In the Beginning was the H Word

Who’s This Book For?

What’s Its Underlying Approach?

What Was My Aim?

What’s It All About?

What Are the Case Studies?

Who Are the Interviewees?

And Finally … How Happy Are You?


1: Why Happiness at Work? Why Now?

It Started for Me When …

Why Happiness at Work Matters

What Is Happiness at Work?

Happiness at Work: A Definition

Now’s the Time for a New Approach

Understanding Real Value

Myth 1: Financial Capital Is All That Counts

Myth 2: Happiness is Job Satisfaction or Engagement in Another Guise

Myth 3: You’re Born Happy or Sad and There’s Nothing You Can Do

Are You Leading the Life You Choose or Managing the One You’ve Got?

2: The Research Journey

The Initial Seeds

First of All, Focus Groups …

… Then One-to-One Interviews

And Hey Presto, the First Set of Findings

The Cold Hard Truth

Lose It or Use It

Building the Next Steps

Developing Outcome Measures

Launching the First iOpener People and Performance Questionnaire: The iPPQ

The 5Cs

And the Happiness–Productivity Link

Ten Top Findings That Really Matter

Concluding the End of the Beginning

3: Contribution from the Inside-Out

Introduction to Contribution

Contribution: Inside-Out and Outside-In

Achieving Your Goals

Having Clear Objectives

Raising Issues That Are Important to You

Feeling Secure in Your Job

Conclusion to the Four Inside-Out Elements

4: Contribution from the Outside-In


Being Listened To

Receiving Positive Feedback

Feeling Appreciated at Work

Being Respected by Your Boss

Concluding the Outside-In Elements

Concluding Contribution

5: Conviction

Introduction to Conviction

Being Motivated

Believing You’re Efficient and Effective

Feeling Resilient When Times Are Tough

Perceiving That Your Work Has a Positive Impact on the World

Concluding Conviction

6: Culture

Introduction to Culture

Identifying Culture

Understanding Cultural Preference

Understanding the Elements of Culture

Relishing Your Job

Liking Your Colleagues

Appreciating the Values Your Organization Stands For

Having a Fair Ethos at Work

Being in Control of Your Daily Activities

Concluding Culture

7: Commitment

Introduction to Commitment

The Elements of Commitment

Doing Something Worthwhile

Being Interested in Your Job

Believing in the Vision of Your Organization

Feeling Strong Bursts of Positive Emotion

Concluding Commitment

8: Confidence

Introduction to Confidence

What Does Confidence Consist Of?

The Effects of Lack of Confidence …

… and Excessive Confidence

Getting Things Done

Having High Self-Belief

Understanding Your Role Backwards and Forwards

Concluding Confidence

9: Pride, Trust, and Recognition

Introduction to Pride, Trust, and Recognition

How Pride and Trust Work Together But Recognition is Separate

What is Pride?

Trust in Your Organization

Recognition for Your Achievements

Concluding Pride, Trust, and Recognition

10: Achieving Your Potential

Introduction to Achieving Your Potential

Feeling Energized

Using Your Strengths

Using Your Skills

Learning New Skills

Overcoming Challenges at Work

Concluding Achieving Your Potential

Happiness at Work A Conclusion

What Next?


1 Why Happiness at Work? Why Now?

2 The Research Journey

3 Contribution from the Inside-Out

4 Contribution from the Outside-In

5 Conviction

6 Culture

7 Commitment

8 Confidence

9 Pride, Trust, and Recognition

10 Achieving Your Potential

Happiness at Work: A Conclusion

Dramatis Personae


Praise for Happiness at Work

“Jessica Pryce-Jones establishes happiness as more than a fleeting feeling; she argues that it is a critical resource for successful work and a good life. She brings her years of experience to bear on this important topic and provides practical tools for achieving more happiness at work. The book is wonderfully written.”

Robert Biswas-Diener, author of Positive Psychology Coaching

“We all want to be happy in every area of our lives, including work. This book offers the secret of finding happiness at work for us all, which in turn helps us to experience a more meaningful and healthy life.”

Lynne Franks, businesswoman and author of The Seed Handbook

“Illustrated with fascinating and diverse interviews, this book is understandable and easy to read. Jess Pryce-Jones has definitely created a great guide for anyone who wants to improve their working life.”

