There’s a Science to Happiness in the Workplace
On September 3, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, will launch a new online course, “The Science of Happiness at Work.” Based on the center’s hugely popular free course “The Science of Happiness,” this new course will teach attendees why it matters so much to promote happiness in the workplace and how to do it. As the center puts it:
People who are happier at work are more committed to their organization, rise to positions of leadership more rapidly, are more productive and creative, and suffer fewer health problems. More and more, research is suggesting that happiness should not be an afterthought for workplaces; it should be an essential goal, entwined with the kinds of 21st century skills that are key to individual and organizational success today.
And a key element of happiness in the workplace is gratitude. In fact, gratitude is a key element of happiness anywhere, according to decades of research on the subject. As researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky — author of the bestselling The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness — explains in this short video, gratitude does a number of things to pave the way for happy feelings.
Learn the Science Behind Happiness in the Workplace
1. Gratitude Helps Us Savor Our Positive Experiences
Our positive experiences can be a powerful source of energy and nourishment — but only if we take note of them. As Greater Good researcher Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas told Fast Company, happiness in the workplace certainly is achievable, and good times can even last for a while. But challenges inevitably pop up again, and:
[I]t’s “those who can laugh at their foibles, be mindful, advocate for their own ideas, and dwell on what has gone well [who] will thrive on those challenges,” she explains.
“They realize creative solutions to those setbacks” thanks to the positivity they’ve built up and taken time to appreciate when good things do happen.
2. Gratitude Leads Us to Be More Helpful
Writing for Time, the founder of digital wellness company Happier is straightforward: “Helping others makes you happier. And helping your colleagues makes you happier at work.” And when we’re grateful, we’re more likely to step up and lend a hand to co-workers.
For example, one study found that people in their mid-30s who had earlier rated helping others at work as important reported feeling happier when asked three decades later. Helping your co-workers seems to create a virtuous cycle; according to another study, happier workers help their colleagues 33% more than those who aren’t happy.
You don’t have to do anything huge or heroic to help. Grab your colleague’s favorite beverage on your way back from getting coffee. Ask them if they need help on a project. Offer to do something simple, like type up notes after a meeting.
The tougher part is making this a regular part of your day instead of something you do only once in a while. One simple way to do this is to put a reminder on your calendar.
3. Gratitude Keeps Us From Taking Things for Granted
Lyubomirsky remarks that she was delighted to discover when her bank stop requiring her to use envelopes for ATM deposits and simply allowed her to feed checks and bills directly into the machine. But it took only about an hour before that feeling wore off and she stopped seeing it as a big deal.
While that may sound perfectly reasonable, she notes that gratitude as a regular practice is really about appreciating the little comforts and conveniences that so often fade into the noise of our everyday routines. “We take things for granted so quickly and so easily that we really need to put effort into not taking them for granted,” she says.
That’s surely true when it comes to happiness in the workplace, too. Very few of us notice how many people, tools, and services make our jobs easier on a daily basis, unless we specifically stop to think about it.
4. Gratitude Neutralizes Negative Emotion
As Lyubomirsky says: “It’s almost impossible to feel grateful and at the same time feel greedy or envious or bitter or anxious.” When you’re focusing on the good aspects and moments of your life, it’s difficult for bad feelings to get much purchase. For some people, the presence of such bad feelings is the biggest obstacle between themselves and happiness in the workplace or anywhere else. Practicing gratitude removes that challenge from the equation.
It’s not difficult to practice gratitude. Lyubomirsky describes a study in which participants were divided into three groups: one that updated a “gratitude journal” once per week; another that updated their journals three times a week; and a control group that didn’t keep a gratitude journal at all.
After six weeks, using established methods for measuring well-being, researchers found that members of the group that updated their journals once a week were both substantially more grateful and happier than they’d been at the start of the study. (Perhaps surprisingly, that didn’t hold true for the group that updated their journals three times a week. Lyubomirsky suspects that requiring them to do it so often turned it into a chore.)
And keeping the gratitude journals was what Lyubomirsky termed a “trivial intervention” — it involved simply writing down up to five things for which the participants were thankful. For much less outlay than a therapy session or even an hour of exercise, the participants saw a generous return.
With that in mind, you can begin inspiring a culture of gratitude in your office, and thus encourage happiness in the workplace — here are some ideas. If you’re interested in discovering more about how to really turn up the positive vibes, check out “The Science of Happiness at Work.”