The Happy Bottom Line

CLO, October 2012

“When I was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon

Humans are driven by their emotions. We make most decisions subconsciously, in the emotional brain. That’s the massive parallel processor that has evolved over millions of years and fills most of our skulls. The prefrontal cortex, the more recently developed logic processor, puts things into words and puts a positive spin on our gut feelings.

“If you threw a rock skyward,” says neuropsychologist Michael Gazzaniga, “and embrued it with consciousness at the top of its flight, its prefrontal cortex would have an explanation for why it fell back to earth before it hit the ground.” We deceive ourselves into thinking we’re rational.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for inventing Behavioral Economics. Kahneman pointed out that the so-called rational economic man had no clothes. Classical economics was based on a mythical creature who was all logic and no feelings. Such people do not exist.

Business tradition asks workers to leave their emotions at home. “This is business,” said the Godfather, meaning that feelings have nothing to do with it. This is absurd, a denial of our humanity. Managers wring their hands that half of the American workforce is not engaged. Is this not an emotional issue? Why should workers leave their feelings behind when they arrive at the office? Don’t we want them to be passionate about their work?

Sigmund Freud started a tradition that haunts the field of psychology to this day. He focused on making deranged people well. The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the shrinks’ basic text, has thousands of lines on anxiety depression and not a single line about compassion, forgiveness, or love.

Immanent psychiatrist George Vailliant says, “As a psychoanalyst, I’m paid to help you focus on your resentments and help you to find fault with your parents. And secondly, to get you to focus on your ‘poor-me’s’ and to use up Kleenex as fast as possible.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s Marty Seligman started turning the situation around in 1998. As president of the American Psychological Association, he urged psychologists to “turn toward understanding and building the human strengths to complement our emphasis on healing damage.” In other words, instead of making sick people okay, let’s help okay people feel great.

Money can’t buy happiness. Happiness results from how you feel about things, not how things really are. Harvard’s Daniel Gilbert asks you imagine two people. One wins $58 million in the lottery; the other loses the loss of his legs in a car accident. A year later, they’re just as happy or sad as before their big events.

A meta-study of 225 studies on the effect of happiness in the workplace found that happy employees are 31% more productive, sell 37% more, and are three times as creative as their run-of-the-mill peers. Happiness is a bottom line issue. Don’t believe it? Look at the January issue of Harvard Business Review. Aside from hiring happy people, what can you do to take advantage of this?

Our brains are plastic. No, not polystyrene. You can rewire your brain.

A researcher asked harried office workers to do at least one of five brief exercises over the course of three weeks. Four months later, these workers remained more happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Happiness had become a habit.

I have been following all five of the routines for the past month. My outlook’s more positive. I am certainly happier. I smile more.

A sample of one doesn’t prove anything, but you may want to give this a shot. Here is my daily routine:

  • Jot down 3 things I am grateful for.
  • Email a positive message to someone.
  • Meditate for 2 minutes.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take 2 minutes to describe my most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

If it works for you, spread the gospel. Happiness is contagious. What’s more, you’ll never find an easier way to boost productivity by 31%.

Want to know more? Google your way over to Authentic Happiness. That’s Marty Seligman’s site. It’s a great place to begin your journey to happiness.

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