Cathy L. Greenberg, PhD, New York Times Best Selling author of What Happy Working Mothers Know, and Managing Partner of h2c Happy Companies Healthy People

For David, Jack, Harry, and Kitty – with love and thanks




In the Beginning was the H Word

I am in a wood-paneled boardroom of a large multinational waiting to make a pitch. The coffee’s delicious but I can’t swallow a single mouthful: I’m too nervous. I’m waiting for the Chief Executive Officer and his acolytes to appear. They’re late. My stomach lurches as I anticipate having to use the “H” word. It just feels too New-Agey to associate with the hardnumbered world of business.

Right now I know that the easier option facing me would be to talk about morale. But I also know both from my experience and our research that morale is not the right word for the issue we’re there to address.

My mind flashes back to lots of conversations with executives, friends, and acquaintances, several of whom had roared with laughter when we’d talked about what we were doing. I’ll never forget one Senior Vice-President putting his arm around my shoulder in a bar and saying condescendingly, “It will never catch on – don’t waste your time, sweetie. It’s a joke, an idea without a future.”

Across the polished table the executives are now waiting. I take a deep breath and, going with it, I say, “We’re here today to talk about happiness. Happiness at work.” The words sound so flaky: “happy clappy” and “happy hippy” ping into my mind even though the numbers tell their own powerful story. I explain how people who are really happy at work are nearly twice as productive as those who are not, and what that might mean for this organization.

I glance at one of my colleagues nodding with encouragement. No-one else is. Everyone is polite but non-committal as I end my pitch. And then the CEO asks everyone to leave but indicates that I should stay behind. The palms of my hands start to sweat gently and I’m expecting an ear-bashing for wasting his time. I try to breathe deeply and marshal my thoughts. I think to myself, “I’ll just be polite and pretend to scribble down some comments he makes.”

The heavy mahogany door shuts behind the last person and I am completely gobsmacked as he says, “When you said that word, ‘happiness,’ it really resonated with me. I’m so unhappy in my job, I hate what I do and I can barely bring myself to come in every day. Every time I see my Chairman I think about resigning. I really need to talk to you about all this.”

This was the first sign that happiness mattered as a concept to be talked about in boardrooms, even when times were good. If he got it, offices, institutions, and businesses everywhere would too.

That was the start of the journey. You are the next part.

Who’s This Book For?

This book is for you. If you’ve picked it up, maybe you’d like things to be better in some way at work. Perhaps you’re looking for a starting point. Or wondering about a change of direction. It’s written for you whatever kind of job you’re in, and whatever level of seniority you’re at. And it will help you if you are supporting other people who are not happy at work.

Reading this will tell you what happiness at work is, why it matters, and how you go about getting more of it. Plus it will explain what that means in terms of what we call psychological capital.

What’s Its Underlying Approach?

The fundamental point of being happy at work is to enable you to achieve your full potential and to make the most of the highs and manage the lows on the way. There are some basic principles on which this book is based:

What Was My Aim?

I wanted to write something based in recent research but that’s practical and accessible too. Often research psychology takes 10–20 years to become mainstream, by which time things have changed and it’s not as useful as it could have been. This book is based on up-to-the-minute findings, including ours.

It’s written in a way that should work for any reader, whether you like to dip in and out, read end-to-end, or want to flick through for the stories and case studies. If you like lots of facts and references, you’ll find the sources all in the back.

What’s It All About?

Chapter 1 sets the scene with some key research findings; Chapter 2 outlines what we set out to do and explains the research journey; Chapters 3–8 tell you about the core of happiness at work – what we call the five components, or 5Cs: Contribution, Conviction, Culture, Commitment, and Confidence. Pride, Trust, and Recognition underpin all the 5Cs and you’ll read about them in Chapter 9. Chapter 10 investigates achieving your potential.

You’ll have noticed already that I’m using capital letters to describe, for example, each of the 5Cs. This is to highlight the fact that when I use these terms I’m using them not in a lay sense but specifically in the context of happiness at work interpreted through our research. So if you read them and think, “That’s not precisely what I understand that word to mean,” I’d agree with you. Meanwhile, in terms of happiness at work, I hope you’ll agree with me.

What Are the Case Studies?

