According to positive psychology guru, Shawn Achor in his book, The Happiness Advantage, positive emotions prime us to experience a wider range of thoughts and ideas. Positive emotions make us more creative and help us build more connections intellectually and socially.
Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin. These opiate-like endorphins help us dial up our brain function to a higher level, organize new information more efficiently, and keep that information longer. These feel good emotions help us physically make and sustain more neural connections, and more neural connections enable us to think more quickly and creatively.
Even experiencing small bursts of happiness will prime us to be more creative, focused, engaged and productive. Achor's research found that people instructed to think of the happiest days of their lives before taking a math test drastically outperformed their peers.
The trouble with happiness is that it is often seen only as linked to a goal; happiness is expected to flood over us when we achieve a goal or hit a certain performance level. When the goal is achieved, the long awaited happiness is usually fleeting, as is the motivation it brings.
Ironically, each of us can help structure happiness into our days and, thus, increase our own improved brain function and our own motivation. On your way to the copier? Sitting at a traffic light? Grabbing or eating lunch? Stop for just a minute and remember the last time you had a good laugh with your best friend, your spouse, your child or grandchild. Think of something or someone that you are genuinely grateful for. Those short little smile breaks and gratitude breaks will release the dopamine in your brain to help you optimize your positive emotions! Those small bursts of happiness throughout the day help sustain satisfaction levels longer term.
A happy workplace is not a mood but the result of a work ethic. Moods are fleeting; a work ethic is engrained into how we work. Given this, many leaders scratch their head and wonder how to force employees to be happy.
Read: Top 10 Morale Boosters
When it comes to a fun work ethic, there is no force; it's more like, ‘Just get out of the way!’ You can't force or pressure people to have fun. That will backfire every time. Instead, let people do more things that make them happy at work. Small breaks, fun activities and time to do projects they appreciate, go a long way to boost happiness – both individually and as “the workplace”.
It is important to remember, though, that an ethic is a defined, valued way of performing, so you do still have to define and implement (not force) happiness at work. While berating people at work for not being happy absolutely will not work, we still need to define and promote happy work ethics. Some top notch organizations have mandated smiling and this simple manoeuvre has drastically improved morale. The story creates the event: The smile creates the attitude. Defining positive work behaviours goes a long way toward creating a positive culture (smiling, nodding, making eye contact, saying thank you, having service response times, etc).
One company I worked with simply encouraged their staff to use the words, my pleasure, as often as they could every day. They tracked the use of the phrase and created a fun competition that gave away perks and prizes.
Soon, employees went out of their way to find creative ways to say, my pleasure. The phrase was not simply something reactively repeated after someone said thank you - but staff found a slew of other ways to use it:
It would be my pleasure to get you a coffee….
When answering the phone, associate chimed, It would be my pleasure to help you....
When asked for their help, staff would respond: It would be my pleasure….
Especially effective was when people presenting negative information (or dealing with conflict), found ways to phrase it with pleasure. ( ie- We won't meet our sales quota this month - and it’s my pleasure to report our inventory system has improved.)
It's a sneaky way to get people acting positively at work and boosting morale - a clever strategy that defined a positive work ethic without forcing people to comply. Thinking of pleasure (and what would please others, as well as ourselves), creates regular bursts of happiness. Over the long run, it boosts morale and service levels.
Many organizations spend money on prizes to reward people. Studies show it is better to spend money on experiences. Buying things will produce a fleeting endorphin boost (and an equally depressing credit card bill) while creating experiences and doing activities with others will create a more lasting emotional response. The added benefit is that remembering fun experiences produces the same good feelings as the experience itself. Do you spend more money on things or experiences?
Given these immense benefits, organizations should make it a priority to have happy employees. Or, just get out of the way!
Activities That Boost Happiness
To reap the benefits, we need to do these things deliberately and consciously:
· Learn something new every day.
· Infuse positivity into your environment.
· Find something to look forward to. Anticipation of a positive event can raise endorphin levels by 27 percent.
· Commit conscious acts of kindness.
· Exercise. Regular workouts release endorphins and combat stress hormones.
· Meditate. Regular meditation has been shown to grow the left pre-frontal portion of the brain, the part most responsible for happiness.
Sacrificing happiness for the sake of increased efficiency actually has the opposite effect. Grow happiness, and you will grow happier, more productive, and more resilient!