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Wellness & Office Morale: How Happy are You?

January 25, 2012

In a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, a number of articles were related to the “value of happiness.” What you would expect from a business journal, right?  Everything has to have a value. The article The Economics of Well-Being by Justin Fox mentioned the time when the global public thought the King of Bhutan was off his rocker when in 1972 he announced that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” His administration created the Centre for Bhutan Studies that administered a nine-dimension national happiness account. Well, 40 years later, it appears that the king may have been prophetic. New and evolving studies in behavioral science are indicating that happiness is not only very important, but also quantifiable in many cases. In fact, it enhances the Gross National Product.

I am passionate about associate engagement. It is an extremely important topic because, in my opinion, engagement has a direct correlation to long-term business value. To be successful for the long term, a business needs to execute and generate results, and it needs to do so in a way that promotes organizational health for sustainability. Happiness is a key factor to organizational health.

Theories are now showing that there are two kinds of happiness—real and synthetic. Synthetic happiness is what we produce when we don’t get what we want. For instance, a celebrity that loses her fame and can walk the streets without being bothered reflects positively on her newfound happiness. While she didn’t choose to lose her fame, she sees her anonymity as a good thing. Natural happiness is when we experience what we do want—we set a weight loss goal, we achieve it, and we are happy about achieving it.

Some would argue that synthetic is not as good as real happiness, but evidence doesn’t indicate that is the case. People are not necessarily good at predicting what will make them happy. Big, positive events (like winning the lotto) don’t frequently have the sustaining happiness factors that people believe they do. Does more money make their lives easier? Without a doubt. Does it keep them happy 10 years from now? Not necessarily. Ask the lotto winners—it also produces all sorts of unintended stresses.

Additionally, research shows that the frequency of your positive experiences is a much better predictor of your happiness than the intensity of your positive experiences. So, many bite-size mouthfuls of happiness carry you through the day longer than the less frequent full-course meal. Think of the implications of that statement!

So, when are people happiest in the workplace? When they’re trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach.

Here’s another finding: Mind-wandering on the job reduces happiness and productivity. The productivity conclusion is a “duh,” but the happiness one is compelling. By creating more focus in our work, we can be happier! What does that say about multi-tasking? You can participate in this interesting happiness research by joining 15,000 other smart-device users at http://www.trackyourhappiness.org/ and entering your happiness data.

So, here’s to a happier 2012 for all of us. Our mind is a powerful instrument that can create happiness for ourselves and for others. What a cool thing that happiness is a choice.

Credits for the concepts in this article go to Daniel Gilbert and his book, Stumbling on Happiness, and Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student at Harvard.

Evan Roth, Executive Director & Chief Learning Officer, Nelnet

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