John Lennon once said: “When I was a 5-year-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.”
Humans 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.
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. We deceive ourselves into thinking we’re rational. Such people do not exist.
Business tradition asks workers to leave their emotions at home. Yet managers wring their hands that half of the American workforce is not engaged. That tradition is absurd, a denial of our humanity. 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 and depression and not a single line about compassion, forgiveness or love.
Immanent psychiatrist George Vaillant said: “As a psychoanalyst, I’m paid to help you focus on your resentments and help you 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.”
In 1998, the University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman started turning the situation around. As president of the American Psychological Association, he urged psychologists to turn toward understanding and building human strengths to complement an emphasis on healing damage. In other words, instead of making sick people OK, let’s help OK 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 to imagine two people. One wins $58 million in the lottery; the other loses 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 by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ed Diener and Laura King on the effect of happiness in the workplace found that happy employees are 31 percent more productive, sell 37 percent more and are three times as creative as their run-of-the-mill peers. Happiness is a bottom-line issue.
Our brains are plastic, not polystyrene. You can rewire your brain. A researcher asked harried office workers to do at least one of five brief exercises during the course of three weeks. Four months later, these workers remained happier, 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 is more positive. I am certainly happier. I smile more. A sample of one doesn’t prove much, but you may want to give this a shot. Here is my daily routine:
Jot down three things I am grateful for.
Email a positive message to someone.
Meditate for two minutes.
Exercise for 10 minutes.
Take two 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 percent.
Want to know more? Google your way over to “Authentic Happiness,” Seligman’s site. It’s a great place to begin your journey to happiness.
Jay Cross is CEO of Internet Time Group and a thought leader in informal learning and organizational performance. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.