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Smart Work Habits Drive Employee Happiness


April 18, 2017

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?” This is a very valid question and the title of Raj Raghunathan’s most recent book. The University of Texas at Austin Professor joined the festivus of Workfront’s Leap, presenting the breakout session “Work Smarter – Not Harder – To Greater Positivity and Success,” where the key component of the conversation was happiness.

Before we dive in, I’d like to open this piece the same way Raj opened the session, with the Yerkes-Dodson Stress Curve. Take a minute, and soak in the image below.

Image via Raj Raghunathan

Raj noted that people, in general, want to receive positive feedback, yet are more likely to offer others negative input – just a little more food for thought.

The Functionality of Happiness

There are primary ways the functionality of happiness manifests itself at work. First, if you are happier, you are much more likely to be healthier. Citing a study of nuns, the happiest nuns lived the longest, noting the power of happiness by illustrating the point that it outweighs the effects of smoking and drinking combined. It’s simple: happy people are healthier, and as a result, take less sick days.

The next piece of this trifecta is one’s ability to function as part of a team. Happy people are much more likely to be a team player. Per Raj, studies illustrate that “If you’re part of a team that’s happy you’re more likely to be productive.” Another factor to keep in consideration is the quality of friendships shared with fellow employees, which greatly affects turnover rates. It is vital, “That you feel a sense of belongingness, which is fostered by happiness,” noted Raj.

The third spoke in the wheel of the functionality of happiness is simple: “When you’re happy, your whole brain is lit up.” This is scientific fact, conversely, when you are stressed, brain function is limited to the limbic system, “So in a literal sense you’re much more narrow, vigilant and concerned.” This translates to serious lack in creativity, or as Raj put it, you’re, “not going to think outside the box…in the knowledge economy, it turns out that being a happier person is far more conducive to being productive.”

The Determinants of Happiness

Now that we know how happiness can affect our work, let’s delve into how to turn that frown upside down. Raj explains a good first step is a really good social life, highlighting “friendships and relationships matter so much to human beings.” He cited a study highlighting the qualities of very happy people, stating humans are “more likely to be open to new experiences if each one had at least one really intimate and close relationship.”

To promote a strong social life, start with work-life balance. Research suggests that in organizations or governments implementing policies that limit the work week to around 40 hours or less, there is a high likelihood of productivity receiving a positive pop.

Commuting can also play a major role in determining your happiness, as Raj noted that in addition to being quite stressful, it takes away from socializing, which is vital. Ever hear of the happiness triangle? Well, its three points are where you live, where you work and where you shop and, in a nutshell, those with a smaller triangle tend to be happier people.

When we go to work, we obviously are there for the purpose of productivity, but by promoting socialization within the organization, all can be the better for it. For example, volunteering for a social cause can really improve morale; retreats can promote improved intimacy and belonging; even recreational facilities within the business like pool or ping pong can bring about positive results – just don’t play TOO much!  

There is no quick fix for happiness. Each person is unique, with varying needs; however, at a basic level we all require the same things. It always feels better to win as a team. Poor morale can spread quickly; thankfully, nobody enjoys being unhappy – maybe, except for Oscar the grouch – so looking at a few components of our everyday lives and making efforts in certain areas can mean the difference between dreading the alarm clock or welcoming the new day with open arms.

Just remember, like the Dalai Lama said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”




Edited by Alicia Young

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