Why be Happy?

POSTED: Jul. 05, 2016

Research shows that people would rather talk with someone nice over someone knowledgeable. Think about that for a moment. Can you remember a time in your career that you knew the person who had the answer to the question you had, but they weren’t very nice; so instead you asked around among the people you liked, hoping they had the answer you needed? I know that I have. As we take a step back and look at the implications of this, how much time/effort/money is wasted because there are miserable individuals in the workplace and no one wants to interact with them? So what do we do? Unfortunately the starting point is not fixing THEM, it’s taking a look at ourselves.

So how do you rate? Think back over the past week. Would you say you experienced more negative emotions over positive? Equal negative and positive emotions? Or more positive emotions over negative ones? There is a magic ratio that indicates an individual is flourishing in their lives. Barbara Fredrickson, author of the book Positivity, has done extensive research on the topic and says the ratio is 3:1, three positive emotions to every one negative. If you find that you regularly experience more negative, or equal positive to negative emotions you have some work to do. “But that’s just the way I am” you say, “why do I need to change?”

The following is some compelling evidence as to why being happy is such an advantage at work. Besides the benefits of co-workers wanting to talk and collaborate with you, studies indicate happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, receive higher performance ratings, receive higher pay, enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, quit or become burned out according to Shawn Achor, author of the book, Happiness Advantage (2010). People who are happy not only experience great benefits on the job, but experience success in every other domain of their lives; socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically. In fact studies show that positive people can actually live up to an average of ten years longer! Yes, ten years!!!!

There are several proven ways to increase positive emotions. Exercise, acts of kindness, meditation, keeping a gratitude journal and focusing on strengths are just some of the ways to help improve mood. Getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet also play a huge role in how we feel. But more often in my classes, I am asked not how to increase happiness, but how to decrease negativity and reduce stress.

Stress is not all bad. Some stress (good stress) is episodic, can help you get ready for a challenge and GIVES you energy to perform at your best. When you are in a state of “flow,” you are experiencing enough stress to challenge you, but not overwhelm you. Bad stress however, is chronic, leads to burn out and makes you feel exhausted. When you are in a constant state of low to mid-level stress (which a lot of us are most of the time), your body never has a chance to recover. You go and go and go, like the Energizer Bunny until you crash. You may get physically sick, become depressed or not even want to get out of bed in the morning. Sound familiar?

Stress results from the gap between our expectations (of ourselves, of others, of the situation) and reality. We often think we can accomplish more than we can and overpromise or don’t say “no”. We think we can change our miserable boss, co-worker or direct report, and tend to focus on everything they are doing wrong. We have high expectations of how we should be treated, rewarded or compensated by our organizations, and are disappointed, frustrated or even angry when they fall short. How do we reduce stress? Focus on what we can control.

The Serenity Prayer states this perfectly “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” So how do we do this? Picture a target with three rings. The center most ring in the middle represents our “circle of control,” the next outer ring represents our “circle of influence” and the third outside ring represents our “circle of concern (or no control).” What type of things fall into our “circle of control?” Ourselves – our attitude, our mindset, our behavior, the way we think about things, what we say and do. That’s it!!!! The only thing we can control is ourselves! We spend so much of our time trying to change our spouse, our boss, our kids and our co-workers, but the only person we have any true control over is ourselves.  

Lets take a look at the second ring, the “circle of influence.” Who or what falls into this circle? Everyone that you have some type of relationship with – friends, family, neighbors, boss, co-workers, direct reports, areas of responsibility in our jobs, etc. We may be able to make changes here, but only if we can be influential with those people. Being influential involves developing our listening skills, our empathy for others, avoiding arguments or situations that make others feel inferior. Again, how we act and what we do falls into our “circle of control,” how others respond to us does not; it falls into our “circle of influence.” To effect change with others, the only thing you can do is to keep trying different approaches but you can not make others change. At some point you need to quit trying, quit stressing and move on.

What falls into the last circle, the “circle of concern (or no control)” is everything else. Your company downsizes, there is a policy change, you get a new boss, new technology, you are put on a different team or in a new department, etc. The list goes on and on. We spend so much time worrying and stressing about the things we have absolutely no control over, it wastes A LOT of mental energy. You may experience stress or negative emotions when a change happens to you, but the choice is yours. You can either get on board or move on. Of course accepting change does not happen overnight, but again, you can only put your mental energy into what you are doing, your “circle of control” and make the choice that’s best for you.

When faced with people and situations at work that are challenging and causing you stress, you essentially need to ask yourself three very important questions:

  1. “Can I change the situation?” If the answer is no, then move on to number two;
  2. “Can I change my thoughts about the situation?” If the answer is no then move onto the third;
  3. “Is it time for a change?” That change may be a new position, department or organization.

These questions aren’t easy, but worth a try. I have a personal example of going through these questions. I once had a very challenging boss. I struggled with this person daily and the situation caused me much stress and emotional strain. For the first question, “can I change the situation?” I came up empty. No, I did not feel as though I could change the situation. I tried talking with this boss but nothing I said seemed to matter and it appeared it was making the situation worse. Moving on to question two, “can I change my thoughts about the situation?” At first I could. I knew that working for this person was giving me opportunities that I would not have gotten working for anyone else, and it was meeting my career goals at that time. I knew that this would be great experience for my future plans. So I managed to change my thoughts for a while, but eventually the stress was back and I had to go to question three, “is it time for a change?” Ultimately I did have to change positions and departments. It was a lateral move, but for me, it was what I needed to do. I am not saying that any of this is easy, but to reduce the stress and negativity in your life, it may be time to be honest with yourself about the situation.

Finally, I have one additional set of questions that can help you change your mindset about a negative, stressful situation. Think of a situation that you are currently facing that is very challenging for you at work. Take out a piece of paper and jot down your answers to the following questions:

  1. What is wrong about my current situation?
  2. What is bothering me about it (or them)?
  3. What could be different and/or better?

Once you have answered those questions, notice how you feel; frustrated, angry, anxious, fearful, confused, hopeless?

Now think about the same situation and jot down your answers to these questions:

  1. What is right about my current circumstances?
  2. What makes me lucky to be here?
  3. What aspects of my current circumstances might I view as a gift to be treasured?
  4. How does it benefit me or others?

Now what emotions are you feeling? Grateful, empowered, focused, optimistic? Amazing isn’t it? Just a quick shift in questions, can shift your mindset and put you in a more positive mood. (Source: Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson.)

If you want to work more collaboratively with others, be more influential, reduce stress and improve your overall mood and effectiveness, try being happy. It works!

Check out Kristy Frieden’s “ROI of Happiness: Proven Strategies for Becoming Happier and More Successful at Work” to learn more.


"One of my daughters is"

One of my daughters is currently deeply unhappy with her job. This article provided a nice framework for her to think about how to improve that situation. Thanks.