The Happiness Advantage

The Happiness Advantage

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Is this the Greatest Win Win Idea in Business?

I think this win win idea might be one of the best I have ever come across. Did you know that people who start off happy are more likely to succeed than people who start off unhappy? People who are happy have a competitive advantage over people who are unhappy. When running a business a positive mindset should always triumph over a negative one! Now, how good an idea is that? Research from Yale suggests that if we are happy, we are likely to be 30% more productive and 20% more creative. Sales figures can also rise by 37% when people are happy. Think of the implications. They’re staggering. If cutting your working hours by 25% makes you happy then you should consider doing it since your output, in terms of productivity, creativity and energy, will remain exactly the same. We sense that we work “harder, faster and more intelligently” when we feel good. We know that feeling and would probably like to enjoy it more often. But would you have thought that a short cut to it might be to work less hours? It’s a bold step to take and may well be out of our comfort zone, but the result of doing it could be life-enhancing. Think what this would look like when applied to your business? Your performance can improve because you are happy; to me, that’s a very uplifting thought. A real win win idea! So how can you be happier? How can you hack the system? How can you use happiness as your strategic advantage?

So What is Happiness?

This is a fascinating question which has, for centuries, perplexed bigger brains than mine. According to renowned happiness expert, Professor Martin Seligman, it generally comes down to success in three areas – pleasure, engagement and meaning.

Is it Pleasure?

Firstly, there is the concept of pleasure bringing happiness. This is about getting as many raw pleasures as possible and the ability to amplify the positive feelings you get from them. By savouring the pleasures and being fully mindful while you experience them, you soak up good feeling and carry it over into the rest of your life. This is the simplest sort of happiness, the easiest to achieve. But it’s a dangerous area since pleasure and desire are easily confused. Taking pleasure from the many simple things in your life will make you content and happy, but becoming a slave to desire – always wanting more more more – could make you very unhappy. So, imagine you have had a weekend indulging in your favourite pleasure, and now imagine sitting down to work on the Monday morning afterwards. Your fun is over and it’s down to business, yet doesn’t work seem extremely manageable today? How can you enjoy more pleasures in your life? How can you bring more pleasure into your work? How can you use these simple pleasures to make you more productive?

Is it Engagement?

Secondly there is the concept of ‘engagement’ bringing happiness. This is where you engage totally with something. It could be a brain storming session, or scuba-diving round a mesmerising coral reef, or just whatever happens to pull you in and absorb you so much that you get the feeling that “time stops.” That’s the phrase the experts use, and you can tell you were in this happiness zone because at some point you finally looked at the time – and gasped at how late it was. In this way engagement contrasts with pleasure. That raw, sensual feeling and awareness are part of pleasure; you know you are enjoying what you are doing and you you feel happy. With feelings of ‘engagement’ you do not necessarily know you are happy. You may feel nothing and you may not be smiling. It is as if you have stepped out of time and out of the world. Hours can pass, completely unnoticed. It is generally only on reflection that that you can feel replenished and good about life. Can you think of the times when work absorbed you so much that you were in ‘the zone’? Can you think of how to make that happen more often? And can you ensure you get that outside of work too?

Is it Meaning?

Finally there is the concept of ‘meaning’ bringing happiness. This is probably the trickiest in the modern world. In essences it’s about believing you belong to something larger than yourself, and also believing you exist to serve that something. Traditionally, this meant God. People drew happiness and purpose from their religion. Nowadays, some of us tend to be less certain about God. Do you believe you belong to something big and spiritual? Is there a cause or faith you think is more important than you? Research shows that people who have a ‘meaningful life’ – a belief that something matters more than they do – survive for longer. They survive in business and, literally, in terms of years lived. It’s a tricky but interesting form of happiness. We probably all have some spiritual beliefs but often lack the time and space to nurture them – would that describe you? I suspect it describes me… So are you searching for meaning? If so how can you get more meaning and purpose into your life and work? How can you use that to define what you do? The truth is that not many people will shine in all three forms of happiness. The good news is: you don’t need to. For example, a typical pleasure-seeker might not need joy from a ‘meaningful life’ or feel wonderfully absorbed by ‘engagement’ in what they are doing. You can be perfectly happy in your own way. You will be happiest if you just concentrate on the sort of happiness that resonates with you the most. The key is to play to your strengths. Essentially, you need to do what is right for you. So how can you incorporate these into your business model? How can you include what makes you happy part of the plan? It has to be a more interesting challenge than writing your next operational plan! To help you with that thought, here are some ideas I have come across which might make you happy.

