Over the last ten years, there’s been a growing obsession with happiness. From Derren Brown to Fearne Cotton, everyone has suddenly become an expert (FYI - we’ve been researching and delivering science-backed happiness interventions long before the current wave of newbies – still the original, still the best).
Of course, it’s understandable why there’s so much interest. Happiness is arguably the most sought-after human state. This obsession has grown in tandem with social media, resulting in a rise in happiness signalling, in which people display representations of their happiness for clicks and likes. Here I am living my best life on Instagram, with an aesthetically pleasing milkshake, all day, all the time!
Far from being inspirational, this fixation with happiness signalling creates the illusion that 24/7 happiness is possible and is being experienced by others. If we follow that logic, it then means we’re failing in some way if we’re unhappy. Hankering after unattainable, never-ending happiness is unhealthy and even toxic. Call it toxic happiness if you will.
This projection of total happiness at all costs minimizes and ignores painful feelings. It gives more false positives than a batch of out-of-date lateral flow tests. It invalidates real experiences and denies basic human emotions. Toxic happiness stifles feelings that deserve attention and compassion, damaging relationships.
It’s shaming and blaming, sending a subtle but clear message that there’s no space for pain. If you’re not happy, you’re just not trying hard enough. It can leave people feeling alone and isolated, making things worse.
So what is real happiness? In organisations, how do we support happy cultures and people, especially when you factor in the idea that teams are increasingly virtual?
Psychologists suggest that feeling understood and included is one of the most important things that impact an individual’s happiness. Feeling understood provides a sense of belonging and lets people know that a team respects and appreciates their individual differences.
This becomes increasingly important for women, minorities, and people from the LGBTQ+ community, who are typically not as well-represented on teams, especially at senior levels. Inclusion creates trust, belonging, happiness, bonding and better engagement and productivity.
According to a Deloitte survey, a 10% increase in the perception of inclusion improves absenteeism, adding nearly one day a year in work attendance per employee.
Belonging is influenced by three main factors: environment, values and appreciation.
Environmental cues tell us whether we fit in or not. Studies show, for example, that children perform better in exams when they have cues around them linking to things such as family or culture.
Cues work in virtual environments as well as real-world settings. In a virtual setting, they can be in the form of gadgets and icons used online. In real-world settings, environmental cues can take the form of family photos on desks.
Studies show when people have a place of work where they feel they can add their own stuff, they get on better and are more productive. However, personal cues can be harder to encourage when an organisation uses hot-desking.
Values are an important aspect of inclusion and belonging because they create a culture everyone can connect with. This works in a virtual world too. An organisation should take opportunities to discuss and display its values and should constantly interrogate its own behaviours to ensure it is living its values.
It should ask questions such as ‘are we living our values in a bold way?’ and if not, how can we be bolder? Recognising when someone has behaved in a way that amplifies the values is a good way of promoting belonging.
An organisation’s values do not necessarily have to align with the values of every worker – in large organisations with diverse workforces that would be impossible - but if people understand the company values, they gain a sense of connection.
Finally, appreciation creates belonging. Primarily this is done by recognising accomplishments. According to research by LinkedIn, recognition of achievements was one of the top contributors to a sense of belonging and happiness. This is obvious when you think about it. Being appreciated or recognised asserts that a good job is being done and creates social acceptance.
Inclusion is created when the effort is made to understand others and their needs, with the main factors being understanding, celebrating difference and mindful decision making.
Happy cultures take effort, commitment and thoughtfulness, but introducing the elements listed above is not expensive and does not involve large-scale change. Together they make an impact and create realistic happiness.
Start with inclusion and belonging as a foundation to build everything else on, and watch outcomes improve on every level.
If you’d like more support to create a more inclusive culture in your organisation, why not come along to our HappIness with a Capital I webinar? It’s completely free and will give you lots of new strategies to try.
Tags: happiness and engagement, inclusion and diversity