Happiness is characterized as a state of mind associated with a feeling. The feeling is often one of contentment or joy, love or pleasure. Learning how to attain this state, and identify its source, has been the work of psychologists, philosophers and now Professor Jennifer Aaker at the Stanford Business School, and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. This two part blog post discusses how to get yourself happy yourself so you can design happy value for your customers, employees and investors.
According to Prof. Aaker, who teaches a course at Stanford called “Designing Happiness” it is hard to pin down and even harder to hold onto because there are barriers to achieving happiness. These barriers can be to do with economics, age, memory and expectation.
1. Economics and Work Life Balance Affects Happiness
Whilst we in the US may have become richer as a nation in the last 30 years, it has not increased our return on happiness. For example, women who are married with children and working outside the home, are 20% less happy than their stay home counterparts.
2. Age and Stage
The meaning of happiness shifts every 3 to 5 years as our priorities in life change. If conquering the world is what makes us happy between age 23 – 26, we trade ambition for balance at age 27 – 30. If having children makes us happy in our 30’s, feeling calm and content is what we seek in our 40’s. Basically what made us happy once, changes as we grow older.
3. False Memory
We don’t remember what makes us happy. For example, taking the children to Disneyland should make us happy. We forget the long lines and sugar filled screaming toddlers. Memory decay happens when we take the happy pictures. Reviewing the photos later we forget the unhappy price we paid to get them.
4. Pinning your Hopes
We have ridiculous ideas on how to get happier. We pin our hopes on chasing things which in reality don’t makes us happy. For example, people think if they were promoted at work, won the lottery, had a less stressful job, spent more time with good friends, had their worry gland removed or spent more time on vacation they would be happier.
These goals focus on being somewhere else and not on where you are in life. It turns out that within 3 days of receiving a promotion, winning the lottery or being on vacation, people are right back to a set point happiness. Once we experience the sensation of happiness, expectation creeps in. Happiness is fleeing and lasts only a short period of time. There is a gap between expectations, performance and happiness.
The Key to happiness
Happiness is generally the by-product of other activities, and not an outcome of consciously focusing on getting happy. In a study conducted at Yahoo! Employees were given $100 and told to go and distributed the money. Half the group were told to use the money in a meaningful way for others, the other half on creating their own happiness.
People in the happy group spent less time doing things that were actually good for them, for example, by spending their money partying. By contrast, the people in the meaningful group were happier because they were spending the money on others. They were connected to other people and their happiness came from helping others, not just themselves.
Meaningfulness is key to being happy
Our happiness is payback for the impact we have on others when we choose to engage in some small way and help them. Small acts can create big change.
What small act might you take to make someone happy today?
To learn more how small acts can create big change for business, please read part two of this blog post on how to bring value to your business by delivering happiness.