Chapters 3–8 contain mini-case studies to illustrate issues and how they play out in the real world. These case studies are real, come from our consulting and coaching practice, and, although identities are altered and businesses changed, they illustrate issues that we have helped others work through.

Who Are the Interviewees?

Over 80 people were interviewed for this book; from lawyers through to lamas their stories, observations, and experience will give you deeper insights than I ever could. For a little more about them take a look at the dramatis personae at the end.

And Finally … How Happy Are You?

If you would like to find out exactly how happy you are at work before you start reading this book, complete our questionnaire by going to Within 24 hours you’ll have received your free report.

I hope you enjoy what you read and, most importantly, that it enables you to be happier at work.

Jessica Pryce-Jones
Oxford, October 2009


First I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my interviewees. It was a real privilege and a delight talking to all of them. Diane Scott, Barbara Fölscher, Kalpana Morris, Gulrez and Sarah Arshad, Nathaniel de Rothschild, Zvi Limon, and Boaz Keysar and Linda Ginzel variously opened their homes, contact books, and many doors for me: this book would have been very different without their help.

Stephan Chambers at Oxford (Saïd) Business School helped me move the project from an idea into a proposal; Claire Andrews’s patient and supportive guidance saw it to fruition. Antony Read at Jaine J Brent Personal Management and Casting as well as Andy Peart, my agent and publisher, need a particular mention for taking me on; so does Brigitle Lee Messenger for holding my hand through the production process.

Meanwhile at iOpener, Julia Lindsay and David Solomon were wonderful listeners, thought clarifiers, and debaters. Dr. Laurel Edmunds, Simon Lutterbie, and Lucia Nyiriova crunched the numbers and helped me stay on track; Philippa Chapman, Melissa Sharp, Diane Lytollis, Ben Woodgates and Ian Hitchcock found time to offer invaluable input and help.

Nisha Pillai and Andrew Robshaw gave me really useful feedback especially in the early stages; Michael Gilson helped with reference checking at the end. I am also immensely grateful to Ciaron Murphy and Alan Kemp, both of whom sharpened up my thinking at exactly the right moments.

I’d also like to thank friends and colleagues at London Business School over many years, especially Michael Hay, Lynn Hoffman, JoEllyn Prouty McLaren, Mike Nowlis, and Lorraine Vaun Davis. Test-driving ideas on participants and students has been more helpful than they’ll ever know.

I do want to make one thing plain: although this book was a big collaborative effort, any mistakes are of course mine and mine alone.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate this to my husband David and children Jack, Harry, and Kitty: without your love, teasing, cooking, and back-up I’d still be stuck in the prologue.


Why Happiness at Work? Why Now?

It Started for Me When …

I was in my early twenties and I’d landed what I thought was a dream job. An interesting financial institution, well-paid and in a prestigious location.

I hated every minute of it.

As I walked up the marble staircase on the first day, I knew I should have been excited. Thrilled to be there, expecting to grab the world and launch a successful career. But my head, heart, and guts were all screaming that I was doing the wrong thing.

Every day my stomach lurched with the dread of going into work. My office was located in a small basement with no windows. My boss didn’t know what he wanted and would tell me to do something only to contradict himself a few hours later. One day his boss sent us all a memo which said, “When I come out of my office I expect to see your heads bent. When your heads are bent you’re working and when they are not, you’re not. This is not a holiday camp.” For the 11 months that I lasted in that role, I was miserable.

My unhappiness at work spilt over into my personal life too. I was permanently exhausted and moody. One day trying to keep a cool head, I went for a run at lunchtime. As I pounded round the square under the lime trees, this thought popped into my head. “I wonder if I could get a little bit run over by a bus? Because if I could get a little bit run over, I could take three weeks out and not have to be here.” Once I’d had that revelation I knew I had no option. I had to find something else to do.

Hunting for the next job, reality set in. I wondered if it was ever possible to achieve happiness at work. I’d had an education I hadn’t much enjoyed, so didn’t really see why a job should be any different. Then I thought about what it might be like to hate most of my daytime hours for the next 45 years of my life. It was too ghastly to contemplate.

But were my expectations unreasonable? Was it possible to be happy at work?

