Thursday, December 31, 2015

I’m just guessing that the most common word that will be spoken at the turn of the year will be “happy.” You know the scene… It’s preceded by a big countdown, some shiny ball dropping, and is often followed by a kiss, perhaps a drink, and a familiar song. And, then we wish everyone we love a Happy New Year.

We place a premium on happiness both for ourselves and the people that we love. In fact, ask about any parent what they wish for their kids’ future and undoubtedly the most common response is a simple, but direct response: “I just want them to be happy.” But, do we place the same premium on wanting happy colleagues and if so, what actions are we taking to make that come true?

There is a good reason to want to find joy in your work and to want your colleagues to be happy. It turns out happiness isn’t just this blissful feeling that puts a bounce in our step and a smile on our face in our personal lives; surprisingly it is the very lever that also drives one’s success at work. In the book The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor makes the compelling case that happiness and optimism actually increases a person’s work performance. His research cites a meta-analysis of more than 200 scientific happiness studies on 275,000 people worldwide and concludes that “happiness leads to success in every domain including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy.” As he notes, “happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, receive higher performance ratings and pay, and are less likely to take sick days, quit, or become burned out. Happy leaders are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance.” The key concept here is that people don’t become happy because of success; rather, happiness breeds success. In short, happiness isn’t just good for people; it’s critical to organizations.

So your challenge for the new year is the following:

1. Be happier.
2. Raise the happiness level at your workplace.

Easy, right? Well, although being happy and making your team at work feel happy may be goals that are simple to state; they are far more difficult to achieve. Achor does outline and describe seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Another good book worth reading on this topic is Fully Charged by Tom Rath, where he shares three key conditions – meaning, interactions, and energy – which make people feel fully charged. And, certainly, Drive by Daniel Pink is a must-read for any leader. Each of these are excellent resources to guide your thinking and actions on how to help make it a happy new year for colleagues and people that you lead – rather than just wishing them one. But reading about what brings happiness also has the danger of setting out an unreachable goal that ultimately only brings more despair. And, certainly none of us needs another unrealistic new year’s resolution that just depresses us more when it goes unachieved or is broken by January 9th. So, instead, consider asking yourself and encourage your colleagues to ask themselves three questions at the end of each day this coming year. These questions I hope will not only guide your own happiness, but ultimately those around you:

1. What are three good things that happened today?
I call this the laugh factor. Have you ever been with people laughing and find yourself also laughing – even though you’re not sure what is funny? Laughter and happiness are contagious. Unfortunately, negativity breeds negativity too. Sometimes, making the shift to happiness is really nothing more than a change in what we are thinking and talking about. Often we have moments of happiness during the day, but we instead bury those moments and happy thoughts with all the memories of the challenges we have faced and the work left to do. I find schools in particular very poor at finding time to celebrate their successes or even reflecting on what went well. So, by end of the day by asking myself what are three good things that happened today, I hope to not lose sight of all that is going well, and therefore, add fuel to my happiness.

2. What’s something that I learned today?
Every day we all experience failures. A project falls behind schedule. A conversation doesn’t go as we had planned. A seventh period class is just plain rude. When this occurs, I like to borrow from the work of Carol Dweck and remind myself that failure is temporary and embrace a Growth Mindset. Or, as described in The Happiness Advantage, “Psychologists recommend we fail early and often because we can only learn to deal with failure by experiencing it and living through it.” So, see yourself as a learner and embrace failures and/or roadblocks as learning opportunities.

3. How did my work benefit others today?
We’ve all heard that “It is better to give than to receive.” Well, it’s true. People who seek happiness in order find meaning often fall short on both. But, people who seek meaning in their work find both greater purpose to life and more happiness. In Fully Charged, Rath shares that the odds of being completely engaged in your job increase by more than 250 percent if you spend a lot of time doing meaningful work throughout the day. He cites research that suggests the more value you place on your own happiness, the more likely you are to feel lonely on a daily basis. Whereas, if we focus on how our work contributes and benefits others, we ultimately fuel our own happiness. In Drive, Daniel Pink also emphasizes the importance of people finding purpose in their work. Finding value or purpose in one’s work often is not just about the project, assignment, or task that one is given; it’s often how we choose to view that project and how we convince others to view it. A bricklayer could view a job as a means for a paycheck, but they also could see it as skilled trade that will provide comfort and safety to a family in their new home. Certainly, those that work in education should not have to search too deep to see meaning in their work. But, whether you are a bricklayer, teacher, or CEO of a multinational company, reminding yourself of how that work is benefiting others remains critical to your own happiness.

Do these three questions hold all the secrets to a happy life and a cheerful and productive team at work? No. But before the ball begins to drop, I will take a moment to reflect on what has gone well in 2015, recognize my failures as learning opportunities, and take pride in knowing that the work that I have done has benefited others. And, even after the year flips to 2016, I will try to ask myself these three questions each day in attempt to not only bring more happiness to myself but to others. I challenge you to do the same. I not only wish you a happy new year. I encourage you to make it a happy new year.

This article was cross posted on the Five-Star Technology Solutions blog:
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