by Greg Roth, Percy Group Communications
Happiness is the single most important thread running through our daily lives. It's also probably the world's most elusive concept. What exactly is it? How do we define it? How do we achieve it and more unclear, how do we make it last?
Over the past two decades, research into emotion and what makes us happy has grown by leaps and bounds. There are countless books on the subject, MBA courses, a World Happiness Database, a neuroscience of consumer behavior movement, and, maybe the truest indication that a concept has arrived, the inevitable backlash. After reading Scott Oser's post on this blog about information overload, I couldn't help but think of comedian Louis CK and his well-known riff on Conan a few years back, “Everything's Amazing and No One's Happy” (5 million hits, by the way). The explosion of social media has made happiness a steeper climb and more competitive game.
I've been reading Harvard Business Review this month because they have an entire package of stories related to happiness in their current double issue to open 2012; happiness as it relates to the economy, to intelligence, to performance, and to culture. (I was hoping there'd be something on the “Happiness of Happiness” but no luck).
In the area of leadership, one major finding is on focus. Thank God! How many of us have had managers that have stressed the ability to “multi-task?” I'll give you my answer: every single one. However, a new scientific research project called Track Your Happiness, developed by a doctoral candidate at Harvard, is asking more than 15,000 people in 83 countries to report their emotional states in real time via iPhone application. Wouldn't you know, one of their major findings? The more the mind wanders from thought to thought or task to task, the less happy a person is. And we all know, a happy employee is going to be more productive than an unhappy employee. What makes happiness possible is engagement, both physical and mental, and what makes engagement possible is focus.
The other nugget in the HBR story package I found intriguing was how managers can create work environments with two key factors: vitality and learning. Very simply, the equation would be “passion + growth = thriving employees”. You can go into a lot more detail than that, but to boil it down to its basic ingredients, the best work environments foster a sense of being alive and in control at work and match that with opportunity to develop their skillset. Those two factors need to work in concert with each other.
There's always been a moral reason for leaders to traffic in happiness, but more and more research is showing that there's a direct economic motivation as well. Do you have any happiness strategies to report from your workplace?
Greg Roth, IOM, is the Owner of Percy Group Communications, a boutique strategy, messaging, and content firm that works with both private and public sector clients such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, The William James Foundation, Potomac College, and the U.S. Department of State. Before launching his own practice, he spent 15 years working for the media, nonprofits, and startups.