Why Happiness at Work Matters

If you’re not concerned about happiness at work, you should be. Because there are huge downsides when you don’t have it and upsides when you do: you know that without me telling you. If you’ve ever hated your job I’d put hot money that you knew what the negative effects were in terms of your effort, energy, and enthusiasm. But what about the upsides of being happy?

If you’re happy at work you:

This last benefit is a big one. The higher your happiness levels, the stronger your immune system. You’ll be less affected by stress hormones, develop 50 percent more antibodies to flu vaccines, be less likely to get heart disease, diabetes or have lung problems. In fact happiness looks as if it makes the same difference to your health as smoking or not smoking does. And that may add more than a decade to your overall life span.

And here’s what our research has found. When we compare the unhappiest and happiest people at work, we’ve found that if you’re really happy, you:

Too good to be true? Got it all back-to-front? Maybe you’re thinking that all these marvelous things lead to happiness at work. Not so. Happiness leads to all these positive outcomes, not the other way round.

Happiness pays especially when you’re under pressure. It’s a valuable resource which not only generates career success but differentiates you from your colleagues too.

Now you know why it’s so vital.

What Is Happiness at Work?

Philosophers, commentators, and religious leaders have been arguing for millennia about what happiness actually is. Is it an end in itself or a byproduct of what you do? Does it disappear if you focus on it? Is it part of who you are, what you do, or where you find yourself in life? Is it about the journey and the goal, as Aristotle says, or the high points on the way, as Epicureans argue? Or perhaps it’s using reasoning to overcome negative emotions like the Stoics believed? Maybe it’s the more Buddhist way of detaching and getting over it?

There’s one thing that happiness at work absolutely isn’t – as pop psychology has it. It isn’t about always smiling, thinking positively, or about being in a permanently sunny mood: that’s patently absurd. Nor does it work.

Based on our research as well as years of consulting and coaching inside large and small organizations, we’ve found that happiness at work can’t be tied to any one single approach. It incorporates everything I’ve just mentioned. And it’s not something you do on your own, you need others to help you achieve it.

It involves a mix of high moments accompanied by some low ones, a journey in which you grow and flourish, and at the same time overcome your negative emotions. And you can do that best when you use insight and reason to help you. Sometimes the tasks, resources, outcomes, and time-frames are clear and comfortable, sometimes they’re not. But the tough stuff results in learning. Because that’s when you have to struggle to perform at your best, or make a breakthrough in what you’re doing. So you extend yourself and fulfill your potential. It’s hard and takes time. But moving from struggle to success – and repeating that cycle – is how you grow, develop, and achieve more.

It’s how you become happy at work.

Happiness at Work: A Definition

Here’s what we think it is.

Happiness at work is a mindset which allows you to maximize performance and achieve your potential. You do this by being mindful of the highs and lows when working alone or with others.

There are three important points to this definition of happiness at work.

The first key to happiness at work is your approach and being aware of it. And that awareness needs to extend not just to the lows, which are obvious, but to the highs as well. Being mindful allows you to have perspective on a situation, which means you’ll manage it better.

Secondly, broadly speaking the “Western” cultural approach holds that life and work are all about the individual not the group, while the “Eastern” approach is exactly the opposite. Our definition of happiness focuses not only on the individual but also on their role within a group because that’s where most work takes place.

Thirdly, it’s important to recognize the “yin and yang” effect. Growth of any sort involves accepting that discomfort and difficulty are part of the process. Happiness at work doesn’t mean that you have to feel good 100 percent of the time. Or that you shouldn’t feel the usual negative emotions you do at work. Like anger, frustration, disappointment, failure, jealousy, or shock. Those are the emotions that will propel you to take different actions to get back on your happiness track. They’re not to be avoided but actively explored on your career journey. Just like the times when you feel so stretched that you aren’t sure how you’ll cope. Those are the moments that help you achieve your potential. The times that you look back at with a sense of accomplishment and achievement because you know you can deliver.

For example, I took part as an expert in a BBC TV series called “Making Slough Happy.” Our aim was to see if we could improve the happiness levels of a small industrial town just outside London. The town’s only claim to fame was that a well-known comedy, The Office, was filmed there.

