What is Happiness: An Internal Game that Only You Can Decide to Play

What does it mean to be happy?  Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, defines happiness as life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions.

Since we know that the more fully one lives into his or her values, the more deeply satisfied they will be, Diener’s definition supports the absolute importance of values clarification and alignment work.  He also makes a strong case for practicing and appreciating what we have, rather than dwelling on what we don’t.  If you find that you aren’t as happy as you would like to be, one option is to explore your values and another is to practice the art of gratitude.

Being happy is largely an internal game that only you can decide to play.

Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.  Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Seligman says that all three are important, but that of the three, engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life.

Again, Seligman reinforces that deciding to do our own internal work (self-awareness, knowing our values and talents, and exploring how we use ourselves to make a difference) can lead to happiness.

I’ve also seen the research that shows we each come into the world with a set-point, or our natural genetic tendency to be happy.  And, I am no Pollyanna; I understand that we can only work with what we have been given.  But if you could be as happy as it is humanly possible for you to be, wouldn’t you choose that over the alternative?

Clearly it is easier to be happy when life is treating you kindly, and based on the research, it also helps if you are more aware of who you are and what you have to offer so that the external world can invite you to the party.  I will also agree that it is hard to be happy when shame and doubt get between you and your full potential.

“Feeling good” and living the “good life” requires our full attention as we spin around the dance floor to the music of life; easy listening, then an up-tempo celebration, and next a tragic opera.

There is a natural cycle to all things.  I recall that what goes up, must come down, and vice-versa. This too shall pass, becomes my mantra, and it helps me remember that all things must come to an end; both what I perceive as good and bad.  If I let my happiness become dependent on that which I don’t control, I may grow weary of the dance.

I interpret both Diener and Seligman’s definition of happiness as more a function of what happens on the inside, than some external circumstance that brings me fleeting moments of pleasure. I have to do my internal work as the price for maximizing what happiness is possible for me.  But what does that mean in terms of society’s responsibility for the happiness of others?  Why is this topic relevant to where we work?

When we cultivate happiness in the workplace the value to the organization is: higher quality of work, greater creativity, increased productivity, and an increased likelihood to be more cooperative.  It’s true that each individual is accountable for his or her own happiness.  But here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can support others to be happier at work. We can teach Managers:

  • how to lead and inspire team members to be the best version of themselves.
  • that the role of Leader is to unleash personal values, talent, vision, and purpose and that this type of coaching inspires, aligns, and engages teams.
  • to listen as much as they talk.
  • to balance feeling with thinking.
  • that people contribute more when they feel empowered.
  • to remember what drives each of us is our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I would love to hear from you. Let me know what you would add to the list of how we can increase happiness at work.

If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
HighResolution_Warnke_ DebSiverson20121208-9332-EditDeb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.