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The Link Between Happiness And Productivity

Dec 8, 2020
(updated: Feb 14, 2023)
Max 5 min read

"Do what you love and you will not work one day." This quote, which many attributes to Confucius, may sound utopic for many. But if you have ever worked doing something you enjoy - which I truly hope you did, and still do - you know that once you’re immersed in the workflow, time gets relative.

Results seem to come easier, hours fly by and even your body may seem to react in a more positive, energetic way. Now, replace this scenario with unwanted work. We’ve all been there - when every minute feels like a huge sacrifice, the weight of stress triggers anxious thoughts, and results aren’t great.

That is why more and more people are prioritizing their well-being instead of sacrificing their personal life for a promise of future success, and many companies are now investing in motivation and creating a better work environment, whether with motivational speeches, integrated offices with rest areas, better work hours, increased month period, and many other attitudes.

Can that help? Is it really possible to be happy at work?

My answer is - definitely. And although I’m an optimist, I’m basing myself on science and research. You’ve probably read or heard that dopamine (known as a neurotransmitter of pleasure), which floods your central system when you are positive, has the function to make us happier. What many don’t know though, is that dopamine also triggers all of our brain's learning centers, allowing us to adapt to the world differently.

That’s one of the reasons why, according to Shawn Achor, a professor and researcher at Harvard University and author of the book 'The Harvard Way of Being Happy', happiness must come before accomplishments. He claims that a brain with positive information is more intelligent, creative, and energized, explaining that a positive brain is 31% more productive and is capable of generating sales by up to 37% higher. "When we stay positive, our brains work more successfully and we’re able to work harder, faster, and more intelligently," says Achor.

The renowned specialist in Positive Psychology explains that everyday events are able to predict only 10% of our happiness level and the vast majority, 90%, of our feeling of satisfaction is formed from how our brain processes the world. "I believe that individuals are able to align their thoughts and become more optimistic and happy," says Achor in one of his videos on the subject. He argues that this logic applies to all aspects of life, including work.

But, you may be wondering, how can we follow this order that seems to be reversed nowadays? For the Harvard researcher, the first piece of advice is to surround yourself with positive things. By doing this, we start to invert this formula of happiness and success. 

Most people think that if they work harder, they will be more successful and, when they get more successful, they’ll be happier. The problem is that this maxim is not true because every time one achieves such “success”, the brain unconsciously changes the goal and starts looking for more. 

So, instead of putting happiness at success' mercy, we can start to break this pattern by practicing otherwise. The reason why that’s necessary is because our brain works in the opposite way to the cognitive standards imposed by society in which the goals must first be conquered and then the achievement and happiness will be achieved. 

“If we elevate someone's positivism, their brain will experience what we call the happiness advantage.” says Achor. In other words, a brain that’s programmed with a “happiness mode” will have a better performance. The researcher also states that about 25% of professional success is predicted based on IQ, that is, by the individual's level of intelligence and aptitude. The remaining 75% of this equation results from the level of optimism, social support, and the ability to view stress as a challenge, not a threat. 

Positive Psychology as a Tool Increase Happiness and Productivity

Positive psychology focuses on achieving happiness and greater well-being in people’s daily lives. Its objective is to highlight positive aspects of the human experience that make life worth living, instead of prioritizing psychic illnesses, as other previous currents did.

The concept was created in 1998 by the psychologist and then president of the American Psychological Association Martin Seligman, who intended to change the focus of psychology. This new psychological approach allows for a more appreciative view of human potentials, motivations and capabilities.

That doesn't mean you'll ignore your bad feelings or force positivity. Instead, you will work to shift your perspective, which will help you establish healthier relationships and create exciting yet achievable goals that will turn your everyday life into something fun.

When applied to work, that doesn’t mean acting cool and entertaining. Whether you’re a CEO, a manager, a freelancer, an employee, you can keep your personality yet choose to embrace a purposeful attitude. 

The importance of happiness at work is enormous and the task is shared between everyone who is employed by the same company. If an organization’s culture doesn’t care about employee happiness, it’s likely that there will be a decrease in the joy of working, employee engagement and, consequently, productivity.

Tips to Increase Happiness and Work Productivity 

  • Look to balance your personal and professional life by taking care of your physical, psychological and emotional health.
  • Get in the habit of writing three things for which you are grateful every day. Make sure to write different things every day. At the end of this process, your brain will begin to retain a pattern of seeking positive information in the world.
  • Add meditation into your routine. Consistent practice will allow you to focus on one activity at a time and dedicate all your energy to it.
  • If you’re having a bad day or perhaps focused on a negative outcome, bring to mind a positive experience that you have had in the past 24 hours. This will help your brain to reinforce pleasant feelings and gain a fresh perspective.

If you’re looking for extra tips on how to increase your productivity, check out this insightful article on How to Stay Focused And Be More Productive as a Freelancer. 

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