Evidence-based happiness 

Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California and author of the book ‘The How of Happiness’ concludes that there are several “evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies whose practice is supported by scientific research.” This blog is about sharing that wisdom. 

However before we discuss these techniques it is important ask ourselves if happiness is a good thing or does it just simply feel good? A review of all the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive byproducts, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but families, communities, and the society at large (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes such as greater productivity and higher quality of work, larger social rewards such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions, more activity, energy, and flow, and finally improved physical health such as a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels and even a longer life.
So let’s take a look at those evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies:

1. Expressing Gratitude. Count your blessings by expressing gratitude for what you have (either privately through contemplation, writing a journal or confiding to a close friend) or convey your appreciation to individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked. 

2. Cultivating Optimism. Keep a diary in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself or practice by looking at the bright side of things. 

3. Avoiding over thinking and social comparison. Cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others. 

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness. Do good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned.

5. Nurturing Relationships. Pick a relationship in need of strengthening and invest time and energy in cultivating it.

6. Developing Strategies for Coping. Practice ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma.

7. Learning to Forgive. Work on letting go of resentment towards others who have hurt or wronged you. 

8. Increasing Flow Experiences (being absorbed in the present). Look for activities at home and work that truly engage and challenge you.

9. Savouring Life’s Joys. Pay close attention, take delight, and go over life’s pleasures and wonders –through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another. 

10. Committing to Your Goals. Pick one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them. 

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality. Becoming more involved in your church, temple, or mosque, or reading and pondering spiritually-themed books. 

12. Taking Care of Your Body. Engage in physical activity, meditation, smiling and laughing.

It would be futile to try to achieve all of these strategies as a part of your daily life, however you can take Sonja Lyubomirsky’s Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) at http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/subjective-happiness-scale-shs/ where you will be able to evaluate your own level of happiness in just a few moments.

Information cited from Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness.

The FISH! Philosophy

As promised on my last blog I wanted to share with you all the FISH! Philosophy.

When we work in the now, stop complaining and start noticing the good in our lives, recognise the importance of giving gratitude and have fun at work, then we create a working environment that makes us happy… and we all know happy employees deliver the best results. This is the foundation of FISH, with its 4 central principles of; choosing one’s attitude, playing at work, making someone’s day, and being present.

The FISH! Philosophy is inspired by a group of fishmongers from Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market (https://www.pikeplacefish.com/). This team is a shining example of how you can create a culture and workplace that encourages people to flourish and increase productivity. Being a fishmonger is obviously hard work, however, despite the cold and harsh conditions, they have found a way to harness a positive attitude and have fun at work.

Let’s take a closer look at each individual principle and I would like to invite you to consider 2 questions

1. When was the last time you consciously applied 1 or more of the 4 principles?

2. Could these simple principles be utilised in your place of work?

Play ~ Work made fun gets done! Play is not about games or toys; it is about your state of mind. Be creative in your problem solving. Encourage people to dare to dream. How can everyday tasks be made fun and challenging? Play energises you and the people around you. What does this mean in terms of productivity for your team? Any job can be boring if you make it boring. 

Make Their Day ~ Often when discussing the ‘make their day principle’, people complain about being too busy to stop and think about someone else. When thinking about this principle, remember to keep it simple. You might just start with smiling at someone you don’t know very well. Turn an everyday encounter into a pleasant experience for someone. Your kindness, patience and thoughtfulness will be returned. You might even enjoy making someone’s day! Think about a leader who has inspired you. For sure, they made someone’s day everyday! Look at grumpy people as a challenge. What will bring a smile to their face?

Be Present ~ Many of us need to practice this. With so many demands on our time, we often put ‘being present’ way down on the list of priorities. When was the last time you were completely in someone else’s moment? This principle means you are focused, listening and even empathising with someone. Not typing or making coffee at the same time. Do you have the ability to understand the private world of another person as if it were your own? Are you just going through the motions or are you present at work?

Choose Your Attitude ~ If you look for negativity you will be sure to find it. Empower yourself to respond to challenges and problems in a constructive and positive way. Celebrate success and sit back; you will see the energy this can bring to a workplace. There are dozens of small things you can celebrate everyday. Where do you invest your energy? Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

Yes, it sounds good in theory, but the real question is whether or not FISH! can actually work in a bustling company filled with a wide variety of personality types and working styles. The short answer to this, I would argue, is “yes”. That said, a more elaborate answer would also include “but not all the time”.

