These were the opening words from a talk I attended last night by the so-called “Happiness Expert”, John Helliwell. Dr Helliwell’s infectious style had the audience of 300 singing and clapping along within the first minute of his presentation (I need to try that in my next workshop!).
The very fact that so many people would venture out on a chilly, blustery Tuesday evening attests to the increasing interest in what Dr Helliwell calls the science of happiness. The fact that countries around the world as well as global organizations like the UN are seeking advice from Dr Helliwell is further evidence of that growing interest. Even the business world wants to know what makes us happy, as the theme of the current Harvard Business Review (www.hbr.org) illustrates. Happy employees help the bottom line apparently.
What makes us happy? The research, http://wellbeing.econ.ubc.ca, suggests that money (up to a point, then more money can make us miserable), trust, a sense of belonging, generosity (donors are even happier than recipients apparently), freedom (to choose) and reaching out to others. Put another way, we’ll be happier if we have enough money to cover our needs and if we feel we are valued, contributing, relatively autonomous and engaged members of our communities.
Beyond reminding us that money (sort of), material goods or being miserly don’t promote wellbeing, the happiness research findings are aligned with the principles of Balanced Leadership. The passion-based world elements of relationships, choice, acceptance, trust and lightheartedness make a profoundly positive difference in our lives generally as well as being good for business (www.hbr.org). People thrive at work, at home and in relationships when they feel valued, trusted and autonomous.
The other striking aspect of the happiness research is what it infers about the shadow side of the fear-based world (remembering that the Balanced Leadership model validates and encourages the planning, direction, implementation and targeted outcomes that represent the positive aspects of the fear-based world). Not only do controlling hierarchies squash the creativity and innovation today’s workplaces so desperately need to be successful, the inherent lack of trust in top-down management makes employees miserable and less productive. In short, employees work harder and feel better when the organization’s leaders foster engagement, choice, meaning and trust. Now that’s something to clap (and sing) about.