Recently, I participated in several very interesting discussions on the subject of happiness at work. During these discussions, we asked ‘what is happiness, can we measure it and if so how, does it affect our work, and should we be looking for ways to increase it?’ Happiness appears to be a hot topic at the moment, and perhaps – as is so often the case with hot topics – we should simply ignore it and carry on regardless. After all, happiness is a state of mind, a positive flow, not an end result or an ambitious goal we are striving to achieve. It shouldn’t be confused with satisfaction either; being satisfied with your work does not automatically mean that you’re going to feel happy. Equally, you can be perfectly happy even when you don’t find your work satisfying.
Happiness, research shows, is a personal emotional state that is partly pre-destined and partly externally influenced. Indeed, psychologists conducting research in this area have discovered that the strongest predictor of happiness is actually having meaningful social relationships rather than being wealthy, successful or famous. With meaningful relationships, happiness can be a collective phenomenon that spreads throughout social networks. One person’s emotional state can quickly affect somebody else’s (sometimes not even someone you know) and the more interconnected we become through social networks, the more rapidly our emotions spread.
Take this morning’s meeting, for example. My colleagues arrived in good spirits with cheerful smiles all around and it lifted my mood immediately. On the other hand, I also recall bumping into a grumpy manager in the corridor, who did not bother to greet me and simply disappeared quickly into his office. As social beings we have developed the capacity to read each other’s moods very rapidly in order to determine an appropriate response.
So how can we consciously deflect negative emotional influences and increase our general level of happiness at work? First, by adopting a generally cheery, pleasant and polite disposition, we can play our part in spreading happiness to those we meet and benefit ourselves when they reciprocate. Smile and the world smiles with you! Second, by investing our energy into nurturing our social bonds with others, not just with friends and family but also, most importantly, with our colleagues at work. Let’s not forget how important our colleagues are to us, particularly as we spend so much time working together.
In the current, cost-conscious office climate, we are all under increasing work pressure to deliver better results and stronger revenues. With so much focus on figures and financials, it has become increasingly difficult to find time to socialize with colleagues. Finding time even for a quick chat over coffee is not always easy. And with little or no company funding available for social activities, hearing disappointed colleagues complaining about the lack of activities and poor company morale is becoming commonplace.
However, the key to our happiness and how we manage our time lies in our own hands. Our happiness at work is more our responsibility than our employer’s. There is nothing to stop us taking the initiative to organize our own social activities. If we fancy a drink after work with our colleagues, we have only to organize it. Perhaps a nice lunch together to share holiday experiences – just do it. To celebrate a colleague’s birthday with some cakes and coffee, get some balloons and have a whip round for a card and flowers.
I personally share an office with colleagues from different departments, some of whom I didn’t know very well or had never met before. We joined together to set up a schedule to celebrate birthdays. We take turns to buy a present and book 30 minutes in our agendas on the special day to enjoy some cakes and coffee together. This approach helps us to get to know each other and benefits our work too as our social bonds are already established should we need support or are required to work together on a project.
Spreading a little happiness and nurturing your social bonds with colleagues takes very little time and effort. It also guarantees the best Return On Investment of all – your own happiness!