In any workplace, the attitude of the employees is dictated by their manager or director, so their behaviors are often – for better or worse – a direct reflection of how they’re being treated within the company. If you see staff wearing smiles that look like they were painted on you’ll still be able to see the frustration and upset in their eyes. Sadly, trying to implement FISH! in these companies where the people managers only pay lip service to its motivational principles will be an exercise doomed to failure. Where FISH! does work remarkably well is within companies that are open to new ideas and new ways of managing people. 

The harsh reality for managers everywhere is that you can either motivate people through consideration, compassion and mutual respect or you can drive them forward with fear, hatred and anger. It’s a choice that you make every single day and that’s what FISH! is all about – making a choice to be a better ‘people’ manager, to be a better customer service agent, choosing to smile instead of frown, and choosing to genuinely empathise with your customer’s / people’s problems.

Gandhi was once quoted as saying “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do”. Or, in short, be the change you want to see in the world – don’t just wait for that change to happen of its own accord… Maybe FISH! can help you achieve that goal.

The ‘You decide’ blog rebuttal: Your 40% solution to happiness.

Following on from my last blog, ‘You decide’, a few comments enquired into how to ‘put on’ your mood as well as a fair amount of scepticism from others on the simplification of the message. So, in response I thought I would share some information by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a prominent researcher who has spent the last 18 years studying human happiness, making significant personal contributions to this science. Her research has most notably focused on the architecture of sustainable happiness.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, we are all born with a baseline of happiness, a happiness ‘set point’ to which we return to after significant positive or negative events. It is estimated that this set point accounts for about 50 per cent of differences between people’s levels of happiness. 

A further 10 per cent of happiness is accounted for by circumstance. This sounds initially counterintuitive as most people believe that circumstances account for a much higher percentage. However, if we understand the process of ‘hedonic adaptation’ (an observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes), also know as the hedonic treadmill, we can better understand the fact that life circumstances, like wealth and health, only have a short-term and limited influence on happiness… See the picture example below.

This leaves us with 40%. We have the power to control 40% of our happiness through behaviour and actions such as ‘intentional activities’. Our ability to become happier is therefore dependent on the management of our inner world i.e. our emotions mind, and the actions that consequently follow on from these. Lyubomirsky similarly stresses the importance of sustained and committed effort. If we consider the creation of happiness a worthwhile goal, we need to invest the same amount of effort required when undertaking any other perceived worthwhile endeavour in life.

The challenge for all of us lies in transforming the happiness ‘activity’ into a habit so that it becomes second nature, possibly even a ritual. Effort and commitment are required in the beginning but this effort gradually disparate as it becomes a natural and integral part of our life. 

Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances i.e. seeking wealth or attractiveness or better colleagues, (which is usually impractical), but in our daily intentional activities.

Although it’s not possible for me to tell you what intentional activities will give you happiness, in my next blog I will share the FISH! Philosophy, a language to help guide you to discover how you can create a culture and workplace that encourages people to flourish and increase productivity… But in the meantime the journey is yours to discover. 

Information cited from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book ‘The How Of Happiness’.

You decide

How do you start your day? Is each morning a struggle to rouse yourself from slumber or do you wake each day excited, invigorated and happy? The emotional state you create will have an affect on everything else going on in and around you. If you look for negativity, guess what? You will be sure to find it. 

If we control our consciousness we therefore control our thoughts, the proceeding element of control would be that of our mood. I fully appreciate the simplicity of this presupposition, but consider this… Reality is nothing more than a collection of thoughts, or more eloquently put by Virchow in 1845 ‘Life itself is but the expression of a sum of phenomena’. Given that reality is created out of thoughts, and we all feel a certain way about our chosen reality, it becomes important for us to understand the link between thoughts and feelings; that is the expression of our mood.

It is our choice to empower ourselves to respond to challenges and problems in a constructive and positive way. Can we celebrate success, sit back and witness the energy this can bring to, not just the workplace, but also our home lives? When we get dressed every morning, can we ‘put on’ our mood as well? There is so much we can celebrate everyday, it is just a question of where we invest our energy? 

Having read this short blog you now have two choices: 1. Ignore / dismiss it or 2. Share it with people you care about. Guess what choice I made? Just like developing any skill it takes practise and it is a ‘choice’. 

Summoning the strength to do it for yourself can be tough, so I invite you to do it for someone else. To quote the FISH! PHILOSOPHY; Moods and attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

Information cited from the FISH! PHILOSOPHY, http://www.psychologytoday.com and Harley Therapy CBT Behavioural Counselling.