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Be Happy. Or Else.

This time they’ve gone too far. Our managers not only want us to be productive, and inventive and loyal and work until we drop, they also want us to be happy.

Yes, happy.

If you think the reason our overlords want us to be happy is because we’ll feel better, think again. Thanks to recent research, it is now generally accepted that happy employees are “producing more, are more resilient to setbacks, have less burnout, less turnover and are more successful.”

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Or so says Shawn Anchor, a former Harvard lecturer and researcher who currently teaches at the Wharton Business School. When not spreading the gospel of happiness to the eggheads at Wharton, Anchor has written a book, “The Happiness Advantage.”

I learned about the happy man and his happy book from an article by Angie Herbers titled “Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Your Business Will Thank You.” The article, I must report, did not make me happy. Where Herbers found joy in research that shows “happy people are more energetic, productive, healthier and, well, happier,” I was wracked with despair thinking of how this conclusion, true or not, is going to make miserable jobs even more miserable.

The seminal research on which happiness theory relies is a 1930s study of nuns. The results showed that 15 percent of the least happy nuns lived to age 94, while 54 percent of the happy nuns reached that age. (In case you are wondering, nuns make ideal study subjects, “because they live in a very controlled environment and you don’t have to pay them much.” As someone who works in a controlled environment and is not paid very much, I’m sure you can empathize.)

Since the good old days when nuns were guinea pigs for happiness studies, modern researchers have confirmed that “when we are happy our brains perform significantly better — intelligence increases, creativity increases, energy levels increase — than when we are unhappy, neutral or stressed.” This is all very nice to know, but it still leaves unanswered a basic question — how do we get happy?

Apparently, it’s easier than we thought.

The first step to happiness, author Anchor suggests, is to reverse our view of the “success/happiness formula.” Right now, foolish unhappy people like you still cling to the belief that we’d be happy “if we were only more successful — make more money, get a promotion, a better car, a big house. And it’s true. We will be — but only for a little while. Then our brains will reset our success bar — a better job, even more money, a bigger house, etc. — and we’re back to being unhappy again.”

The conclusion here is obvious. You need to thank your boss for paying you a salary so meager you will never get a better car, a bigger house or any other symbol of success. So, you’ll never have to reset your success bar. Which will give you more time at the corner bar, bemoaning your misery.

Anchor believes there are five steps to happiness. Step No. 1 is called the “three gratitudes.” At the end of every day, think of three things for which you are grateful. Let’s try it now. Since the day is not over, let’s go for one gratitude. Take your time; I’ll wait here.

Nothing, huh? Well, let’s skip Step No. 1. Then you can feel grateful that you don’t have to think of anything to feel grateful about.

Step No. 2 is journaling. You’re supposed to write down one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. Right! We’ll skip Step No. 2, too.

Step No. 3 you can definitely handle — 10 minutes of physical exertion each day. I think we can agree that your frantic hunt for the TV remote control every night more than qualifies.

Step No. 4 is meditation, which Anchor defines as “at least two minutes of just sitting quietly.” This will be easy for you, as you often spend whole weeks at work “just sitting quietly.”

Step No. 5 requires performing a “random act of kindness.” Anchor “suggests something simple, such as one kind email to one of your friends every day.” Assuming you have 25 friends, this isn’t efficient. How about sending 25 emails to one friend every day?

Or, if you really want to be random and kind, how about sending me a check. You can do it every day. If it doesn’t make you happy, I can promise that I’ll be delirious.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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