How to Build Your Happiness at Work & in Life

Happiness and wellbeing are finally being recognised as more than simply warm and fuzzy optional extras for our society. Hooray!

And for good reason too. Happy people live longer, are healthier, are better workers, are more successful, have better relationships and live more fulfilled lives.

It turns out that we’ve all had it wrong for years…

Over the past 15 years, a new field of research into happiness and wellbeing has taken off, resulting in an explosion of new understanding about happiness, wellbeing, and what makes life worth living.

Part of that has been the recognition that our collective understanding of the relationship between success and happiness has been incorrect.

It used to be thought that success will lead to happiness. That setting and achieving goals, would lead to happiness. Buying the great house will lead to happiness. Success at work will lead to happiness. Success in relationships will lead to happiness. “Once I get a promotion, I’ll be happy”. Or, “Once I hit my sales target, I’ll be satisfied.” But because success is a moving target—as soon as we achieve our goal, we raise it again – the happiness and satisfaction that comes from success is fleeting.

Research has found that we’ve had it the wrong way around.

It turns out that happiness actually begets success. That happy people are actually more successful and that happiness gives you the energy, and gives you the relationships, and gives you that feedback that you’re on the right track… and that will lead to success.

So thinking “I’ll be happy when…” and focusing on the next hurdle or goal will not make you lastingly happy. Sorry. 🙁

8 reasons why happiness is important

There are many reasons why happiness and being happy at work is important. Obviously the fact that it feels good is a big one, but there are many more benefits, both to us and to those around us.

Here is the wide range of benefits of being happy and of building your happiness…

•    Better physical health
•    Better mental and emotional health
•    Better mental functioning
•    More energy
•    Better relationships
•    Kinder & more compassionate
•    Better career outcomes
•    More “pro-social” behaviour, which means we’re more inclined to take actions to help create a better world.

And at work, the more happiness-related emotions you experience during your workday – such as interest, amusement, pride, gratitude – the better you’ll feel and work.

Happy employees have, on average, 31% higher productivity; their sales are 37% higher; their creativity is three times higher, and they are nearly 10 times more engaged at work.

Plus, your happiness hormones reduce your stress hormones, which benefits your work through better focus, better problem-solving ability, and more creativity for new ideas.

What’s not to like?

It’s not all ‘sunshine and roses’ though…

Although high levels of happiness and wellbeing tend to help people function better, they’re not a cure-all.

Happy people do get sick and do lose friends.

Not all happy people are productive workers.

Happiness is like any other factor that contributes to health and functioning; with all other things being equal, it is likely (but not guaranteed) to help.

‘Optimal Human Functioning’ – What Makes Us Thrive & Flourish?

There are many areas of science that study wellbeing but when it comes to happiness there has traditionally been a gap. That was until the new field of ‘positive psychology’ developed.

Often people think that ‘positive psychology’ is just another way of saying ‘positive thinking’. It’s not. It does incorporate positive thinking/optimism but it’s much broader

It’s a new field of science research that seeks to learn about what makes people thrive and flourish – or, as they call it, ‘optimal human functioning’.

Optimal human functioning is:

•    superior functioning in a wide range of activities in life,
•    where life’s problems never seem to get out of hand,
•    the person is sought out by others because of his or her many positive qualities,
•    there are no symptoms of dysfunction.

Positive psychology researches the things that people who are operating at that level are doing. What are the conditions, the goals, the practices, the habits that help people to live their best lives and to really thrive and flourish? And, of course, being happy is a part of that.

A shift in focus…

A key part of what has come out of positive psychology research over the past decade or so is a shift in focus and approach.

In the past, the traditional approach to achievement has been to identify what’s not working and then to attempt to fix that problem. The ability to identify and solve problems has been a highly valued attribute in our workplaces and in western society for many years.

But not being sad doesn’t make you happy. And not being sick doesn’t make you well. The positive psychology research done in the last 15+ years has highlighted this and shown that a change of approach is needed. We need to focus on what our desired state is and on what’s already working well, and then using those positive attributes towards growing towards our desired outcome.

So very broadly, here’s how we can all build our happiness, at work and in life…

If we want to get happier, at work and in life more generally, research shows that there are several key things to do:

1. Stop focusing excessively on problems and trying to fix them. Because that only gets us from a negative state to a neutral state. Sure problems need to be resolved, but they’re not the main game or the path to nirvana. Do point #3 instead.

2. Avoid the common pitfalls that most of us fall into. It turns out that there are a couple of key mistakes that we often make, that science has now revealed to us.

  • Have you ever found that what you do to try to make yourself feel happier often doesn’t last?
  • Have you found yourself spending lots of money trying to buy things to make you happy?
  • Have you found a sense of unfulfillment that gnaws away at you and gives you a sense that there has to be more to life?

These experiences come because we are falling into common pitfalls. Find out what they are and how to avoid them in this free guide.

3.  Identify what’s working well in your life and try to do more of that. Find the principles and practices of what’s working well and try to apply them in other areas of your life. Focus on what’s strong in your life, not on what’s wrong.

(Easier said than done, I agree. I share about how to do that relatively easily in my upcoming Happier program.)

4. Cultivate all forms of happiness. Again, I’ll talk more about this in my upcoming Happier group coaching program.

5. Follow the principles and apply the practices that those optimally happy people do, so that you too can live your happiest and best life.

Which is, of course, the challenge! 🙂 

Adele Sinclair is a wellness coach and trainer who focuses on mental wellbeing at work. She has a background in management and experienced job burnout twice as a result of ongoing work stress. If you liked this article, you'll love Adele's coaching programs to help you with strategies for a great worklife.