Influencing Happiness

I recently wrote that 90 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way our brain processes the world (More Happiness Matters).  What this suggest is that while there are many programs, policies and practices that undoubtedly have some impact on happiness of people at work, overwhelmingly each individual’s ability or tendency to perceive circumstances positively matters the most.  There is good news for the ‘negative nellies’ of the world – science is showing that we can rewire our brain, allowing it to work more optimistically and therefore successfully.

Why does this matter? 75 percent of job successes are shown to be predicted by optimism, social support and someone’s ability to see stress as a challenge not a threat.  With optimism research shows that intelligence, creativity, and energy levels also rise.  Therefore, if we truly want to leverage the full potential of teams, influencing the happiness of people becomes central to the role of leadership.  If 90 percent of happiness comes from the way our minds works, supporting the development of thinking and feeling skills in others becomes an important priority for all leaders.

Our fears, judgments, beliefs and assumptions act as filters through which we perceive the world and make decisions. One of the greatest challenges for leaders is created because people don’t always understand these filters are in play or the power they have to remove them. Once we are aware, changing our thinking and developing our emotional capabilities can be confronting and challenging.  For many this takes years of work including deep personal reflection and honest self-appraisal that is most often successful when supported by a trusted advisor and mentor.

The most important things a leader can do to influence someone’s happiness through how they think or feel are:

Build both trust and respect

  • No one wants to be told how to feel by someone they don’t trust AND respect e.g.  “you know what you’re talking about and I feel safe with you”

Encourage people to take ownership for their own happiness; help them to understand:

  • We each have the power to choose how we feel
  • No one has the power to upset us unless we let them through the choices we make about how we feel

Build awareness of the filters through which people see the world; help them to understand:

  • The impact filters have on the decisions we make and actions we take
  • Success is relative to our own expectations; if we keep moving the target we will never reach the end where we perceive happiness to be waiting

Be the mirror on the wall; whenever needed to positively influence their happiness

  • Present the truth; denial can keep people from removing the barriers to happiness
  • Challenge perceptions, beliefs and assumptions; our perceptions are our reality, if we can change the perception the reality will follow
  • Question judgments and decisions; challenge them to move misconception and unconscious biases
  • Offer alternative perspectives

Share your wisdom

  • Permit access to the insights gained and lessons learned that have influenced your own happiness
  • Provide evidence gained through experience
  • Suggest the questions to ask themselves and others

Encourage people to have and act on faith in themselves

  • Faith that they are able to succeed is an important ingredient to helping people step out of their comfort zone and have a go at doing something in a different way.
  • Sometimes it’s the faith that they will be OK even if they fail that people need to enable them to move forward and change

Encourage the use of writing affirmations and journaling

  • Two ways to rewire thinking by reinforcing perceptions you want the brain to hold true

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