged state of mind and an emotion that refers to our whole lives.
Positive psychologists have been studying happiness since the late 90s. The founder of this field, Martin Seligman, was studying mental illness but found himself wondering if we can learn to be helpless or resilient. From there, the field has exploded with a variety of studies helping us understand positive emotions. Seligman defines happiness as living a pleasant life, a good life, and a meaningful life. To break that down, pleasant life refers to emotion-boosting experiences and savoring those positive feelings.
Good life refers to a positive match between a person's strengths and their current task. In other words, we're happy when we feel confident that we can accomplish the task at hand. Meaningful life is about purpose. We're happy when we feel a sense of belonging and purpose, when we're contributing to something bigger than us. But this is where personal self-talk comes in. Your organization might have the most important mission in the world, and if you see your job as contributing to the system and purpose of the organization, you will be happy.
If it's just a job to you, you won't be happy. For example, there's an old tale about a janitor who worked for the opera, and when an opera goer was in the restroom talking about how great the opera was, the janitor replied, we do put on a great show, don't we. Although the janitor wasn't a performer, he knew his role to the greater good was important. Unclean bathrooms could lead to complaints or could discourage attendance, so his job really is important to the organization.
While you can't control self-talk of your employees, you can create a huge amount of opportunity for people to experience positive emotions at work, and because happiness is a prolonged state of being, you can build it up through a series of frequent, positive experiences, like fun events or giving people a chance to shine, and there's some serious return on investment, or RIO, to doing that. Happy people produce more, show up to work more, go above and beyond more, are more innovative, and attract more positive people.
In a meta-analysis of 225 academic articles in fact, researchers found that happy employees have 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity. So I'll leave you here with an action item. If you're going to focus on building happiness in your own organization, I recommend first getting clarity on what it means for your workforce. Try doing what I did on LinkedIn and just ask your employees to define happiness.
You'll notice themes in the answers, and then you can create a clear definition and a strategic program geared to helping people achieve happiness as it's been defined by your people, and this course will provide lots of tips for your plan. This'll be fun.