It was an awful project to deliver. The hours were immensely long and the pressure to perform was huge. Not to mention the tension both on and off camera. Yet on the last day, filming at the huge festival that everyone taking part had organized, I was really pleased I’d done it. I’d experienced the fact that happiness is about stretching yourself to achieve your potential and you only do that by doing difficult things.

So do the highs matter? Of course they do. The moments when you make a breakthrough, have a brainwave, connect with someone, or simply experience a strong positive emotion are important. These are the internal signals that you’re doing the right thing. You’re on track. And if you don’t have enough of them, it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing. Right now. If you continue to put up with what you’ve always had, that’s what you’ll always get. And if we all do that, nothing will change.

And the world of work needs something different.

Now’s the Time for a New Approach

Over the past few years a plethora of happiness books has burst on to the market. Psychologists, philosophers, and even the Dalai Lama have been adding to the literature. And although many of them disagree about how to build happiness, everyone agrees it’s worth a go. But most of them were written when the world economy looked stable. When the money-go-round felt secure.

More recently confidence has been shaken and trust battered. Many of the global business values, theories, practices, and processes have been called into question. And more than ever leaders and employees are looking for answers to tough questions. Like: “What should our organization stand for?” “How do we reward employees?” “How do we find clarity in the complexity?” “What does sustainable mean in the largest sense?” “How do we build a future?” “What are we expecting from our people?”

The answers to these questions will shape the organizations that survive and thrive over the next decade and more. They’ll affect our working practice and the global economy as a result.

So how do we find the answers? We need to make a fundamental shift to work that brings together some of the key recent findings in organizational research, psychology, neurology, behavioral economics, psycholinguistics, and anthropology. To create new models, new practices, and a new approach.

To bring that about everyone’s got to be involved. Regardless of sector, nationality, product, service, role, or status. The only way to do this is to galvanize people around something that’s practical, that’s compelling for individuals as well as organizations, and that produces real results. Results of real and long-lasting value.

Understanding Real Value

All organizations talk about “added value” and look for ways to measure it too. But when you hear this term the only aspect that’s being addressed is the financial one. It’s part of what’s been an obsessive focus on share-holder value. I know that executive directors have a fiduciary duty to deliver this. But it’s idiotic to suppose that it’s a strategy: it’s not. It’s the outcome of a strategy.

By the way, looking for value beyond financial value isn’t new thinking. Frederick Taylor, one of the first and toughest of management consultants who founded the Efficiency Movement, in his 1912 testimony before US Congress cautioned against putting financial objectives at the heart of an organization’s mission and purpose. He believed that sound financial performance is the consequence of good business. When even Jack Welch, the former General Electric Chief Executive who ushered in the reign of share-holder value, thinks that “share-holder value is the dumbest idea in the world,” you know an era is under question.

Now of course capital matters. The question is what kind. Because the organizations and individuals who will be most successful over the next decade are people who’ll be actively pursuing a new sort of capital. The kind of capital that has been overlooked in the past which benefits the many, not just the few: psychological and social capital.

Myth 1: Financial Capital Is All That Counts

I’d like to be really clear about one thing. Financial value is crucial to every organization. But driving any workplace from this standpoint alone is putting the cart before the horse. Look at it in simple accounting terms. If you’ve ever read a set of accounts, you’ll know that goodwill is worth something. It’s an asset. But the goodwill that’s embedded within individuals and groups is also a valuable resource that needs to be accounted for too. And nurtured because it’s precious. Financial value is reduced or increased as a direct consequence of the relationships that individuals have with themselves and with others at work. Moreover, it’s something that every individual and their organization benefits from. People come first. For sound financial reasons: how they feel has a direct effect on the bottom line.

Here’s how it works.


Human capital

Human capital isn’t new; it’s a term that was coined by Adam Smith in 1776. What it refers to is an individual’s skills, talents, education, experience, and knowledge which in today’s economy need constant upgrading. Human capital is an essential component for delivering financial value because the sum of it enables any organization to deliver on its strategy. That means it’s important for every workplace to constantly think about how it manages its human capital.

But you can’t optimize human capital without two other things first. Social and psychological capital. Social capital leads people to want to be in a group and learn from it, while psychological capital gives them the wherewithal to do so.

