Well-being vs well-doing

Maybe it’s the traditional British reserve but whenever I mention that I’m interested in the subject of happiness, people tend to raise their eyebrows and look a little bemused. Very often they say ‘that’s simple, if I had more money I’d be happy’, or at this time of year in particular, ‘if I lost a little weight/stopped smoking I’d be happy’. Happiness is worth a closer look because, actually, it’s not that simple; research has shown that health and wealth might bring happiness to a point or temporarily, but that it doesn’t last.

Happiness is becoming big business now. If you type ‘happiness’ into Amazon, you get over 5000 books on the subject. There are TV programmes about it and websites devoted to it. But why does it matter to organizations what makes people happy?

In his article ‘Happiness is a serious business’ quoted in People Management, Nic Marks, head of the Centre for Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation, refers to the CIPD employee attitude survey 2006, part of which looked at the relationship between positive and negative emotions and several key performance indicators (KPIs): job satisfaction, meaningfulness of work, absorption in work, commitment to complete work, loyalty and performance.

What the survey found was that, with the exception of job satisfaction, positive emotions seem to have more than twice the impact on these KPIs as negative emotions do. In the case of job satisfaction, says Marks, people’s satisfaction ratings and assessments of others are more clouded by their negative feelings than their own experience and behaviour. He concludes that organizations could therefore have more impact and improve individual, team and organizational performance by promoting a climate that fosters positive emotions at work.

In short, there is a very serious point to ensuring that people are happy at work. In the past, we have thought that feeling happy was a result of good functioning i.e. ‘life is going well, therefore I feel good’. However there is a growing body of research (e.g. by the psychologist Dr Barbara Fredrickson, a world expert in the field of positive emotions) which suggests that feeling happy is also a cause of good functioning. So happiness is important to organizations because feeling happy actually helps promote creativity, resilience and resourcefulness; all qualities that we need to improve our performance and succeed at work.

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