Happiness. What does it mean to be happy? And why should executives care? Businesses should care because workers who aren’t happy aren’t working hard. Gallup has found that 70% of American workers are not happy, and that this state of affairs translates into lost productivity of $500 billion. Suddenly, this whole happiness thing should be of great interest to corporate executives who want productive workers and a smoothly functioning culture.
So, what leads people to be happy?
Over the 30 years that I have taught people in the corporate world, I have concluded that there is one basic element that is common to happy people. They feel that they are “making a difference,” that their life has meaning. Absent that belief, people have a hard time feeling either inner peace or happiness.
Why is it that so many people don’t seem to feel that they are making a difference? I believe the answer has to do with allocation of energy. Each of us has a certain amount of energy that we invest in living. If there is a leak in our system, if energy is being used on things that are not productive or that distract us from our most important priorities, then we will have a more difficult time making a difference that matters.
It appears that there are many ways that we lose energy to non-productive pursuits. In some cases, that is just part of life.
However, there are three specific ways that we squander our energy that we can actually do something about.
Our beliefs. As we grow up, we have experiences, or read things, or hear things from others that create beliefs in our mind about how the world works. When there is a gap between what we believe and what works, we experience pain. In such cases, a great deal of energy goes into dealing with that problem. Until we find a way to identify the things that cause us to behave in ways that cause pain, we will have a constant drain of valuable energy, a gap in our system.
Our time. Today, we are bombarded with requests for our time. If we end up “spending” our time on things we don’t really want to do and fail to do the things we planned, that gap causes pain. Once again, energy flows to the pain. We undermine our ability to use that energy to make a difference, and the likelihood that we will feel inner peace or happiness.
Our values. One of the basic differences among people is that some invest that time and energy in things that really matter to them while others spend it on the “cotton candy” of life. When things that are most important to us are ignored in favor of the transitory and meaningless, sooner or later we feel pain. Have you ever felt tired at night and wondered what in the world you had done to get tired? The fact is, working on things that matter most to us is less tiring than spending our day in meaningless pursuits. Anyone who has done both knows that to be true.
So why should executives care about their people being happy? Happy people are more productive, and productive people generate increasingly positive results, break down silos and barriers, and think of creative ways to better serve customers of the business.
And, frankly, happy people are just better to be around.