Tag Archives: Happiness At Work

Happiness at work (I) – for you!

100,000 hours. 6,000,000 minutes. 360,000,000 seconds. That is roughly the time of our life that we spend at work. And research shows, that work is one of the places where we are least happy: only commuting is worse. And people prefer to be in company of others (friends, relatives, customers) over being alone, with only one exception: people are rather alone, than with their boss.

But should it really be like this? What if we were happy for all those 100,000 hours?

Today and next week, I would like to talk about happiness at work. Today, I’ll talk about your personal happiness at the work floor. And next week, I’ll speak about the implications of higher happiness levels for companies.

A potential source of happiness

Image:  Happyologist

Image: Happyologist

Not many people think of work as a potential source of happiness. In this conception, work and private life are two closely separated areas. In our private life, we go for drinks with friends, lay as couch potatoes watching TV and travel to Southern France. Our job is separate part of our lives, where we earn the money needed to pays those drinks, couches and TVs, and trips.

But a stimulating job can be a source of flow, of pride, and of happiness. Recently, more and more companies are taking up the challenge. One of the inspirations was American shoe retailer Zappos. For Zappos, happiness is a part of the firm identity. Founder Tony Hsieh wanted to be the retailer with the highest customer satisfaction. To do so, he believed he had to reach a high level of job satisfaction for his employees. That means many fun events and freedom on the job, and HR policies that are shaped by a Chief Happiness Officer. You can find it cheesy, but it seems that it works.

A happy employee is a happy partner

What you are experiencing at work, doesn’t only matter those eight (or nine) hours behind you desk. People typically take their emotional state from work home. A study found a link between work engagement and vigor of an employee at the end of their working day and their happiness level before going to sleep. And not only their own happiness: the effect even crossed over to their partner. The happier an employee, the higher the happiness level of their partner on the same day!

How can I increase my happiness?

You might be wondering: how can I increase my happiness at work? Honestly: I don’t know. You are the only master of your happiness. You might have some intuitive ideas how you could find happiness in the work place. That’s probably where I would start. But let me give you a hint where the answer could be.

During my Commission traineeship almost three years ago, I had a time when I was wondering about my career: where would I end up? What would I do? How would I know it would be right place for me? At one of the career-building events, the speaker referred to a TED speaker Dan Pink. His case is that as industrial times are over, post-modern jobs require a new set of skills. Creativity and flexibility become a lot more important than those during the time a worker followed orders and worked along an assembly line.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose

In this new era, what motivates us to work? Three factors, argues Dan Pink: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: freedom in how tackle your challenges. Mastery: getting better and better. Purpose: doing something with a bigger meaning. I think he is right. And when I contemplate my job, and others I would be willing to do, I ask myself whether they do provide these aspects. When searching for happiness at work, aim to find a place that offers you autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


Shawn Achor and the happiness advantage

This post was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam. TED’s library contains about fifty talks on happiness. After the post about the flow of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this is the second article in my series of articles under the title TED & Happiness. In this talk, I want to introduce Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and happiness researcher. His message is simple: happiness works. With humor and self-mockery, he reveals how our mental well-being is linked to a positive outlook on life.

A positive outlook

Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor, source: Good Think inc.

Shawn Achor begins his twelve minute happy rollercoaster ride with a simple anecdote illustrating how fundamental optimism is for our happiness. Seven-year-old Shawn was a reckless little boy. Playing war, he happened to throw his five-year-old sister Amy from her bed. Tears began to fill her eyes. But he managed to turn the situation around with: “Amy, you landed on all fours. That means… you must be a unicorn!” he said, keeping her calm and avoiding being punished by his parents.

The mechanism is simple, but it works! Changing our lens changes our happiness. Positive psychologists have shown that the way we experience our lives is a factor that explains some of the variation in our happiness (a scientifically important nuance – it does not directly predict our happiness,  though some people, even scholars, believe that optimism always creates happiness). And a happy, positive outlook in turn has a ripple effect, making experiences of life more pleasant: the happiness advantage, as Achor calls it.

See his short pitch of the idea in this video.

Reverse the formula for happiness

Nowadays, our assumption simply is that we need to do. If we do things well, we are successful. And when we become successful, we should be happy. But there is a problem: we are never satisfied. When we reach the finish line, we move the goalposts of success, and start all over again.

Let’s take a look at an example. When we graduate, what we want is a job. When we have a job, we want a better salary. Then we want more responsibility, etc. When we have achieved a goal, we repeat this cycle and look at the next goal, thus continuously pushing success towards a horizon we can never reach.

Achor asks us to reverse the formula. What if we reach success when we are happy? What if we work well, because we are happy? And what if it is happiness that inspires productivity instead of the other way around?

The happiness advantage: accomplishment & gratitude

Happiness starts with simple things. A feeling of accomplishment. Learning, creativity and developments. But above all: gratitude with the achievements of every little day.

Achor has a simple recipe for that. Spend two minutes a day for three weeks thinking about optimism and success. Everyday, write down three new things you are grateful for. If you do that for three weeks, it will have a lasting effect.

That’s the happiness advantage.

Thanks to Tori Egherman for editing.

‘Frohes Schaffen’ – on our identity as a worker

When we meet new people, why do we always ask them where they work? Why is the place where we work so defining for our identity? And is it morally permissible to be happily unemployed?

These are some of the questions that Konstantin Faigle researched in his film ‘Keep Up the Good Work’. The German original version is released under the more apt title ‘Frohes Schaffen. Ein Film zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral’.

I very much recommend you to see the film. Faigle’s film is  a combination of two elements: a documentary about work and a series of personal stories on what work means to his characters.

The craze of work

Let’s start with the documentary. The ‘talking heads’ all underline how crazy our relationship with work has become. From the Industrial Revolution onwards, productivity has risen, and work has become so much more than subsistence. Most of us spend more time at work than we know that is good for us. Have you ever met someone who regretted leaving work early? With smartphones and teleworking, work is more invasive of our free time than ever before. Let me give two examples how serious this is: people who are close to retirement can now get a ‘pensioner’s coach’ or see a psychologist to redefine their purpose and find a way to fill their seas of time. And the Japanese language has the word ‘karoshi’: death by overwork.

According to meme expert Susan Blackmore, work has become a ‘memeplex‘: a powerful social construct, grouping various ideas and concepts that define what work means to us. Work becomes an essential part of our lives and our society. In the movie, German philosopher Michael Schmidt-Salomon even argues that work has become our new religion. In the current system, factories and offices replace the church as the place where we profess our faith.

15 hour working week

It’s absurd that we are spending so much time at work. In the 1930s, Keynes though that in two generations, people would only need to work 15 hours a week. If we were to do so – by distributing work evenly across the population or use increasing productivity to work less and keep output constant rather than to increase our economy, we’d probably have to take some lessons from Tim Hodgkinson, the Founder of the Idler’s Academy on Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment. Though the clip is not available, the picture below gives an impression of one of the brilliant part of the Idler’s Academy lecture series: staring at the sky. (This clip, on idle parenting, also gives an idea of his style).

Tom Hodgkinson

Source: Frohes Schaffen / Wfilm


Happily unemployed

Faigle also addresses the question whether it is possible, and morally admissible, to be happily unemployed. In countries with protestant working ethics, like Germany and Netherlands, this is an inconceivable concept. In one of the funnier scenes of the movie, Faigle hits the streets on Labour Day with a Jesus-like figure stating that Jesus was happily unemployed. People seemed to be more upset about the idealisation of idleness than by the portrayal of a religious figure!

Faigle’s movie features some characters that for various reasons (dismissal, freelancer without any assignments, retiree, etc) do not work and thus suffer from a lack of purpose in society. But when they meet of one of Faigle’s more cheerful characters, a ukulele-playing guy working as a part-time mattress salesman, they miraculously start to appreciate life.

It is a nice story, but a bit simplistic. Faigle is right in denouncing  our working craze. Having A Career is imperative; work is not just something that provides the income and security to live our life. But Faigle neglects that work also gives us a purpose. Part of our identity is defined by the difference we make every day for our clients, customers, patients, students and colleagues. The labour market in the West has progressed. There is a fair amount of dull jobs, but many jobs do carry meaning and bring about a state of flow. Work can also be a source of happiness. And when it’s too much, just play your ukulele for a bit and you’ll be fine.

frohes schaffen

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