We see evidence of it every day, research supports it, and deep inside we know it to be true: happy people are more productive and tend to be more successful than sad people. But wait a minute: don’t we usually say that we need to work hard to pursue success, and only then shall we be happier?
Well, it seems like we got it backwards.
Does success bring happiness, as many say, or is it the other way around?
This question has been extensively studied in recent years and there is overwhelming evidence that chronically happy, positive and optimistic people have a higher probability to experience success in personal and business life compared to chronically sad, negative and pessimistic people.
What is even more exciting about these studies is that happiness is not just simply something that “happens”: we can actually work on it; we can proactively develop our happiness, positivity and optimism; and the tools are not only simple, they are available to everyone.
A SUSTAINABLE FUEL FOR SUCCESS
Arguably the most thorough researcher in the field, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky of California University has collected an overwhelming amount of evidence on how happiness can sustainably fuel success, as well as identified workable techniques to influence our mindset, become happier and therefore more successful.
Previous research often assumed that success and accomplishments can bring happiness, however more in depth studies point at two pitfalls of this theory:
First of all, happiness derived from attaining “success” (e.g. status, prestige, wealth) is often short-lived and might even create a spiral of addiction (subsequent success goals that never fully satisfy).
Additionally, the fatigue of “working hard in order to become successful” can sometimes induce the type of stress, fatigue or burnout that can significantly hinder our path to success.
Whatever we decide to dedicate our efforts to, a positive mindset increases the chances to reach success and to keep us motivated throughout the process. In the words of Prof. Lyubomirsky “A review of all the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive byproducts, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but families, communities, and the society at large. The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. “
The most exciting finding from Prof. Lyubomirsky’s studies is that we can influence our own happiness by learning specific cognitive and behavioral skills. Let’s say that we can learn and nurture the thoughts as well as acquire and cultivate the behaviors of happy people, thus producing durable increases in happiness. Although we are born with a certain degree of optimism and life experiences can further influence our mindset, we are able to control at least 40% of our happiness.
One of the criticisms often encountered by the earlier theory of “it all starts with happiness” derived from the misguided assumptions that “if one is already happy, then there is no need to do anything, work or anything else”. This is however simply a product of a pessimistic mindset. Happy, positive, optimistic people see opportunities, get excited, believe in themselves and in others, initiate, create, communicate, mobilize, in a word are productive.
Pursuing happiness is a dedicated effort. So how is it done?
Books like Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness”, Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage” and even Watkins’ ”Coherence” provide inspiration and detailed guidance for individuals.
Some of the most effective techniques to increase happiness and nurture a personal well-being are:
Bringing gratitude to mind: spending a few minutes every day thinking about something we are deeply grateful for (this is also being studied as a way to maintain the humbleness required to keep the effort going)
Making a conscious effort to notice, record and relate our positive experiences; keep a journal or tell a friend (we tend to remember and tell mainly negative things; a ratio of five to one is initially recommended to compensate for the overload of negativity)
Exercising a little bit every day, even just 15 minutes, to increase the serotonin functions and dopamine level in our brain that makes us feel well and “satisfied”
Adding to our daily routine a few minutes of meditation, controlled breathing, or relaxation exercises, to decrease blood pressure and replenish brain alertness.
Engaging in a random and conscious act of kindness every day (e.g. complimenting or thanking someone, helping a colleague with a chore, sending an email of appreciation)
Training our curiosity to explore “what is possible” in a random weekly discussion, before launching into a long list of “can’t do” or “can’t be done” (including believing that it is possible to increase our happiness without waiting for a Promotion, Prince Charming or Lottery Money to make us happy).
POSITIVE LEADERSHIP: THE QUEST FOR EXTRAORDINARY RESULTS
And how about translating all this to the workplace? If happiness is making people more creative, productive and successful, how can an organization encourage everyone to engage in the type of positivity that fuels collective success?
In his book “Positive Leadership” Professor of Management Kim Cameron indicates Four Leadership Strategies that are proven effective in enabling Positive Deviance; these strategies are derived from empirical evidence from a number of investigations across different sectors from banking to hospitals, from military to real estate.
An organization wishing to engage in sustainable success based on positivity, optimism and “active joy” needs to work on four fronts:
Aligning and engaging on a POSITIVE MEANING: this is similar to what many strategists have prescribed in the last decades (from “purpose-driven visioning” to “starting with the why”), but it adds one universal and overriding value, beyond the specific individual and organizational purpose: the value of well-being for the self and the community. For extraordinary performance, engagement meetings would not only revolve around the business – no matter how exciting – but always include an all-inclusive “happiness for each and all” positive intention.
Building a POSITIVE CLIMATE, where individuals and teams are encouraged to notice, appreciate and support each other. Encouraging behaviors like expressing gratitude and practicing supportive and respectful acceptance of differences has a positive effect not only on the mental and physiological health of people, but also on organizational performance.
Encouraging POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS. Providing space, time and opportunity for people to engage in socializing activities, creation of ambassadors of collaboration and networks, as well as offering opportunities for cross-mentoring (while ensuring that everyone can choose their desired level of socialization) has an energizing effect and fosters productive collaboration.
Implementing POSITIVE COMMUNICATION. This includes focusing more on what is possible and what works, rather than on what is not possible and does not work (a ratio of 2 to 1 ensures average performance; 5 to 1 gives high team performance). For Managers this also includes increasing the frequency of asking/inquiring vs. explaining/advocating (ideal ratio is 1 to 1; currently it is usually 0 to 1)
We are inspired by the recent discoveries of Positive Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience; we find that when we combine this new scientific evidence with our direct experience in managing complex global organization and in training hundreds of leaders, it all seems to make a lot of good sense.
That is why our company motto is “Leading with a Smile”.
Copyright © 2015 Laura Lozza
Leading with a SmileTM – Bespoke Positive Leadership Training Programs
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