Happiness at work: What is it, and is it really possible?

Luisa Colombo Luisa Colombo

Much research has surfaced in the past few years highlighting the importance of happiness at work and the value produced by happier employees, with many studies concluding that happy employees perform better.

A July 2019 WEF report demonstrated the relationship between happiness and business results, finding a strong positive correlation between employee satisfaction and productivity. In other words, happier employees are more productive employees, which means investing in the well-being of our employees yields nothing but benefits for our company. 

But what is happiness? And what’s the secret formula to achieving it?

If you ask people around you to answer those questions, you might find some answers exciting and perhaps a few weird, depending on your perspective. Psychologists, philosophers, and many a scientist throughout time have pondered this question, producing plenty of studies and theories for it. 

I recently came across the work of psychologist Dacher Keltner who presents an equation for a happy life. Attracted by both its simplicity and power, I want to share my interpretation of Keltner’s concepts and how it applies to my work life. Here is the equation:

(positive emotions + connections) – stress = a happier work life. 

Let’s break it down into more practical terms: 

Positive emotions

There are plenty of positive emotions and everyone has their unique perspectives on them. But according to Dr. Keltner’s theory, there are three specific positive emotions that are key to nurturing happiness: 

Compassion: The extent to which you care for people. 

Gratitude: A state of thankfulness. 

Awe, which in a work context, I translate to Inspiration: The mental stimulation to do or feel something, especially something creative or new. 

Connections

Making connections is why we’re here! It’s easy to understand the role played by good friends, partners, and colleagues in our happiness. But while healthy connections are what we naturally crave, we aren’t always the best at fostering them between ourselves and others. To nurture social connections, Dr. Keltner suggests to consider the following: 

Cooperation: Creating inclusive spaces and relationships. 

Belonging: Feeling like part of the team, organization, or a group we can trust. 

Forgiveness: The ability to let things go and see others at their best.

Stress

Dr. Keltner’s equation requires us to reduce stress. Even if we already have some preferred ways to calm down, Dr. Keltner invites us to consider the following: 

Mindfulness and Meditation: Maintaining non-judgemental, moment-to-moment awareness. Practicing meditation regularly can lead to an increased sense of self-compassion and well-being. 

Narratives: The stories we hear, the ones we share with others, and those we tell ourselves. Stories have power. 

Play: The fun and joy involved in your workday. Having fun and laughing is proven to be good for our bodies and minds. 

 Let’s put the equation in a scorecard: 

We can use color codes (green, orange, and red) to evaluate areas we are grateful for (green), and where we want to pay more attention (orange or red.)

People Care Team Happiness Scorecard

We can each easily check where we stand right now on each category, and more importantly, where we can improve (for example, foster more positive connections or reduce stress.) 

For areas where you need to improve, remember that no one has the power to change others or solve heavy problems overnight. But if you start by asking yourself how you can make an improvement and take small steps toward improving your own well-being, you will begin to see different results. 

Always remember: small moves produce big changes! The key is to get started. 

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