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Working hard at being happy 18/07/2011

It seems recently that – despite the general economic gloom – everyone is telling us that we should be happier.

Working hard at being happy

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  1. Being happy takes effort
  2. Well-being research
  3. Novelty factor

Being happy takes effort

The government says that being happy is more important than money (they are going to measure GWB (general well-being) as well as GDP, while the Archbishop of Canterbury says that we need to seek real happiness, above and beyond economic and material wealth.

Nowadays, there are plenty of businesses that would also freely admit to pushing employee well-being higher up the agenda, perhaps as a direct antidote to the depressing financial times.

And yet there is an important, if often over-looked finding, in the psychological research, which is that being happy takes some effort. I know this may sound odd, but it’s true.

Well-being research

In 2005, psychologists analysed the mainstream well-being research and identified that about half of our happiness is determined by our genes – it is inherited and there’s not a lot we can do to change it. About 10% is believed to be down to circumstances – our pay, our surroundings, the area in which we live, and so on. The remaining 40%, however, is down to ‘effort’.

This means investing time in deliberate and intentional activities that will make us happier. The researchers highlight that it is necessary to put effort into maintaining happiness through activities such as being deliberately optimistic when problems crop up, or being consciously appreciative of our circumstances.

Novelty factor

What is really interesting, though, is that psychologists Sheldon and Lyubomersky (2006) monitored people over a period of several months to identify what impact these activities actually have on our happiness. They found that a change in circumstances, such as gaining more money or moving to a new area, made people happy for a limited time only. Clearly the novelty of the change soon wears off.

On the flipside, they found that those who invested time and effort in a range of ‘happiness’ based activities led to longer-term increases in psychological well-being. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that ‘both effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness’.

Stuart Duff, head of development, Pearn Kandola Business Psychologists

Stuart Duff, head of development, Pearn Kandola Business Psychologists

Stuart is partner and head of development at Pearn Kandola. He is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist specialising in identifying leadership talent, developing potential through one-to-one coaching and designing innovative development methodologies.