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Did You Inherit Your Happiness?

Posted By Hanlie van Wyk, Monday, January 27, 2020

This is part 2 of The BRATLAB ‘Behavioral Prescription’ Series

pie chart showing the percentage of control you have on your happiness, versus the influence of genetics and circumstances.

Researchers believe that we can control about 40% of our happiness. Naturally, those with a happy nature experience positive emotion more often and a happy disposition is likely to be the cause of more positive emotions. However, experimental studies suggest that positive emotions can produce beneficial outcomes even in the absence of an innately happy temperament. They also noticed that the amount of time that people experience positive emotions defines how happy they feel, not necessarily the intensity of that emotion.

Happy child listening to music.

What is ‘Happiness’ Anyway?

There are a daunting thirteen ways to define and measure happiness and different experiences might make you happy on any given day. For the purposes of this article, let’s keep it simple and categorize the various definitions into three easy to remember concepts: Pleasure, People, and Prosperity.

The first refers to maximizing pleasurable moments (such as comfort, entertainment, and enjoyment) that lead to the satisfaction of a person’s wants and needs. This might contribute to a level of life satisfaction. The second, People, is about having positive relationships with others. As social animals we crave social acceptance, strive for social contribution and integration with a community. The third, Prosperity, is about more than what money can buy. A higher income level does raise happiness, but to a smaller extent than most people think. Prosperity is more about human flourishing and includes autonomy, mastery, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. In short, it’s about living authentically and actualizing one’s inherent potential as the way to wellbeing.

Making the Change: Adopting Happiness Habits at the Workplace

Happier people report being more productive, especially when happiness is thought of as the frequent experience of positive emotions. By moving from a lower level of happy emotions to a higher level, productivity improves by up to 40% in some studies. Happiness, in the form of positive emotions, is positively correlated with employees’ sensitivity to opportunities, helpfulness to co-workers, confidence, cooperation, reduced aggressiveness, and increased persistence. Feeling happy expands thinking and stimulates creativity. Overall, positive emotions improve cognitive function by 30% and stamina by 25%. Curiously, happier people seem to make more mistakes (25% more), but this could be prevented by practicing mindfulness as it decreases error rates by 25% while creating other beneficial health and productivity outcomes.

As a rule, people who frequently practice generating happiness are on average more productive and more satisfied with their jobs and lives.

Given that happiness can be ‘generated’, both organizations and individuals would do well to invest in practicing ‘happiness habits’. But as we’ve already noted, happiness comes in many different forms, so it’s not straightforward for companies to decide which happiness habits will be most beneficial. A good question might be: “Which happiness habit would have the greatest impact on my employees’ and hence my organization’s productivity? Where should we focus our limited resources?”

To answer this question, the Behavioural Research and Applied Technology Laboratory (‘BRATLAB’) identified and researched nine happiness habits that could potentially improve productivity, dividing them into three categories: Savor, Focus and Foster.

Savor

✓ Cherish positive experiences
✓ Practice being more optimistic
✓ Express gratitude often

Focus

✓ Live with purpose and meaning (know your "why’"
✓ Practice being mindful
✓ Use your unique character strengths

Foster

✓ Build positive relationships
✓ Perform acts of kindness & generosity
✓ Show self-compassion

 

Of the nine habits, being more mindful shows the biggest overall productivity impact, increasing stamina by 50% and cognitive function by 20%. Mindfulness techniques also reduce sick care costs, stress and anxiety brought on by mental health issues and may even beneficially impact health by lowering blood glucose, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.

Based on available research other habits like expressing gratitude, cherishing positive experiences and using your unique strengths have some impact. For example, salespeople who practice optimism sell 15% more than those who do not.

Other Habits that Combat Unhappiness

Our research tells us that both health and happiness habits contribute to an increase in personal performance. Each is mutually supportive of the other, pointing to a bi-directional, reinforcing relationship between them. For example, doing exercise, managing your stress and engaging in talk interventions (coaching or therapy) are shown to significantly decrease unhappiness more than any intervention individually.

Any organization looking to evaluate the impact of investing in these changes or wanting to understand more about how to create happy, healthy and change-ready cultures should contact Change Craft at hello@changecraft.consulting.

Background reading

Frederickson, B. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The Royal Society. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 359, 1367–1377

Gallagher, M.W, Lopez, S.J. & Preacher, K.J. (2009). The Hierarchical Structure of Well-Being. J Pers.77(4): . doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00573.x.

Jongbloed, J., & Andres, L. (2015). Elucidating the constructs happiness and wellbeing: A mixed- methods approach. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(3), 1-20. doi:10.5502/ijw.v5i3.1

Luthans, F., Avolio, B. J., Avey, J. B. & Norman, Steven M. (2007). "Positive Psychological Capital: Measurement and Relationship with Performance and Satisfaction". Leadership Institute Faculty Publications. Paper 11.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, Vol 131(6):803-855.

Robertson, I., & Cooper. G. (2011). Well-Being, Productivity & Happiness at Work. Palgrave McMillan, UK

Seligman. M. & Royzman, E. (2003). Happiness: The Three Traditional Theories

Zelenski. J.M., Murphy, S.A. & Jenkins, D.A. (2008). The Happy-Productive Worker Thesis Revisited. Journal of Happiness Studies 9:521–537


Hanlie van WykHanlie van Wyk is a behavioral change expert, systems strategist, author, and Ph.D. candidate for Hate Crime Studies. Her fascination with human behavior started while growing up in South Africa. From working to prevent hate crime to humanizing the workplace, her career spans three decades and four continents researching and applying behavioral change strategies to some of the most challenging behavioral problems. As is the founder and director at Change Craft (powered by Behavioral Research and Applied Technology Laboratory) she studies, develops and applies agnostic systems and practices that make change sticky and results in high performing individuals and cultures.

Tags:  emotional wellness  genetics  Happiness 

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