The Science Behind What Makes Us Happy

Happiness At Work: The Science Behind What Makes Us Happy

The secret to happiness is having good relationships. We all want to be happier in our lives, and there has been a ton of research into what makes us happy, and I’d like to share some of that research with you today.

The subject of happiness, and more specifically positive psychology, is something I’m personally trying to learn more about.

I find it fascinating, and I’m by no means an expert, so I want to learn more.

Fairly recently, there was a 75 year long study on happiness, done by researchers at Harvard.

The study’s most important finding is that the only thing that matters in life is relationships.

Other interesting findings were that more money doesn’t lead to more happiness (we knew that already), and we can all become happier, no matter how bad we have it.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, talks about 3 different kinds of happiness lifestyles in his TED talk:

  • The Pleasant Life
  • The Engagement Life
  • The Meaningful Life

The most interesting part of what he says is that the pleasure lifestyle doesn’t really lead to long lasting happiness.Real happiness comes from being engaged, and finding meaning in what you do.

How To Make Yourself Happier

Here are a few tips for becoming happier, backed by science…

1. Surround Yourself With Happiness

A study done by BMJ group showed that surrounding yourself with happiness is more likely to make you happy.

It’s all about good vibes and positive energy. Having close relationships is also important, and has been linked to us living longer.

2. Exercise

One study found that exercise seems to be the most effective mood-regulating behavior, because of the releasing of endorphins.

The key here is exercising regularly, and not necessarily the intensity or length of the workout itself. It’s more about building good habits into your life.

3. Embrace Failure

We learn from our mistakes, and research has shown that being able to embrace failure, and deal with it will make you happier in the long run.

It’s the progress, or the feeling of accomplishment that will make us happy, but while we are doing it, we will fail and struggle a lot, it’s important to be able to embrace that, and not be fazed by the difficulty.

4. Think Positively

This is also known as the law of attraction and was popularized with the book The Secret.

The idea is that by just thinking positively, we can improve our happiness.

It’s also important to remember to appreciate the little things in life, and by focusing on them, we can make ourselves happier.

5. Laugh A Lot

When we laugh, a chemical is released in the brain that makes us happier. When we laugh a lot, we can trick our body into thinking that this is a consistent thing.

The same way that exercising regularly helps us to be happier, laughing regularly has been shown to have similar effects.

6. Meditate

Meditation has been shown to literally rewire your brain to improve your sense of self and lead to increased happiness. Check out these tips to get started meditating.

7. Buy A Gift For Someone

According to a new book called Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, people around the world reported being happier when they spent money on others.

Ideally, you would spend money on someone you actually care about. This leads to increased happiness, according to one study. I’d also recommend watching this TED talk:

The Concept Of Flow

Research has shown that when we feel rushed or pressured, we will feel anxious and that will lead to us being unhappy.

Not to mention, being stressed at work could damage your mental health

Research has also shown that when we do nothing, we are also unhappy. Have you ever heard the expression “Idle hands are the devil’s playground”?

The perfect balance for happiness is that sweet spot in the middle.

I’ve spoken about flow before, but what it is, is the perfect sweet spot between boredom and anxiety.

When a task is too easy, you’ll be bored, and you’ll lose focus easily, and when a task is too hard, you’ll become anxious because you don’t know what to do.

Challenging yourself slightly is the key to personal growth, and the key to happiness. This is the original TED talk about flow, and how it’s the secret to happiness

This is another fascinating TED talk about how to be happier. The secret is staying in the moment.

This is exactly what flow is about. It’s about finding that sweet spot where you’re lost in time, and are “in the moment”.

One of the pieces of advice that psychologists give when talking about flow, is to not remove yourself even if you want to, because it’s such a hard state to achieve.

For example, if you’re supposed to eat at a certain time, but you’re in flow, keep working and eat later, you’re the most productive in that state.

How To Measure Employee Happiness

Measuring employee happiness is an important part of understanding your company culture, and if people will be engaged in their work. There are a few interesting ways to measure employee happiness.

1. Niko Niko calendar

In agile project management, one of the ways you can measure the success of a project is by using a NikoNiko calendar.

NikoNiko means “smiley” in japanese, and is a way to track the mood of a project.

It’s actually a pretty smart idea. Each day, employees put a sticker on a calendar to see how they are progressing.

Instead of measuring features completed, the project manager will look at the mood of the team.

If things are going well, everyone should say they are happy, whereas if things are going poorly, you would expect to see sad faces.

Instead of using this in a project management setting, use it to gauge the happiness level of your employees.

Check out NikoNiko as a cool tool to use, and also check out this video interview I did with the cofounder of NikoNiko, where we talk about how to measure employee happiness.

2. Net Promoter Score

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is originally a customer service tool.

The way it works, is you ask a customer a simple question: “On a scale from 1-10, how likely are you to recommend our product/service to a friend?”

Scores 6 or lower are known as detractors, 6-8 are known as neutral, and 8-10 are known as promoters.

To get your score, you take the number of promoters, minus the number of detractors, and divide by the total number of answers.

In product management, it’s the best way to know if your product is actually good, because the theory is, if someone is willing to recommend your product to a friend, then they actually like it.

Instead of using it for customer service, use it to gauge how employees really feel about your company. Feel free to use this template.

3. Gallup Q12 Survey

After years of research, Gallup found that instead of asking lengthy, 100 question surveys, these 12 questions are really the only ones that matter, and are the best determinators of happiness at work.

Q1 – I know what is expected of me at work.
Q2 – I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
Q3 – At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
Q4 – In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
Q5 – My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
Q6 – There is someone at work who encourages my development.
Q7 – At work, my opinions seem to count.
Q8 – The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
Q9 – My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
Q10 – I have a best friend at work.
Q11 – In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
Q12 – This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

I’d like to leave you with one final story, about understanding how to look at life. This is a very important life lesson, so read this carefully…

A teacher cleared off his desk and placed on top of it a few items. One of the items was an empty mason jar. He proceeded to fill up the jar with golf balls until he could fit no more. He looked at the classroom and asked his students if they agree that the jar is full. Every student agreed that the jar was indeed full.

The teacher then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar with the golf balls. The pebbles filled all of the openings in between the golf balls. He asked the students if the jar was full. Once again, they agreed.

Now the teacher picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the mason jar. The sand filled in all of the empty space left between the golf balls and pebbles. He asked the class again if the jar was full. The students agreed it was technically full.

Finally, the teacher pulled out two beers from under his desk and poured both of them into the jar filling the empty space between the sand. Now the students began to laugh wondering how far this was going.

The teacher waited until the laughter stopped. “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life,” he started. “The golf balls represent the important things. Your family, children, health, friends, and passions. If everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles represent the other things in life that matter, such as your job, house and car. The sand—that is everything else. The small stuff. If you put the sand in first, there is no room for the pebbles or golf balls.

The same goes for life. If you spend all of your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are most important. Pay attention to the important things in your life.

Enjoy time with family. Go to dinner with your spouse. Play games with your kids. There will ALWAYS be time to clean the house or take yourself shopping.

Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. The rest is just sand. You are dismissed.”

Before the students left, one shouted out. “You never mentioned what the beer represents!”

The professor smiled and said, “Well I’m glad you asked. The beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.”

What Do You Think Is The Key To Happiness?

There is a lot of science, and a lot of research that looks at what makes people happy, but remember, happiness is a state of mind. We can all become happier if we work at it.

What do you do to be happy? Let me know your thoughts on twitter @JacobShriar or @Officevibe.