3 research-based facts about happiness in work and life

Posted on August 2nd, by Dr Rob Yeung .

Ask people what they want in life and they often say that they want to “be happy”. But why does happiness matter? And how can you achieve happiness?

1. Being happy may help you to be better at your job
Some people dismiss happiness as inconsequential. For example, I’ve heard a few managers say that they don’t really care whether their employees are happy so long as they are performing well.

But research conducted by economists suggests that happiness helps people to be more productive. In a series of experiments written up in the Journal of Labor Economics, a team of scientists found that workers who were chosen at random to receive one of three workplace interventions went on to become 12% more productive.

The researchers concluded that their studies were consistent with “the existence of a causal link between human well-being and human performance.” Well-being causes performance. Or, putting that into plain English, people who feel psychologically happy and well tend to perform better.

2. A happy life is not necessarily a satisfying life
Different people can mean entirely different things when they talk about wanting a “happy” life. Many people think about happiness as involving fun activities or being able to enjoy a life of luxuries and relaxation. Other people feel that their happiness derives from helping others and doing other activities that create a legacy.

In an influential scientific paper, researchers Veronika Huta and Richard Ryan have found that there are at least two major aspects to happiness, called hedonia versus eudamonia. Hedonia is about pursuing things that feel good in that moment – such as eating and drinking things that taste great, enjoying time with friends or relaxing and taking it easy. In contrast, eudamonia is about pursuing excellence in life, doing challenging tasks that feel meaningful.

For example, many parents report that having a young baby reduces their level of hedonia. Being sleep-deprived and changing nappies isn’t exactly fun. But most parents find it very meaningful bringing new life into the world – so their level of eudamonia is higher.

Studies by Huta and Ryan as well as others tell us that the people who have the highest levels of psychological well-being seek a balance between the two. Simply pursuing hedonia – having fun or taking it easy all of the time – can feel hollow at times. Only pursuing eudamonia – doing worthwhile things – may feel meaningful but not necessarily pleasurable.

I’ve written before about hedonia versus eudamonia on Instagram, so feel free to take a look there – and do follow me there, too!

3. Happiness is to an extent controllable
It is true that some people are naturally happier than others. But studies over the last couple of decades also confirm that it’s possible to increase our levels of happiness through intentional activities.

For example, simply making yourself smile can make you a little bit happier. Mindfulness helps many people – for example, the 5-senses mindfulness method is a quick way to put mindfulness into practice. And the technique of positive reappraisal has been shown to help people to control their emotions more effectively, too.

There are also some of the latest techniques for boosting happiness in Chapter 8 of my latest book, 10% Better:

Anyway, how happy are you feeling these days? Do you feel that you’ve got the right balance between hedonia and eudamonia? And what intentional activities are you pursuing in order to boost your happiness?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

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