Social capital

Social capital is a multilayered and dynamic concept that takes time to build. It consists of:

High social capital means you have shared values, goals, aims, and aspirations which in turn lead to common ways of thinking, understanding, and acting. You know it’s in place when you have good working relationships; that means you’ll be willing to take a risk within a group, commit yourself to its members, and in turn you can rely on them for their support. And they on you.

But you’ll only really contribute to that group when you have strong psychological capital.

Psychological capital

Psychological capital encompasses the mental resources that you build when things go well and draw on when things go badly. These resources include resilience, motivation, hope, optimism, self-belief, confidence, selfworth, and energy. All of which are key elements of happiness in a working context.

If you don’t have a high level of psychological capital because you aren’t happy at work, you’ll only be going through the motions.

Yet very few people are aware of this.

In doing over 80 interviews for this book, I’ve found only two people who knew the term psychological capital. However, I’m certain that within the next ten years everyone will be talking about, measuring, and managing it too. Because it makes such an enormous difference not only to how you feel, but also to what you do.

Despite the fact that standard economic theory takes no account of feelings, emotions really do matter. They affect your personal investment, effort, and therefore your output too. And that of those around you. Psychological capital matters particularly in a pressured and stressed service economy which requires motivation, creative thinking, and perseverance, all of which happier employees have more of.

In other words, organizations do better when employees feel good about themselves and the colleagues they work with. Like financial capital this takes time, effort, and energy to build. Unlike financial capital it endures much better when institutions and markets crash and burn.

Myth 2: Happiness is Job Satisfaction or Engagement in Another Guise

Of course there are a few overlaps and similarities between these concepts. But there are a couple of important differences between happiness and everything else. Before I get to them, let’s briefly define and discuss some terms.

Job satisfaction

Most job satisfaction theories propose that it comes from one of three components. These include who the employee is, what their working environment is like, or what kind of conditions they work in. There are a couple of problems with all of them. Firstly, all the approaches were developed in a working world which was much more static. The very institutional and context-specific notion of how job satisfaction arises is much less relevant in a world where more and more people work when they want, where they want, and how they want.

Secondly, because job satisfaction is about making sure that you have the right person in the right place, there’s very little room for maneuver. The only way to improve matters is to “fix the environment or fire the employee.” It’s an ideal approach for a command-and-control structure, but it’s a very disempowering way of measuring or managing individuals because there’s so little an employee can do. And it’s very expensive.


Engagement in its purest sense refers to the relationship you have with your working environment and the strength of your connection to it. Thought to be the opposite of burnout, it’s been broadly defined as “vigor, dedication, and absorption” and has been widely used by organizations and consultants for improving retention. But there are issues with engagement as a concept: it’s even been described as “not theoretical, valid or unique.” At its best engagement has been researched through using the concept of flow at work (which you can read about in more detail in Chapter 5).

But here’s the central issue: in crunching through all our statistics – and we now have over 300,000 data points – we can see that engagement relates to 10 percent fewer items than happiness at work does. However, there are two more important details to draw your attention to. Firstly, engagement doesn’t link to all our five components in as strong a way as happiness does; we can tell that because we’ve run sophisticated statistical modeling tests to check. These have revealed that although it’s something that matters – who doesn’t want to feel engaged at work? – it’s not as “large” a concept as happiness at work is. This leads to the second point: those modeling tests reveal that engagement – and job satisfaction – is something which happiness appears to encompass.

Happiness: the crucial differences

There are three key differences which tell us why happiness at work is so important.

Happiness is DIY

The starting point of happiness at work is that it’s self-initiated: we know that you want to make your working world better and enjoy contributing to it if you are given that opportunity. It doesn’t work from the top-down: being happy at work operates best from the ground-up because you know most about managing and affecting your world. We know this because it’s what our research statistics clearly indicate and that’s backed up by our work inside organizations. Happiness is strongly linked to the idea of agency, but that’s not widely accounted for in the satisfaction or engagement approaches.

Moreover, because the focus is on the individual rather than the workplace, it’s easier, cheaper, and more flexible for organizations to implement.

Happiness is strongly connected to productivity

Unlike job satisfaction or engagement, we’ve found – and this is really crucial – that happiness at work is strongly related to productivity. And it’s the only concept that is linked to productivity both consistently and progressively. That means the happier you are, the more productive you are. In other words, more job satisfaction doesn’t mean more productivity and in the same amounts. Nor does more engagement.

