Happy New Year pioneer!
It’s Bee here.
Back when we started The Pioneers, many moons ago in 2013, one of our big sources of inspiration was the Positive Psychology movement. We wanted to make people happier at work so getting a better understanding of what happiness really is seemed like a reasonable investment of our time and effort.
We’d hoover up books on the subject. Books like Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, to name just a few. While useful for applying the ideas in the context of what we do at The Pioneers, I also found these books personally enriching. They changed my perspective on how I should be spending my time, the areas of my life I ought to invest in and what I should be grateful for.
We’re two weeks in to 2021 and I’ve found myself in desperate need of being reminded of the lessons I learned then. The destruction COVID is causing, the restrictions on daily life, the limited daylight and pregnancy hormones(!) have all collided to create a perfect storm I’m calling “Bleurgh”! I know I’m not alone in experiencing these feelings, in fact nearly everyone I speak to is finding the start of 2021 a bit of a challenge.
So for this week I’ve wrestled control of the newsletter from Matt and my plan is to focus on happiness and wellbeing because I figured we could all use a little bit of that right now…
What is happiness anyway?
Most people say they want to be happy. Far fewer would be able to give you a succinct answer on what happiness really is. It’s easy to find ourselves chasing short term bursts of joy in an effort to bring more happiness into our lives. In my view corporate wellbeing initiatives often fall into this trap – offering up a smorgasbord of perks in an attempt to improve employee wellbeing. My issue isn’t so much with the perks themselves, more that if no attempt’s been made by an individual to understand what happiness really is, and in particular what’s likely to make them truly happy over the longer term, then the perks will only ever act as a sticking plaster.
In 1998 Martin Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association. While holding this post he changed the agenda for the field of psychology – encouraging practitioners to switch from looking at the mind through the lens of a disease model to exploring ways in which psychologists could help people to flourish. He is now widely credited as being the ‘Father of Positive Psychology’.
In his 2004 TED Talk, Seligman takes us on a journey to better understanding happiness. He shares why the happiest people are extremely social (no wonder lockdowns are taking a mental toll!) and the three kinds of happy life we might try to pursue: the pleasant life (one full of positive emotions); the good life (one full of eudaimonia – a sense of flow and engagement); and the meaningful life.
If you’re interested in the science of happiness, this is a must watch. As an added bonus Seligman shares some exercises you might like to try to bring a longer lasting feeling of ‘happiness’ into your life.
It’s not what you know, it’s what you do…
While I believe that developing our understanding of happiness helps us work towards leading happier lives, sometimes we need a bit of short term focus on our wellbeing. That’s been me this past week.
There’s no shortage of wellbeing advice out there… volunteer to help others, exercise regularly, be mindful, set goals, take up a new hobby, become part of a community etc. In the past when I’ve needed a mental boost, I’ve played the exercise card. Going for a run outside or jumping into the Serpentine for a swim have long been my regular sources of endorphins and fail safe pick me ups when my mood’s been low. The combination of lockdown and pregnancy has put a severe dent in my exercise deck of cards and I’ve found myself needing to form new wellbeing habits.
The challenge I face, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, is not the lack of available advice, it’s actually doing something with this knowledge. So on Monday I signed up to Action for Happiness’s ‘10 Days of Happiness‘ programme.
I’ve not discovered the silver bullet to everlasting happiness but everyday I have been prompted to do one thing that’s likely to improve my mood. It’s simple but effective and while the prompts themselves are grounded in good happiness science, the thing that really makes it work is how it starts to encourage new habits to form. If you’re in need of a boost this January, give it a go!
Laughter is the best medicine
It feels like this newsletter, despite being about happiness, has all been terribly serious thus far.
That’s better now we’ve all had a chuckle and I’ve learnt some parenting tips at the same time. Smashing. It also brings me to the last point I’d like to make…
I was on a sales call last week and the COO of a rapidly scaling business was telling us his story. He had an impressive CV with success stories from numerous companies he’d previously played a role in helping to scale. He’d enjoyed all his jobs but he said one thing really stood out for him at the company he was now part of – he laughs everyday.
Laughing not only makes us feel good, it also helps us form social bonds. If you want to know more about why we laugh and why laughter matters so much, look up the work of cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott.
This COO’s comment about laughing everyday, reminded me of another pioneering company – Menlo Innovations – where they’ve made it their mission to ‘restore joy and end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology’. How they go about restoring joy is the subject of a book by Co-founder and CEO Richard Sheridan called Joy, Inc. For the abridged version you can read this review by Leigh Buchanan.
Laughing and experiencing joy at work shouldn’t be a nice to have – it’s fundamental to our nature and success as human beings. I’m excited about creating more workplaces where joy and laughter feature everyday. And the great thing about laughter is that, unlike COVID, it can spread like a contagion down phone lines and across conference calls so there’s nothing stopping us from spreading a little more laughter right now.
Just for fun, I highly recommend you take a minute out of your day to join the 42 million other people who’ve watched this YouTube clip (apologies for the swearing!).
I’m feeling much better having spent some time pulling this newsletter together so I owe you a thank you for giving me an excuse to indulge in revisiting happiness research this week. I hope you’ve also found some inspiration in what I’ve shared. And if all else fails on the wellbeing front, you can always try your hand at guided sheep meditation.
Wishing you all much happiness in 2021…
Founder and victim of YouTube’s algorithmic promotion of contagious laughter videos at The Pioneers