Making people happy

If you're happy and you know it

We all want people to be happy at work. Happy people are a pleasure to work with. They are also more likely to contribute to a productive environment, and show more loyalty and teamwork.

But what makes people happy? The cconventional wisdom about happiness is if we work hard, have a little luck, find that dream job, win that next promotion, or lose those ten kilos then happiness will follow. But research is showing these assumptions are actually backward:

People assume success fuels happiness. But the evidence is that it actually works the other way around. - Shawn Achor;


Shawn Achor; Harvard professor and author of “The Happiness Advantage.”

The business case for happy teams In his bestselling book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ Shawn Achor explains how, rather than following success, happiness drives success in all aspects of life. Happiness creates changes in our brain chemistry, especially serotonin levels which impact our mood, concentration, creativity and motivation. These findings have been replicated in rigorous real world environments, for example studying the performance of sales professionals, maths students, blue and white collars workers and medical professionals. The bottom line is that as happiness increases, so too does motivation and performance. When we are happy we feel stronger and more decisive, and we experience less stress and fatigue. We also enjoy other people more and show better team cooperation. Moreover, happy people are also less likely to think in silos (‘that’s not my job’). As our mood becomes brighter we think more strategically and become more likely to take on additional tasks.

So how do we make people happier? Perhaps the most consistent finding in Positive Psychology research is the link between happiness and gratitude. Brains scans show when we identify just a few things for which we are grateful there is increased activity in the part of the brain where we experience happiness. So, while it’s hard to force ourselves to be happy, when we practice simple gratitude exercises our happiness is dragged along for the ride, like it or not! Organisations are now adapting these ideas in innovative ways. For example, more organisations are including ‘appreciations’ as a standing agenda item to begin team meetings. This means individuals are invited to nominate someone or something for which they are grateful… E.g., “My appreciation is for Sarah. Last week she stayed back to show me how to complete my spreadsheets and since then I’ve been finishing on time.” E.g., “My appreciation is for Frank. He knows my father passed away last month and his support and understanding has made a difference. Coming into work has actually been helpful for me.” When people share gratitude like this there’s rarely a dry eye in the house and the impact on mood is truly uplifting.

Key message Happiness is good for teams. Happy staff are motivated, cooperative and productive. There are several ways shown to increase happiness at work. Start with your own creative ways to include ‘appreciations’ at work.