Leaders: Ignore Happiness at your Peril

September 16, 2017 Chris Pearse

I’ve just listened to Google’s Mo Gawdat on the subject of Happiness and liked what he said.

For too many, happiness is viewed as a bit of a sideshow in the game of life. Nice if you can get some, but let’s face it: no pain no gain. You have to suffer to make it to the end. If you’re not struggling, you’re not making progress. Blah blah.

Well I get all of that and lived it. But all I want to say in this piece is that we have a choice. We can struggle and we can glory in our tribulations, but there is an alternative.

So what is happiness? Well I’m not sure I can describe happiness in words – but I can tell you what I (and Mo Gawdat) have discovered that it isn’t:

It’s not the feeling you get from a job offer
It’s not buying a new car and driving it for the first time
It’s not getting a large pay rise
It’s not the feeling you get as you get ready to go out on a Saturday night
It’s not the effect of a Gin & Tonic after a long day
It’s not getting into a hot bath after a day’s skiing
It’s not even getting praise for a brilliant piece of work
You get the picture… These are all great things to feel if you like those feelings. But none of them represent happiness and do not lead to an enduring feeling of happiness. In fact, you may have noticed that all of these are generally preceded or followed by feelings of discontent, lack, frustration etc. for which all the above are a blessed, but temporary relief. and if you integrate (maths alert) these positive and negative feelings over time, I reckon they’ll add up to about nothing – which makes the whole thing a bit of a Zero Sum Game.

And that becomes a problem if you start to rely on these feelings to compensate for not feeling genuinely happy. The highs and lows get bigger but the sum remains the same (is that a song?) – and we all know where that leads…

Happiness appears to be a rather more subtle thing altogether. It doesn’t go up and down like emotion (e-motion?). And, it’s not so much a function of what happens to you out there in the world, as a result of belief-system, attitude and choice.

Believing that the world (usually other people) does stuff to you which determines whether you are happy or not is to throw away the key to the happy door. And that is not in anyway to depreciate the appalling suffering that many are currently enduring, or to absolve anyone of responsibility or the need to help.

Conversely, choosing to believe that happiness is a choice revolutionises our world. It short circuits the need for transient pleasures and establishes a foundation for better decision-making, better relationships and better mental and physical health.

So for you Leaders out there that haven’t bought into this whole happiness thing, I’m not asking you to believe it. I’m asking you to try it out for size and see if it works for you:

Try giving yourself the power to be happy, for no particular reason other than that’s what you want to feel.
And for those of you that do get it, put it into practice. Realise that if the temporary pleasures don’t work for you, they won’t necessarily work for your people either. So quit thinking that a decent annual profit will keep the shareholders happy, or that a big pay rise will make your star performer happy enough to retain him. And remember that happiness is contagious – truly happy people (those that choose to be happy) infect others with it. So make yourself infectious and contagious.

Being Happy isn’t just common sense, it’s good practice and good governance