The Science of Happiness at Work–in Five Minutes!

by Scott Crabtree

If I had just five minutes of your time, I would tell you the most important science of being happier at work. Because I believe:

  1. We all deserve to be happy at work.
  2. Science tells us why to be happier: it brings benefits including (but not limited to) success, creativity, engagement, sociability, productivity and health.
  3. Science can tell us how to be happier at work.

Happiness means many things to many people. Scientists use the term “subjective well-being” which hints at two important facts:

  1. ‘Subjective’ because we are talking largely about how people feel. Long story short, asking people how happy they are is a valid measurement of happiness. Self-reporting is correlated with objective measurements of brain activity.
  2. ‘Well-being’ because scientists are typically studying positive emotions but also something deeper and longer lasting: a sense of life satisfaction and meaning.

I mean all of that every time I say ‘happiness’.

At least 40% of your happiness is determined by what you think and do. Happiness is largely a choice. About 50% of a typical person’s happiness is due to genetic factors. Only 10% is typically due to our life circumstances. This is mostly because we get used to whatever our circumstances are, so they stop having a significant impact. Neuroplasticity means you can rewire your brain to be a happier brain through what you think and do.

So what should you do to be happier at work? Many things, organized around three themes I will explain below:

  1. ‘Flow’ to goals
  2. Practice positivity
  3. Prioritize people

First, make progress toward goals that are important to you. We think achieving our goals will make us happy. It does, but not as happy as we think, and the happiness doesn’t last very long. Happiness brings success more than success brings happiness. The sustainable source of happiness is enjoying progress toward your goals.

Your goals will bring you more happiness if they align with your strengths. By strengths, I don’t just mean the things you are good at, but also the things that energize you. If you don’t immediately know what your strengths are, I highly recommend investing time in discovering your strengths and putting them to use more often on the job.

As you pursue your goals that use your strengths, get into ‘flow’ by focusing, undistracted, on a very challenging but possible task. Focus completely for at least 20 minutes at a time. Get “in the zone.” Don’t multi-task. Turn off your interruption channels including email and instant message programs. Flow to goals.

Second, practice positivity. Adopt a good attitude, look at the bright side, and be optimistic. Science tells us that a positive attitude and optimism really work to make you happier and therefore more productive. Try writing down your best possible future. Whether it comes true or not, writing down your best possible future will make you happier. Notice and savor the good things in life, including the best in other people.

Third, prioritize people. The strongest influence on your happiness is the quality of your relationships. Invest time, energy, and attention in them. Start by expressing gratitude to those you appreciate. For your next one-on-one meeting, try going on a walk to get the benefits of both relationship building and physical activity, also shown to boost happiness.

Act on this because science shows that happier brains work better. Again happier people are more productive, creative, insightful, resilient, sociable, and successful. They are healthier and live longer.

Pick one small thing you can do that will contribute to your happiness. Write it down and share it with others. Do it every day for the next thirty days or until you form a new habit that becomes effortless for you. Act on it every day, and you will rewire your brain to be a happier brain and reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

Time’s up! If you want more, stay tuned for The Science of Being Happier at Work in Ten Minutes.