Edit ModuleShow Tags

The happiness factor

(The first of two parts)

Remember the old saying in business, "You get what you measure?"

There are powerful implications in our society for exploring what is being created by what we are measuring.

Spend some time today looking - really looking - at the people around you. What do you observe? Can you see how most adults are stressed, frustrated, worried, over-scheduled and in personal conflict about what others think? Notice the amount of smiling, laughter, relaxation, creativity or personal connection you observe and personally experience. Unless you are in a daycare center or an unusual workplace, the scale will tip heavy on the stress side.

Our current economic crisis is as much a symptom of this stress as a cause of it. The laws of physics demand that all systems return to equilibrium. The very concerns people are stressed about - security, status, belonging - are part of that correction. For many, that means returning to a much simpler lifestyle.

A friend was recently sharing the power of a recent four-week visit to orphanages in Bangladesh. Her biggest surprise? In one of the poorest countries on the planet, the people she encountered at the orphanages were the happiest of any she has ever met in her world travels. She described them as "glowing, lit up, willing to do whatever is asked and grateful for whatever is given."

This anecdote illustrates a powerful concept: What do they measure success by at these orphanages in Bangladesh? Is our culture, with its privilege, material wealth and comfort, measuring success with the right yardstick? Why do studies show American's wealth has tripled on average since 1950, but happiness has not increased?

Gross domestic product (GDP) or gross domestic income (GDI) is a basic measure of a country's overall economic performance. It is the market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of a country in a year. Here is the World Bank's ranking of GDP for 2008:

1. United States

2. Japan

3. China

4. Germany

5 France

6. United Kingdom

61. Bangladesh

In the United States, the value of goods and services grew 15-fold between 1947 and 2008. Even accounting for inflation, the U.S. can count itself bountiful in massively successful growth. At the same time, happiness as measured by worker productivity and satisfaction is at an all-time low. But there are some easy ways to create more happiness at work - things you can do right now at no cost, from Chief Happiness Officer by Alexander Kjerulf: 

• Praise - praising people takes no time and costs no money
• Listen - give your employees a chance to speak and listen to them
• Tell the good stories - start every department or group meeting with sharing good stories 

 By defining ourselves primarily by how much we earn, spend, and own, what becomes of pursuits of aesthetic pleasures that have nothing to do with those definitions? Activities like reading poetry. Taking a painting class. Sitting on the porch shooting the breeze with a neighbor with no thought of "how long do I have?" Playing in the park. Cooking a real meal. Taking real vacations without email. The answer is these activities become a set of "work-life balance" choices fraught with strange tension, rather than a natural part of our life.

Too often, non-industrialized nations and lesser countries are viewed as "under-privileged" and we feel concern about how to help them become more competitive in a global marketplace. We concern ourselves with how to keep up with China's insatiable appetite for consumer goods with its commensurate growth in GDP (which experts predict will be the largest economy in the world by 2050).

The reality is that money equals power. It will always be an important element of the scorecard for defining success and progress. But as my friend who visited Bangladesh can testify, money is not an essential ingredient of happiness - attitude is. This explains also why Americans happiness has not increased while wealth - and access to unbelievable resources - has.

{pagebreak:Page 1}


Edit Module
Lisa Jackson

Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert on assessing, defining, and improving culture's impact on business performance, especially during mergers and strategy shifts. Look for her new book "Fit to Compete: 9 Truths for Transforming Corporate Culture" this fall or visit her on the web at http://www.jacksonandschmidt.com.


Get more of our current issue | Subscribe to the magazine | Get our Free e-newsletter

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Articles

Why do so many millennials live in their parents' basement?

As a result of watching the value of their parents’ home drop drastically during the 2008-2009 housing bubble, Millennials have grown wary of homeownership.

The woman behind Denver's community workspace movement

Before Ellen Winkler made a name for herself in Denver, shaping work spaces, she started her career on construction sites in New York City.

Thinking of working for a founder? Read this first!

The founder — someone who birthed several companies but never got any of them to profitability — has turned from “The Creative One” (he developed the first product) to “The Critical One,” now more boat anchor than cheerleader.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Thanks for contributing to our community-- please keep your comments in good taste and appropriate for our business professional readers.

Add your comment: