Blogs, books, and podcasts tell us that to live a good life, we have to “find our happy,” “follow our bliss,” and “be positive.”
And yet, despite these exhortations, many of us still aren’t quite sure what happiness really is—or how to experience it more often.
I’ve been a therapist for five years, specializing in PTSD and trauma resolution, and have worked with hundreds of clients struggling with anxiety, depression, and trauma.
Here’s what I’ve learned about happiness and how to cultivate it at home and in the workplace.
What’s a useful way to define happiness?
We often think of happiness as synonymous with simply feeling good. Happiness is seen as the opposite of sadness, a state that we experience when things are going our way.
But according to positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, experiencing positive emotions is only part of what constitutes being happy.
“[Happiness] has two components. The first component is that it involves the experience of positive emotion. Joy, contentment, affection, interest, love. Happier people have more positive emotions and less frequent negative emotions.”
But that’s not enough, says Lyubomirksy. Someone could feel a lot of positive feelings but still not feel happy. “The second component is having a sense of satisfaction with your life, being happy with your life, being content with the way you’re progressing towards your life goals.”
How can we feel happy more of the time?
Lyubomirsky defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive wellbeing, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Thus, experiencing more happiness requires both positive emotion and a sense of purpose.
Feeling positive emotion
Let’s start with positive emotion. What helps you feel joyful or content? It’s different for each of us. You know what makes you feel good, whether it’s spending time with your partner, kids, or pets, being in nature, or learning something new.
It’s long been thought that only experiences, not material goods, generate long-lasting positive emotion. However, research in the last decade is conflicting. For some, material goods can bring more frequent happiness over time.
As a therapist, I still recommend focusing on the internal, not the external, when you’re finding ways to generate positive emotions. At the end of the day, relying on material goods for happiness, such as buying a bigger house or faster car, leaves us vulnerable to extrinsic factors we can’t control. Today’s economy is a perfect example of this.
Experiencing a greater sense of purpose
Now, let’s look at the second component of happiness: purpose, or the sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.
What is your passion? What motivates or drives you? What makes you feel good inside? Awareness of these things can keep us not only happy, but also steady and focused.
If you’re struggling with finding your purpose, know that having a growth mindset, practicing gratitude, and giving back to your community can all help create meaning in your life.
Increasing employee happiness leads to greater retention
Finding happiness at work is equally important, and not just because we want to feel good during the day. People who hate their jobs suffer from more stress and often have higher rates of illness.
Plus, workers who are unhappy are 4.6 times more likely to begin job searching and/or leave their current employer within six months. In contrast, research shows that happy employees are more productive than unhappy ones.
What can organizations do to boost happiness in the workplace?
First, make sure that every member of the organization understands the mission and purpose. This builds a sense of community and pride (and happiness). Help employees see that their work has meaning, and they are contributing to a higher purpose for the greater good.
Second, maintain consistent and equitable standards and ethics across the team. This sends a positive message to team members, and can help boost morale, camaraderie, and happiness. Ensuring that leaders in the organization operate with integrity, fairness, and forthrightness can also have an impact.
Finally, show that employees are appreciated, respected, and valued. Research shows that inclusivity is also important: 81% of employees who work in an inclusive culture report feeling happy in their roles.
Happiness can affect immunity, creativity, and productivity
A meta-analysis of 339 independent studies found “a strong, positive correlation between employee wellbeing, productivity, and a firm’s performance.”
Our research has shown that investing in a mental health solution results in 25% fewer days missed, a 24% increase in productivity, and employees who are 50% less likely to leave their job.
6 (more) ways to feel happier at work
Consider sharing this list with your employees via email, social, or during meetings—and lead by example, putting these into practice in your own life as well.
1. Spend time outside. Studies show that being in nature increases our happiness and our sense of purpose.
2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being aware of and sitting in the present moment. Close your eyes and think of three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can feel in that moment. Mindfulness can be as simple as that.
3. Be “prosocial.” Research shows that “prosocial” behaviors, such as volunteering, donating, and even writing thank you notes, help us create meaning.
Do something nice for someone. For example, drop a piece of candy on a coworker’s desk, or send them a kind and thoughtful note.
4. Establish a growth and curiosity mindset. Employees with dual-growth mindsets—those who view both themselves and their jobs as malleable—experience more happiness. Get comfortable with imperfection, embrace challenges, and commit to ongoing learning.
5. Engage in gratitude. According to one study, simply writing about the things you are grateful for can help you feel happier about your life, visit the doctor less frequently, and exercise more.
6. Take care of your mental health. Utilize your company’s EAP, especially if counseling or therapy is a part of those benefits. Therapy can help you challenge and reframe negative thoughts.
Read this blog next to dive into ways you can help your employees boost their resilience, ultimately creating a stronger and healthier workplace.