04 Mar The Secret Ingredient for (Team) Happiness

“What is the nature of human happiness?”  That’s the seminal question Daniel Gilbert is focused on answering in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review.   I have heard managers say their co-workers are family, and creating a happy environment is part of the culture.  My question, “Is employee ‘happiness’ a realistic goal for today’s leaders?”

Gilbert’s research thus far shows the things we correlate with happiness (e.g., new house or more money) don’t last long.  In fact, a recent study showed that good or bad events only have about a three-month effect.   That is, we’re good at seeing the silver lining in things no matter how dire they seem at first.  Another aha is that we’re not good at predicting what will actually make us happy – much less those we lead.

Back to my question, is creating happy employees a realistic goal for today’s leaders?  Gilbert found that being bored is what makes people really unhappy.  Creating a challenging environment with stretch goals and rewards works far better than one where fear and anxiety reign.  Another finding is that a person’s social network is the single best indicator of overall happiness.  Given the drive for teamwork, transparency, and innovation, it seems that today’s leaders have much to gain by fostering a highly interactive and social work environment.  Psychologist Ed Diener found that it isn’t “big” experiences that make us happy – it’s many small ones.  In other words, we don’t need to focus on huge reward plans as much as creating a highly social environment where the rewards are simple and frequent – comfortable chairs, a kitchen to congregate, easy to deliver attaboys, etc.

The secret ingredient?  It wouldn’t be a self-reliant blog if I didn’t add in the leader also needs to teach and model personal responsibility.  There is a will power component to happiness that requires a commitment to exercise, meditate, rest and demonstrate benevolence.  William Deresiewicz wrote a short essay called, “Forever Young” where he observed, “Authority, responsibility, sacrifice, discipline, duty, restraint: we no longer know how to value the qualities of adulthood.  The very words are ugly to us. We reject them, because we know, deep down, that we aren’t equipped for them.”

I beg to differ.  The act of losing or surrendering something by sacrifice is a critical component of willpower.  In a recent article in Time on the subject of willpower, Jeffrey Kluger summarized, “fatigue becomes strength and ache becomes commitment.”  Only through an intense desire to prefer the altered state will someone be ready to give up something.  When people sacrifice something important, like precious time, only then are they ready to start to bring new ways to perform.  Chances are, you are comfortable with the way things are today.  Achievement from the status quo requires challenge and discomfort, and as humans, we are geared to conserve energy.  It might be cliché, but great achievements require willpower and sacrifice, but that is also the key to our happiness and that of the teams we lead.

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