Happiness hygiene

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BENEL D. LAGUA 

BENEL D. LAGUA

Gina Lopez, the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), recently welcomed Dr. Saamdu Chetri, the executive director of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) center. Bhutan is a major advocate of using GNH as a measure of quality of life in more holistic terms than the standard and monetary-related gross domestic product (GDP), striking a balance between spiritual and material aspect of life.

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The concept of measuring happiness appeals to those who believe in a human approach to development instead of the material approach. Happiness, of course, is a difficult metric. It has nonetheless evolved as an important subject of academic and corporate research in the organizational behavior field.

A well-known proponent of the subject is Harvard University’s Shawn Achor who has done research on positive psychology and happiness. One of his rules is to create “happiness hygiene”. Achor defines happiness as “the joy one feels striving for one’s potential”. Happiness is not the belief that everything is great, but that change is possible through small mental victories. He claims that a positive mindset results in 23 percent greater energy in the midst of stress, 31 percent higher productivity, 37 percent higher level of sales, 40 percent higher likelihood to be promoted, three times higher creativity, and improved longevity.

The following are the top three tips from Achor, from an interview by Don Schawbel in Forbes magazine:
Create happiness hygiene: We eat, sleep and brush our teeth everyday, yet we neglect something crucial: priming our brain to positive. Create a two-minute daily habit of thinking of 3 new things you are grateful for each day, journaling about a positive experience for two minutes, meditating by watching your breath go in and out, or writing a positive 2 minute email.

Use success accelerants: Our brain accelerates the closer we perceive success. If you make a checklist of tasks for the day, include several things you have already accomplished. If you are starting a new positive habit, don’t start at zero, include the day or two you have successfully avoided dessert or exercise. Some companies offer 150% commission for the first week of a new sales period to show progress right from the beginning.

Don’t wait for happiness: If we raise your success rates, happiness remains the same. Raise happiness levels in the present, find meaning at work, connect to the people around you, perceive stress as enhancing, and your success rates rise dramatically. Happiness at work fuels success.

I thought these are worth sharing to readers especially those who will not have access to the original source. Whether it works or not, there’s no harm trying it out. Achor says that recent research on neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood—reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain.

The concept is being adopted not just by private organizations, but by governments themselves as the Bhutan example shows. Firms are tracking happiness among their workforce and are working to get employees positively engaged, in both their personal and professional lives. For these companies, happy employees mean better bottom-line results and improved productivity.

To complete the picture, it is worth noting that there are skeptics in the field. Schumpeter, writing in The Economist, argues that companies that try to turn happiness into a management tool are overstepping the mark. He says it is an unacceptable invasion of individual liberty. “Companies have a right to ask their employees to be polite when they deal with members of the public. They do not have a right to try to regulate their workers’ psychological states and turn happiness into an instrument of corporate control.” He even quotes Lord Percy of Newcastle, Britain’s minister of education in 1924-29 who was not a fan of happy-clappy progressive education and who declared “a child ought to be brought up to expect unhappiness.”

So are we going to pursue the “happiness advantage” or do we endorse those who are “against happiness”? Life’s journey is ultimately a matter of choice. If the benefits outweigh the costs, my take is to pursue the happiness route.

Benel D. Lagua is the executive vice president at the Development Bank of the Philippines. He is an active FINEX member and a long time advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs. The views expressed herein are his own and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of his office as well as FINEX.

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