We Can Choose to be Happy

I strive to keep myself happy. And it really works that way: for me happiness is a choice. You can view the world through a happy lens and that will determine how you interpret events and people around you. From your interpretation comes your actions. A positive outlook will lead to positive actions. I deliberately take pleasure in small, everyday things, that’s my personal strength. These things make me happy – the weather, my dog, a stimulating chat – and by choosing to dwell on them, by choosing to be happy, my business indirectly improves. I merely feel this. For me it’s an instinctive thing yet Psychologist and business guru, Shawn Achor, has the raw data to prove that happiness is a choice. And those who choose to be happy then have an advantage in business. By all accounts only about 10% of our happiness is dictated by the stuff around us. The rest is in our heads – it’s up to us. To put it another way, the circumstances and events around you matter far less than how you meet them. Happiness comes from ‘inner programming.’ And it’s quite easy to re-programme yourself. What you are up against is the fact that we, as a society, we constantly push happiness away for another day. We are our own worst enemy. To me this is really disturbing. We shift the goalposts; got a good job, now get a better one, got the grades, now get better grades, brought in a deal, get another one… We beat ourselves up. We create pressure for ourselves. We seem to believe that relaxing into happiness is folly. And yet: Couldn’t we just let ourselves be spurred on by happiness? So if happiness is indeed a choice how can you get it and use it to your advantage? How can you choose to enjoy your journey more? How can you see the positive in (almost) every situation?

Living in the Moment Can Make Us Happier

We often hear about the concept of living in the moment. Some happy people tend to be quite good at this and much has been said and written on the subject. The simple idea behind this is that you only have the NOW. It might sound a bit ‘new age’ for some, but it’s worth considering and understanding: The future never comes. When you get there, it’s moved on, by definition. Similarly the past cannot be visited. The past has passed. The Buddhists have a good saying: “People who spend their time brooding over the future or repenting over the past are cut down like green reeds in the sun.” In other words they have no life. Your life is NOW, full stop. The future and the past are concepts – nothing more – which should enrich the present. The future is useful for organising and planning, so you can relax knowing life is being confronted. And the past is good for learning, so you can relax again; you know how to confront life. Now you can get on with the present – life. The ability to embrace the present is one of the keys to greater happiness. It is in many ways much more important than the ability to define it. It sounds simple, and it is. Yet do you relish this day as a wonder? Do you understand this is all you can ever get anyway? So try looking at how you can use happiness TODAY – this day which you will never get back?

Being Grateful Can Make Us Happier

Gratitude for what you’ve got can be a reliable tonic against negative feelings. You may have to reach in and find it though. One of the easiest ways is writing a short diary entry about something good that happened or something good you saw that day. Writing it allows you to relive it, and thus your happiness is again replenished. Studies show that when people write their little entry for twenty-one days on the trot they then can’t stop themselves from looking for good things. They had started off just looking for something to scribble about that night and had ended up seeing the world afresh, as a benevolent place; something to be grateful for and nothing like the horror story in the nightly news. This made them happy in a sustained way. Never under-rate the power of a good habit! The weather, the landscape, your health, a favourite movie, family, co-workers and friends – you are surrounded by reasons to be grateful. And if you occasionally show your gratitude, you’re likely to be surrounded by more happiness. Knowing they are appreciated tends to make people very happy indeed. How can you be more grateful in order to make you happier? Is writing a daily diary too simple an idea? Try it! What is there to lose?

