Why happiness is important

I often joke that I was born with the “happy gene”. On the whole I am a happy person. This doesn’t mean that I live a charmed life, but rather that I am usually able to see the positive. I like being happy, and am grateful to have inherited this “gene”.

The downside of being a happy person is that you are totally unprepared for unhappiness. It takes you to a very dark place. In my personal life, I have had some losses which have taken me there, but for the most part it has had to do with my professional life.

I am defined by what I do. I like to do well, and have my performance acknowledged from time to time. However in the past few years, I have found myself in situations that were far from ideal, and really dragged me into that dark place. I spent hours and even days crying silently, and found so little to look forward to that I could not easily crawl back out.

During the darkest days, I came across the work of Shawn Achor – I listened to a webinar he did for Books24X7’s Leadership Development Channel,  and was impressed enough to buy his book: The Happiness Advantage.

Turns out it is not only important to be happy from a personal point of view, but it is essential that companies and organizations create and maintain a happy culture to be productive and innovative.

So what is happiness? There is no single meaning of happiness, it is subjective wellbeing. Too many of us think “If only”.  Geneen Roth, inspirational author, puts it well. “If only I could lose some weight, I’d be happy”. And then the person either loses the weight, and is still not happy; or doesn’t have the willpower to lose the weight, and then hates themselves for having no willpower. So they are no closer to that happy state – because really you have to find it within yourself.

We have also been conditioned to think that if we work hard, we’ll be successful, and success will bring happiness.

It’s obvious that being happy is mostly under our own control. I don’t include those who suffer from clinical depression of some sort. Sadly, being happy is usually not under their control, no matter how many times they are urged to “snap out of it”.

Achor provides readers with seven strategies with actions any individual can take to be happier. But take it from me; the strategies just don’t work when you are in an environment which seems almost designed to make employees unhappy. And unhappy people are not engaged in the business. At best they come to work and quietly keep busy to make the day pass; at worst, they make everyone around them disenchanted, nd maybe even actively sabotage the business.

Leadership guru, Pat Lencioni, cites the three signs of a miserable job as:

  • Anonymity – employees are made to feel like a commodity, and there is no interest in who they are as a person.  When I heard this, it occurred to me that when I was a Manager, I did not know enough about my people; this because I respect people’s privacy and believe they will tell me what they wish to. But I now realize I should have taken a more active interest in their personal lives.
  • Irrelevance – workers need to know that the job they do makes a difference.
  • Immeasurement – this is when individuals have no way of gauging how they are doing on a day to day basis. For some jobs you have to be creative about how this measurement is set, but there is always a way. And we are not talking about performance reviews, or even balanced scorecards, here.

Managers and leaders must ensure that the above is not the case for their team. What else can they do?

  • Take a good look at meetings. Is it really necessary for everyone to meet at the same time? And the very worst thing the manager can do is to start berating the group for poor performance (this should be done one-on-one). When people are under attack, the limbic (emotional) system goes into “fight or flight” response. Forget about the concept of “think, then react” – rational thought disappears. If a manager thinks this will get everyone into gear to improve, he can think again. The opposite result is more likely.
  • Look for signs of disengagement, and fix the problem as soon as possible. There is a point of no return, and then you risk losing high performers. It always seems to me that high performers have high standards, and so are less tolerant of a bad situation than their less effective colleagues might be.
  • If engagement surveys are run in the organization, ensure that they are designed to elicit the truth, and give employees the opportunity to express what they feel anonymously. The best option is to get the survey designed, run and analyzed by a third party, who can provide feedback as well as advice on corrective action.
  • Trust yourself and trust others; and give others no cause to distrust you. This means not telling lies, big or small. Take responsibility for what happens in your team.

The happier and less stressed you and the workforce are, the more productive the environment. And apart from the positive impact on the bottom line, everyone will actually enjoy coming to work. They won’t want to rush off at the end of the day. Absenteeism will go down.

So commit to positive steps to becoming more happy and creating a happy environment today. Unhappiness is a dark cold pit, and once you are in it, it’s very difficult to get out of it. Being happy is sunshine and light and positivity.

References:

The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, Crown Business. Also available as an audio book and presentation on Books24X7.com  Leadership Development channel.

Lencioni, Patrick. Turning the Daily Grind into Daily Fulfillment. Soundview Executive Book Summaries. © 2008. Books24x7

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