How to be happy at work.

For International Week of Happiness at Work, we studied Harvard Professor Dr. Arthur Brooks. Brooks sees happiness as serious business. It’s a soft skill necessary to be a better leader and live a happier life.

The Harvard professor believes that happiness can be cultivated by prioritizing and that being happy is paramount to being an effective leader.

What is happiness?

Most people talk about feelings when they want to define happiness. It could be how they felt on their wedding day, when going out with friends or the joy of sitting around the Christmas tree with family.

For Brooks, these pleasant feelings are evidence of happiness, just like the smell of the turkey in the oven at Christmas; but they don’t explain happiness.

Happiness is a combination of three phenomena: enjoyment of your life (enjoy what you’re doing); – satisfaction (with the rewards you’re getting from your accomplishments); and – meaning (have a sense of purpose in your life).

You need to have all three aspects to explain the feeling of happiness. If one of the components is missing, you can start to figure out what you need to work on.

Habits equal happier

The habits of the happiest people are basically:

your philosophy of life (e.g. your faith); – your family life; – your friendships (the ‘real’ friends, not the ‘deal’ friends); – and your work.

And almost everybody over-indexes on work and under-indexes their family life, friendships and faith. That’s often the problem with “strivers” and highly successful people. Strivers tend to put all their eggs in one basket: work. Especially in an addictive way. Brooks calls it “an addiction to success” rather than workaholism.

Brooks recommends a balanced, diversified happiness portfolio rather than focusing on the work aspect; just by bringing more love into their happiness portfolio.

Start with being happy in life

Mother Nature doesn’t care if you are happy. Mother Nature has two imperatives for you: survive and pass on your genes. For most people, that is not enough. They want to be happy. And if you want to be happy, you need to take care of that yourself.

Generation Z has a strong entrepreneurial view on work. They want to become the CEO of their successful start-up. But actually, you are the CEO of your own enterprise: your life. Treat your life as your start-up and the currency of your happiness is the love in your life. Then everything opens up and you can start to solve all the worldly problems down the line.

Work should be an integrated part of our lives. So, we should strive to be happy at work. Brooks warns us not to make the mistake of wishing instead of doing the work. You wish you had a better marriage, but you don’t work on it. You wish you’d earn more money, but you don’t work for it. To avoid this, you need “good hygiene” and to go against a lot of your natural inclinations.

Happiness as a skill

The way we spend our time, where we focus on, and the way we take care of ourselves is what Brooks calls “happiness hygiene”. One more thing the professor suggests we follow is what he calls the happiness algorithm:

  1. Adopt the hobby of learning about happiness;
  2. Bring happiness habits into your life (e.g. to be more grateful instead of grumpy);
  3. Teach other people to be happy (that’s the secret ingredient!).

So, for a business leader, the shortcut to becoming a happier person is to become a “happiness teacher”.

Start with:

  1. Sharing the ideas that people understand (“I learned this, what do you think about these ideas to increase happiness?”);
  2. Using your life as an example for others (become magnetic and help other people mimic your own good practices);
  3. Remembering the iron law of happiness: ‘Happiness is Love’ (how you share love, recognise it, open up to it, and be more courageous).

Work is a pretty good place to practice being a happiness teacher. By spreading more love around you, you will come home happier and so will your co-workers.

Some practical tips for happiness leadership:

Brooks thinks we live in a climate of fear and hostility. We should fight against that with our personal behaviour and get happier along the way.

Some of his tips:

  1. Start every morning by recognising somebody’s good performance (they feel better, you feel better and it starts spreading);
  2. Understand that you can be both happy and successful by writing things down in journals, lists or with therapy;
  3. Most people are managed by their emotions (the limbic system in our brains developed after 40 million years of evolution); try to move these emotions to the prefrontal cortex by taking stock of them, processing and managing your emotions;
  4. Meditation is a good practice to help process emotions to prevent them from managing you.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, 13 September 2022, in a live Q&A with Harvard Professor Dr. Arthur Brooks and WSJ Reporter Lindsay Ellis as they discuss the soft skills necessary to be a better leader and to live a happier life.

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