Let’s Talk “Happy”

Written by Sherri Petro on . Posted in Blog

Whether you hum along with Pharrell’s mega hit from Despicable Me 2, have watched Shawn Achor’s entertaining Ted Talk on the concept or are just tired of all the world negativity, being happy is taking center stage. In fact, terrific generational researcher Neil Howe authored For Millennials, Happy is the New Edgy in a May Forbes article.

We’re starting emails with “Happy (insert day here)”. We’re investigating the possibility of truly being happy at work, the value employee happiness brings to our organizations and the impact of being positive, in general. What’s with this happiness thing?

What does it mean?

Merriam Webster says that happy is feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc; showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment; or being pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc. Other definitions go further – favored by luck or fortune or enthusiastic about something to the point of obsession. Bottom Line – most official definitions appear to allude to being happy as situational.

Hmm, then should we expect to be happy at work?

As I’ve investigated generational differences and similarities, one of the findings has been that our young professionals (Millennials) expect to be happy at work. This is unlike other generations who hoped they’d be happy at work! It was NOT an expectation. And for Traditionalists and Boomers, being happy even bordered on being an exception. “Work is work. Work is not FUN.” Whether it is the rise of the Google-like campus, their upbringing or the impact of their external environment, the expectation of being happy is a Millennial criteria for taking a job.

How do the other generations feel about being happy?

One of my Traditionalist colleagues shares his idea that happiness on the job is earned over the years. A Baby Boomer colleague has a different viewpoint. Happiness is really a combination of fleeting moments of pleasure and should not be a constant expectation. He subscribes to the first line in M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled – “Life is hard.” It is unrealistic to believe you can be happy all the time at work. Gen X is pragmatic about being happy. They believe they create their own happiness and don’t depend on the job to create it. As one Gen X MBA candidate shared, “I’d rather be happy and fulfilled then miserable and ‘successful.’”

Should we expand our thought process?

Dan Baker and Cameron Stuath in their book, What Happy People Know, share that happiness is a way of life….nothing less than cherishing every day. Moreover, they believe it can be learned. It’s a mental shift. Pharrell seems to be saying the same thing. He uses room without a roof, to express the meaning there is no limitation to how far you can take yourself in life. The idea that you control your own happiness can be radical but nearly every spiritual book tells us the same thing, we create what we believe.

Nice thought but what’s that got to do with business? Our brains when positive are 31% more productive than negative, neutral or stressed. AHA, positivity breeds productivity! And productivity creates results.

What can we do to promote positivity ourselves?

  • Express gratitude
  • Increase your endorphins with exercise
  • Meditate to find and keep your center when work gets tough
  • Promote random acts of kindness

What can the organization do?

Let’s not create an artificial “cult of nice.” Given the range of human emotions that we experience at work, that would be inauthentic!  Here are three activities that we at VPI Strategies encourage and have proven positive results. (No pun intended)

  1. Ask about what makes employees happy. As the manager, go one-step further and tell your employees what makes you happy at work. Clarity, people, clarity! Our workplaces are steeped in miscommunication and misunderstandings. Use a discussion about happiness to create clarity about roles and rules.
  2. Positivity has an impact on the triple bottom line. If we live to the often quoted “People are our most important asset,” let’s find out what makes them happy and productive in our company surveys. This has an added tangible benefit to companies willing to make the investment. Disney and the McKinsey & Company explored the connection between companies that are good at both making their customers happy and making their employees happy. The secret to delighting customers is to put employees first. Don’t ask, however, if you don’t really want to know or plan on doing something about what you hear.
  3. Promote the use of positive language by reframing the negative. Let’s not talk about what we can’t do. Let’s talk about what we can do. Make errors learning opportunities. Debrief with what went well before you address the negative or what needs to be changed. It creates less defensiveness and more generative conversation. Practice Appreciate Inquiry as a consulting style. It unleashes positivity.

We can choose to see “Happy” as one of the seven dwarfs or we can choose to see “Happy” as an eye-opening, positive discussion which gives us more data points on our way to success. So, yes, let’s talk “Happy” and see where it takes us.