Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Have a HAPPY (no: a REALLY happy ) New Year


How many times in your life (or even today) do you estimate you have reflexively greeted friends and strangers alike with a cheery  "Happy new year?"  Have you ever thought about why we say "happy" and not some other positive wish?

We may never know the answer to that question - my Google search came up empty - but we can say that "happy" is a great wish to make:  happiness is good for our mental and physical health, our relationships, and, relevant to our purposes today,  our productivity.

I've been interested for some time in the relationship between happiness and productivity, and it turns out there is a fairly robust literature in the field of positive psychology supporting this association.

You'll be happy to know that I don't plan to present an entire literature review - but I will tantalize you with a few high level findings.

Happiness is more than a transient emotion. 

Seligman and colleagues, major contributors in this field,  work from an operational definition of happiness with three componentss: (a) positive emotion and pleasure (the pleasant life); (b) engagement (the engaged life); and (c) meaning (the meaningful life). These last two aspects have the most influence on long term benefits.

For example, this means that if my Iowa Hawkeyes lose their bowl game with LSU tomorrow, the transient UN-happiness I will feel won't ruin my life.

Happiness not only results from being productive or successful, but also contributes to these outcomes.

Lybomirsky, another major player in this field, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of  happiness studies conducted prior to 2005, and found that "happiness is associated with and preceded numerous successful outcomes, as well as behaviors paralleling success."

So happiness is both chicken and egg.

Happiness can be increased.

In another meta-analysis, Lyubomiersky et al concluded that "clients [with depression] will greatly beneļ¬t from attending to, appreciating, and attaining life’s positives."  Examples of the types of interventions that may help include spending more time in enjoyable activities, keeping a diary of positive experiences during the day, and focusing on new ways to use your strengths, or even  "counting one's blessings.  

Now its true that many of the intervention studies have been done in a patient population - but it seems reasonable to think these kinds of interventions could be more broadly helpful. 
Folks in the business world are taking note.  Allison Rimm, former Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Information Management at Massachusetts General Hospital, and now an executive coach, believes that finding happiness and joy in your work is critical to success. 

In a recent blog, she writes that "happiness on the job is a leading indicator of an individual's ability to sustain a high level of passion, performance, and productivity over the long run."

There you have it.  Happier is better.

What can you do to have a happier 2014?

 Here are some ideas to get you started:

Take a look at the website of Dr. Dike Drummond (Family Medicine at the Mayo Clinic),  www.TheHappyMD.com  for loads of ideas aimed at physicians, but useful for anyone.  Take a particular look at his process for creating a better 2014

Mindfulness is associated with happiness.  You can begin this practice by using Martin Boroson's the One Moment Meditation technique.   Martin teaches this method in both the corporate world, and in health care, and the video on his home page is a great place to start.

A simple technique, supported by the literature, is spending just a little bit more time every day intentionally doing things that you love - and this can help both at home and at work.

Please send me a note if you have other ideas that have worked for you, or success with one of these methods.

And have a VERY Happy New Year.