Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
18 Jul 2011

Working hard at being happy

18 Jul 2011 • by Changeboard Team

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’.

So there are a couple of points to consider here. The first is that we should all be conscious of the need to sustain our own levels of happiness through effort and achievement. Happiness will not just happen to us.

Secondly, organisations – and for that matter the government – should be alert to making commitments to support the well-being of their people. It will take time, effort and sustained investment to put a smile on people’s faces.

So there are a couple of points to consider here. The first is that we should all be conscious of the need to sustain our own levels of happiness through effort and achievement. Happiness will not just happen to us.

Secondly, organisations – and for that matter the government – should be alert to making commitments to support the well-being of their people. It will take time, effort and sustained investment to put a smile on people’s faces.