Exercise Can Make Us Happier

Here’s a simple idea and something I do myself. No matter how bad I might feel, I notice that after walking the dog or having a tough work-out in the gym I always feel better. It’s not just me as many Captains of industry swear by a workout regime and, according to all available research, so they should. It’s a matter of just getting up and doing it. When you feel down, you may not feel inclined towards physical activity like walking the dog or going to the gym – that is probably the time you should give it a try. Why not? And ask yourself afterwards if you feel better?… The dopamine released into the brain by exercise makes you happy, we know, but apparently it also turns on the learning centres in the brain. You can have new ideas for your business by simply taking time off for a jog, a swim, or maybe just a stroll in the park… This is a really simple and fast way of making yourself happier. So how can you build exercise into your routine so that you can be happier at work? How can you use exercise to improve your mood when you are not feeling happy?

Happy People Don’t Go It Alone

I use this idea on a daily basis to improve my own well-being and improve my business. I have a group of people that I like to call my ‘Motivational Circle’. These are people that stimulate conversation and ideas. People whom I help and who help me. The real win win for me is that the more I see them the happier I become as their ideas engage me and drive me on. I have deliberately designed my business and my life to be all about one on one interactions with other individuals. It is this interaction that fills me with purpose and meaning as I need social interaction to fuel both my mind and my creativity. Taking control of this need makes me happier and, in turn, much better at what I do. Humans are, by nature, social beasts. There is plenty of evidence out there to demonstrate that social interaction can be used positively to increase individual happiness. Yet many entrepreneurs get themselves into situations where they feel lonely and isolated at the tops of their pyramids. This single phenomenon is holding many businesses back as self imposed isolation reduces happiness and, in turn, reduces productivity and creativity. So if happiness can be improved by social interaction how can you weave it into your life and work? How can you use interaction to improve your ideas, your well-being and your success?

Happiness is Contagious – So Spread It!

Happiness is an attractive quality. Quite simply most of us like happy people. I like happy people. I prefer to do business with happy people as happiness is inspiring to me. Seeing someone laugh or smile makes me laugh or smile. It’s contagious. When you make someone happy, say, just by unexpectedly helping them with something, you make yourself happy too. You sense, see, hear and feel their happiness. And you get the bonus of a little ego boost, thinking, ‘Wow, I really made him/her happy.’ This can be taken one step further as the so called Law of Reciprocity dictates that positive actions create positive actions in others. By being happy you can make others around you happy. This could make it more likely that they feel inspired to do someone else a good turn, and make them happy too. And thus happiness can spread – contagious, and easily caught. So given all the productivity benefits to be got happiness and the fact that it can be spread from person to person, why not resolve to use your own happiness to infect those around you? They may just get more done for you in return.

The Happy Conclusion

The idea that if you put yourself through enough pain then success must surely follow is one I am happy to dismiss. Everything I have read, heard and witnessed suggests that happiness brings success. However, I speak with a lot of entrepreneurs and, sadly, most of them are only happy some of the time. What percentage of your time are you happy? 20%, 30% 40%? Is this really good enough when you consider the potential gains in productivity and creativity? Given the evidence why would you run your business in a way that encroaches on your happiness, when that can harm your chances of success? Why would you surrender to the idea that work is about suffering, when it needn’t be at all? As an entrepreneur, don’t you think you can avoid all that quite easily? Don’t you believe that you have much to be happy about? For one thing, you have a degree of control over your working life which millions of people can only dream about. Happiness is there for you to take and that happiness will help make you successful. It’s a win win idea from all angles. So can you think, right now, of things you can do to make yourself happy? How about a diary entry detailing an act of kindness? How about just enjoying every moment? How about a walk or a run? How about reducing your hours? There could be money in all of them…

Further Reading:
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (Amazon link UK, US)

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (Amazon link UK, US)

Flourish by Martin Seligman (Amazon link UK, US)

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (Amazon link UK, US)

Flip It by Michael Heppell (Amazon link UK, US)

If the above topic, or indeed any of my blogs are of interest to you, then contact me and let’s talk! Drop me an email at

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