Whistle While You Work: Why happiness is a useful tool for success
by Kari Pederson
As a teenager I had big dreams for my career. I wanted to publish books, design greeting cards, and earn a good income. Conventional wisdom taught me hard work and sacrifices were necessary for success. Being successful meant drudgery, long hours and paying my dues.
My ambitions were also designed to help me lead a happy life, but happiness was always something to enjoy AFTER attaining my goals. I will be happy when I publish my first book. I will be happy when Hallmark picks up my line of greeting cards. I will be happy when I have thicker hair. Ok, so I still want that last statement to be true, but most of us can relate to the joy of a good hair day.
Research in the field of positive psychology proves that happiness actually fuels success in our careers and businesses as well as in the areas of creativity, relationships, health and community involvement. Happiness also improves productivity and is an important precursor to success, not just the reward.
In 2005, researchers Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener completed an impressive meta-analysis of previous happiness research, examining over 200 studies involving more than 275,000 people. Their findings strongly reinforced the conclusion that our feeling happy helps us achieve our goals.
Hundreds of studies completed since that publication continue to underscore the idea that happiness improves just about every facet of our lives. For more hard science on the effectiveness of happiness, check out Shawn Achor’s book: The Happiness Advantage: Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work.
By now you might be thinking, “Sure, Kari, thanks for sharing this information, but where do I start or what can I do to feel happier?” First, it is important to know that everyone has a natural happiness set point. Genetics, circumstances, thoughts and behaviors directly impact your set point, which can change throughout your life. Your DNA accounts for fifty percent of your happiness level so I hope you got sunny genes. If not, you can still raise your happiness set point. Contrary to popular opinion, your life circumstances affect only ten percent of your score while your thoughts and behaviors make up the other forty percent. Changing perceptions or adding new habits can instantly increase your happiness levels. To help you get started, I have outlined four simple yet potent actions you can take immediately to feel happier.
1. Do a little digging to find the right strategies
Learn more about the science of happiness and discover tips and techniques that resonate for you. One resource I love is the University of Pennsylvania’s website on authentic happiness where you can take free happiness questionnaires, read the latest World Happiness Reports, and explore the field of positive psychology. If you prefer more humorous resources, read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff, or anything written by Shawn Achor. These writings are also based on the science of happiness but can be a lighter read. Happiness research can be fun!
2. Kindness Matters
Most researchers agree that one of the most effective ways to boost your happiness set point is to do something for others. Volunteer at a VoiceCatcher event, mentor another artist or do random acts of kindness. I recently gave dog treats to some pet parents without means and the results were priceless.
3. Beef up your social connections
Social capital is a very powerful strategy for increasing your happiness. Meet a friend for coffee, send an unexpected thank-you email or be brave and attend a new social event. Make this strategy even more effective by surrounding yourself with people who help you feel good.
4. Positive rehearsal works
Humans respond well to suggestion and our brains typically do not distinguish between doing something or rehearsing the action in our minds. The benefits of using positive rehearsal or a placebo are well documented and you do not have to be a research subject to use these techniques. While you might not need to grow hair, win an Olympic gold medal or avoid knee surgery, visualizing positive outcomes for a speech or reading can help you be more successful at the event. Plus, the preparation helps you stay calm and lowers your blood pressure.
Happiness is not only about smiley faces, unicorns or a great, big, belly laugh. Deliberately putting yourself in a more positive frame of mind is a fantastic secret weapon for your healthy artist toolbox. As I continue to work on raising my own happiness set point, I am happy to report (pun intended) that my life gets better and better.
Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. This is Kari’s seventh article for VoiceCatcher, and she is still thrilled to be part of VoiceCatcher’s mission. See the rest of her series: Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.