The pursuit of workplace happiness

There are basically two components to happiness. The first is the experience of positive emotions and the second is cognitive or judgemental, says Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky


Sonja Lyubomirsky.
Sonja Lyubomirsky.

Are you happy? If not, you can be…with a bit of work, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, US, and one of the leading researchers in the field of positive psychology. Professor Lyubomirsky’s research on happiness over two decades is distilled in her two best-selling books—The How Of Happiness and The Myths Of Happiness

In a Skype interview, Prof. Lyubomirsky explains why much of our happiness is within our control, and why “creation” of happiness is a good thing. Edited excerpts from the interview: 

What is happiness at work? 

Let us look at what is happiness, as the concept of happiness applies to both our personal and professional lives. There are basically two components to happiness. The first is the experience of positive emotions. Happy people experience frequent moments of joy, curiosity and pride, among others. The second is cognitive or judgemental—if you’re a happy person, you feel that your life is going well; that your life is progressing towards your goals.

Why do we need to be happy at work?

Almost one-third of our lives are spent working. Who does not like to work with a happy person? Happiness at work not only benefits the individual or teams but also organizations and society at large. Happiness at work is also closely correlated to superior work outcomes—greater productivity, higher quality of work, better ideas, higher level of creativity, more energy, higher income, better physical health (thus, less absenteeism) and well-being. 

What is your happiness advice to an employee in the face of  a

a) tiring, meaningless job

People view work as either a job (a means to pay rent), career (a pay cheque plus advancement) or a calling (work as a purpose or an end in itself), no matter what sort of job they have. This is not to say that all jobs have equal meaning, but people who view even the most menial tasks as their calling find their work fulfilling—not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose. Unhappy employees can improve their work life by adjusting their mindset to a “calling orientation”. The more we can connect our jobs with our personal vision and strengths, the more we can see work as a calling. 

b) layoff or working in a volatile and complex business environment? 

A layoff can be seen as a new beginning, an opportunity to strike out on your own, add skills, go back to school, or simply volunteer. Once we realize that our reality (a small percentage of our total happiness) depends on how we view it, we can be the masters of our own happiness. Again, some people thrive when in stress and turn adversities into opportunities, while others succumb to stress and uncertainties. What we need to do is adjust our mindset, turn stress into good stress, the kind that acts as a driving force.

Who is happier—the young or the old?

What researchers have consistently found in cross-sectional studies is that happiness levels vary significantly across a person’s life. It may seem surprising, but older people, despite declining health, are actually happier; they experience fewer negative emotions and are less susceptible to the daily push and pull of life.

Studies demonstrate that the sunny years of our lives are between ages 60 and 72, with happiness peaking at around 65, while youth and adulthood—15-28 years of age—are not the best years of our lives, as hitherto thought. This is because our perspective about life changes fundamentally when we know that our years are limited.

What can one do to immediately feel happy? 

For an instant boost to happiness, you could express gratitude to someone for their contribution in your life.

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