We all want to feel good, and true happiness is the answer, right? Well, according to Harvard Medical School psychologist, Dr. Susan David, it’s more nuanced than “happiness equals goodness.”
In Dr. David’s book “Emotional Agility,” she writes, “The paradox of happiness is that deliberately striving for it is fundamentally incompatible with the nature of happiness itself.” She goes on to explain that for happiness to be meaningful it must come from finding intrinsic value in the activity. “Striving for happiness establishes an expectation, which confirms the saying that expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” writes Dr. David.
Dr. David’s point about “intrinsic value” is central to longer-lasting happiness. Hedonistic happiness, or fleeting happiness experienced when pursuing something pleasurable, is extrinsic and short-lived. True happiness derived from meaning, self-awareness, and growth in life is intrinsic and helps a person become more fully functioning. This true happiness fuels the pursuit of becoming your best self.
The Downside of True Happiness
Adding another layer of reality, the author/psychologist explains that happiness can blind us from “threats and dangers.” We develop biases against seeing the “negative” aspects of a situation when we pursue happiness as a means to an end. “The happy more often place disproportionate emphasis on early information and disregard or minimize later details,” explains Dr. David, citing one disadvantage of a happy mood.
While there are downsides to happiness, it’s not all “bad.”
At the award-winning PR firm S3 Agency, CEO and founder Denise Blasevick has tapped into the benefits of promoting a genuine sense of true happiness in the workplace.
Promoting True Happiness
In an interview with Blasevick, she explained that to create an environment where true happiness is authentic, the leader needs to be personally happy. “[It’s] too big a lift if they’re not happy.” The feel-good emotion won’t be genuine if the leader’s intentions aren’t honest.
The primary source of promoting workplace happiness at S3 is its high priority in the company’s culture
• The organization makes time to inspire employees even if it takes time away from client work
• Vision boards encourage a conversation about what’s important to employees beyond work itself
• Management focuses on and rewards what’s “right” and doesn’t focus solely on mistakes or what’s “wrong”
• The company helps employees find meaning in their work
True happiness is also a source for Blasevick’s leadership of the company. Here priority focus is to inspire employees’ performance in the company. She asks herself, “What can I do to energize the company?”
When I asked Blasevick a reason for promoting workplace happiness, she explained, “Every business goes through bad times. It’s easier to go through these times when people are close-knit.”
Blasevick points out an important nuance: happiness at work isn’t a constant. It ebbs and flows, just as how we experience the emotion. And it should be this way.
Dr. David writes in her book, “When the environment is safe and familiar, we tend not to think long and hard about anything too challenging.” Clearly this is not a characteristic indicative of a highperforming culture. Leaders need to leverage both the upsides and downsides of emotions such as happiness.
What’s more, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t mean we should ignore conflicting emotions; anger for example. When we honestly recognize that the range of emotions we could experience in a day can be advantageous, we can produce greater results. Those “darker” emotions provide a valuable window into perspectives and ideas that are hidden from view when we solely seek true happiness.
Building a Culture
Blasevick’s pursuit of true happiness at S3 isn’t one shielded from the range of emotions employees experience. It’s from a genuine interest in helping employees perform at their best levels and enjoy their work experiences. This comes with the understanding and acceptance that happiness can’t always be present. However, intentionally building a culture on a positive emotion like happiness can lead to powerful business outcomes.
“Positive emotions also drive us to success, help us make better decisions, reduce the risk of disease, and allow us to live longer,” writes Dr. David. This is a vital takeaway for leaders who want to create a positive workplace culture and climate. This encourages employees to consider a wider range of possibilities when looking to solve problems important to the business.