Happiness does.

Happiness is a bigger concept

If happiness indicates job satisfaction and engagement but they don’t work the other way round, the automatic implication is that they are both smaller concepts. That’s backed up by statistical modeling that we’ve done which shows that happiness encompasses both job satisfaction and engagement and includes them within it. And because it’s a broader concept, happiness gives you richer and deeper insights.

Job satisfaction or engagement vs. happiness?

Be honest: would you rather be satisfied, engaged, or happy at work? You decide.

Myth 3: You’re Born Happy or Sad and There’s Nothing You Can Do

Twin studies show that our genes are responsible for a hefty 50 percent of our emotional experience and about the same chunk of our personalities too. We know that because David Lykken and Auke Tellegen, famous for their research in Minnesota, worked with 69 pairs of identical twins who were raised apart. They were all asked about their happiness twice over a nine-year period. What the researchers found was not only were their scores closely related, but also one twin’s score pretty much predicted another’s. So they concluded that a lot of who we are and what we feel is gene-driven and responsible for a happiness “set point.”

Except that new and exciting neuroscience showing how malleable emotions are made David Lykken completely shift his thinking.

He said, “It’s now clear we can change our happiness levels widely.” Because there is now a lot of data which show that emotional levels fluctuate, sometimes quite extensively, over time. Think about quitting one job and landing another. You’ll be delighted to be leaving one place and starting somewhere fresh and you may well experience what’s called the honeymoon effect. Weeks or months later that may be followed by what’s called the hangover effect – the point at which you realize what you’re truly facing. This fluctuation suggests less of a fixed happiness point and more of a range.

That’s backed up by research which began in Germany in 1984; studies were started to investigate what happens to happiness over the long term. People were asked to rate their happiness at various times and over the years those data have been compared and contrasted. What’s interesting is that there have been substantial changes in some participants’ happiness over 15–20 years – both positive and negative. That’s backed up by further research into people who become disabled: unsurprisingly, their happiness levels don’t get back to what they were when they were able-bodied.

What about the positive end of the spectrum? A recent study in the USA asked students to practice deliberate strategies to increase their overall happiness. Researchers wanted to take personality into account and see which had the stronger effect: who they were or what they did. And they found that “doing” greatly outweighed “being.” Interestingly, the most important happiness-boosting behavior was finding support, while the second was helping others.

All this research points to the fact that we have a happiness range rather than a set point. Some peoples’ ranges will be more extensive (anyone who is bipolar can confirm that), while the range itself will depend on your usual levels of optimism or pessimism. But the exciting thing is that you can take action to manage that range and you don’t have to stay miserable because you are “born like that.” Simply by changing behavior and doing things differently you can have a big effect on how happy you are and push yourself up to the top of your range. Increasing your level of happiness at work is just about analyzing then applying the right personal strategy for you.

That means your happiness at work doesn’t have to be a haphazard byproduct of what you do but something that you can get more of if you choose to. That’s why understanding what affects it, why, and what you do to manage it are so important.

Are You Leading the Life You Choose or Managing the One You’ve Got?

That’s the question that Commander Dr. Mike Young of the Royal Navy asks. From time to time maybe you can only manage the life you’ve got at work. But over a long period, is that enough?

Now let’s assume that you’re an average person who’s working from the age of about 20 to retirement at, say, 65. And let’s also assume you take three weeks holiday a year. I know this number might shift depending where in the world you’re located – just go with it for a moment. Then let’s imagine you work about a 40-hour week, a number that looks conservative from our database. That means over a lifetime, you’ll probably spend at least 90,000 hours at work. This figure doesn’t take into account those emails answered during evenings, weekends, or holiday; or time spent thinking about work issues when you’re at home – either on purpose or by accident; or the occasions you get in early and stay late. The fact of the matter is, workplace issues probably take up many more hours of mental engagement than you realize.

Those long hours had better add to your overall sense of purpose, well-being, and happiness rather than subtract from it. Because you won’t get them back once they’re gone. If you’re going to make sure you get the best out of what you put in, you’ll need to reflect on how you want to spend those 90,000 hours.

So that you are as happy as you can be at work.

Top take-aways for Chapter 1

This chapter: