Happiness is one of many human emotions that appear to hit our headlines on a fairly regular basis and to make matters more complex it can mean differing things to different people. There are a myriad of definitions the workplace. Here is one from a book by Jessica Pryce-Jones titled Happiness at Work (2010)
“Happiness at work is a mindset which allows you to maximise performance and achieve your potential. You do this by being mindful of the highs and lows when working alone or with others.”
Are happy people higher performers and more productive and work?
Warwick University published a paper in February 2014 on Happiness and Productivity in which individuals were made to feel happier that resulted in an increase in productivity of 12%. So happiness would appear to be a key component of productivity. However, being happy and more productive in a series of laboratory experiments is different from applying it in the real world.
Common sense suggests that we should pursue happiness at work if potentially it has such a positive outcome. But is it that simple?
What are the facts?
Work for the majority appears to be the opposite of a happy environment with 83% of UK workers (globally it’s worse at 87%) found to be disengaged (and therefore operating in a negative emotional state) according to Gallup’s 2013 survey on ‘Engagement at Work’. This suggests that having knowledge about what we should do does not transfer into what we actually do. Websites are full of advice in the form of the top 5, 7 or 10 things you need to do to become happy. But it clearly does not work that way – and once again it’s the context that is major influencer that’s being ignored.
Whilst some people do find happiness at work, others only experience it when with friends or family, in religion, or in nature. For many, they may only experience temporary pleasure or a sense of happiness when enjoying good food and wine, or when their team win or whilst watching a good film however, they may not truly be happy. For them being happy isn’t normal.
For those who are constantly happy, whose glass is nearly always half full know, the state of ‘being’ happy is consistent. It is their norm. These people are also in the minority.
Not consistently happy
So what about the majority of people who are not consistently happy? For them negative emotions such as frustration, anxiety, and a sense of being overwhelmed is their norm.
Dr Martin Seligman’s initial work looked at the realm of Learned Helplessness, a condition linked to depression. His research found that the condition was caused through a form of unconscious and automatic (implicit or natural) learning leading to people suffering a sense of helplessness or being out of control. If you keep telling yourself you can’t do things then you are right, you can’t and the consequences are self-destructive.
Now this can’t do attitude is a learned behaviour. Just think for a moment, how many babies do you know who are born helpless and out of control? Babies soon learn how to control their parents and the impact a smile brings. Neither are they born cynical, angry or miserable. These states are learnt implicitly together with many more negative ones that develop as we go through life and form our attitude and drive our behaviours.
However, the good news is that because the condition is learnt, albeit mostly at an unconscious level, you can learn to do the opposite through practice and perseverance.
Seligman’s many books take us along a journey of discovery from Learned Helplessness (1993) to Learned Optimism (1998) through to Authentic Happiness (2002). You are introduced to the idea that with greater awareness of what you think, what you believe and do will turn a negative journey into a positive one, with practice. It’s not just any old practice, it needs to be focused practice. What is that? Again it all depends upon the context – your context.
On this journey of discovery you may also come across the ancient Buddhist practice referred to as Mindfulness, which means the ability to pay attention in the moment, in a non-judgemental way, through meditation. The NHS, to help people who are suffering from depression and anxiety, is using Mindfulness techniques to increase mental well-being. Happiness takes this to the next level.
Our view is that it is all very well seeking a state of happiness however; the reality at work for the majority is that this is not the case. People are under increasing pressure in a fast moving and constantly changing environment that needs people who are emotional competent and resilient. Sports people refer to this as mental toughness.
Becoming better at what is often referred too as Emotional Intelligence is also only part of the solution, particularly in the workplace.
At Mind Fit we adopt a ‘whole brain’ approach, which takes us beyond controlling one or more emotional states. We engage the core thinking parts of the brain; we help people discover what drives them and how to increase their social intelligence. We create an environment that develops Mind Fit (Can Do) people who use their whole brain and not just one facet of it.
Imagine if you were to develop your whole brain so that you were in control in different situations. Some of the features of using your brain positively are:
- Thinking brain – pragmatic, flexible, innovative and relevant
- Feeling brain – emotionally competent and resilient
- Driving brain – having a clear purpose and meaning
- Social brain – ability to connect meaningfully with others
What would this learnt ability mean if it were also linked to your organisational purpose? If you are in personal control and applied it to your business you would definitely become a better performer and more productive. You would identify those personal, cultural and systemic behaviours that waste time, effort and money. You would deliver and add real value to your organisation.
One of the outcomes is a much happier, more confidant and capable person able to perform under pressure without the luxury of meditation before hand or a focus on their own needs rather than the collective.
The Pursuit of Happiness
The pursuit of happiness at work is clearly an honourable one albeit in a tough and highly competitive world we would suggest it’s not very practical.
A much faster proven route is to adopt a whole brain approach linked to the organisational purpose that provides personal meaning. A driven person who is highly aware, in personal control and focused on what is important in any moment of time is a high performer and very productive and a valuable asset to their organisation.
If you were to look at a high performer would they fit that definition?
People, who are inspired, engaged and have some level of empowerment deliver and add value to organisations and they also feel valued. Their positive and productive actions lead to confidence, growth and happiness that are grounded in the real world.
They clearly think they can.
Now it’s over to you. As Henry Ford said
“If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!”
Do you have a can do, Mind Fit organisation?
Do you want one?
Contact us to find out more?
Gallup Poll Learned Helplessness Martin Seligman