Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Being Happy is Hard Work

Some time ago the Government proposed supplementing GDP with a measure of GWB (General Well-being) to measure the nation’s happiness. The Archbishop of Canterbury also suggested that people seek real happiness, above and beyond economic and material wealth. And most organisations would freely admit to pushing happiness and well-being higher up their people agenda, perhaps as an antidote to the depressing financial times.

But one important and often over-looked finding in the psychological research is that being happy takes effort. This may sound odd, but there’s a lot of truth in this.

In 2005, psychologists analysed the mainstream well-being research and identified that about 50% of happiness is inherited – i.e. genetic – while about 10% is down to our economic and cultural circumstances. The remaining 40% is believed to be down to effort. This means investing time in deliberate and intentional activities that will make us happier.

In other words, it is necessary to put effort into maintaining happiness, through activities such as being deliberately optimistic when problems crop up, or being consciously appreciative of our circumstances.
What is really interesting, though, is that psychologists Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2006) monitored people over a period of several months to identify what impact these activities actually have on our happiness. They found that a change in circumstances, such as gaining more money or moving to a new area, made people happy for a limited time only. Clearly the novelty of the change wears off.

On the flip side, they found that those who invested time and effort in a range of ‘happiness’ based activities led to longer-term increases in psychological well-being. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that ‘both effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness’.

So, when the Government and the Church tell us to be happy, they – and organisations – need to know that this doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work that has to be sustained, supported and measured. In other words, if you really knuckle down and apply yourself, you’ll be a lot happier as a result…

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