Happy Work, Happy Life

“People are redefining the workplace. Previously we thought work was hell and leisure was great. That is just silly. Work can – and should be – a source of happiness, if workplaces are designed right.” John Helliwell, co-editor of The World Happiness Report
Some research teams investigate life on Mars. Others investigate Happiness.

The Happiness Research Institute, in Copenhagen, conducts an ongoing study that drills into the sources of personal and professional contentment. Number One is a sense of purpose. Purpose contributes twice as much to an individual’s job satisfaction as the runner-up, which is having a high-quality manager, The Atlantic reports. Institute CEO Meik Wiking notes the close connection between happiness and a sense of purpose. The good life is not a life of leisure, but rather one filled with meaning and striving toward a goal: “We need a sense of purpose,” Wiking says.

We caught up with him to learn more.

“As I get further into happiness research, I find there are some clear patterns across the globe when it comes to drivers of happiness and satisfaction,” Wiking told us. “That goes for outside the workplace as well as inside.”

It’s all good: people who say they have a sense of purpose are more likely to participate in their community—at work and in their personal lives. Their “quality of life” scores are higher. They are healthier. They have fewer accidents. They maintain perspective. They stay out of debt. They laugh more. They have vibrant relationships. They are, simply, happier.

To Wiking and his team in Copenhagen, one of the “most concerning” numbers is the 10% who do not see an overall purpose in their lives:

“It’s worrying for two reasons. One, it’s a strong statement to say I don’t see a purpose with my life. To me that is quite alarming. Second, I suspect that the actual number is even higher! Remember, this is a survey, and I think there is some stigma attached to admitting you do not see a purpose in your life.

“The good news is, there are shared characteristics for the people who do see a purpose or meaning with their lives. They are much more inclined to take part in community work: 50% of them participate in volunteer activities. And”—in part due to this community involvement—“they are happier.”

It’s a powerful cycle.

So how can business leaders leverage the idea of purpose to boost the engagement of their people at work? Is this a difficult challenge, or is it simply common sense?

“Start with why,” Wiking advises. “Make it clearer, what the overall purpose of the organization is. How are we making the world a better place. And clarify for the individual how he or she is helping in accomplishing that goal.”

You will not be surprised that at WeSpire, we suggest a science-backed, behavioral approach, with a spot of fun and friendly competition: community programs can be shared across diverse teams via a digital platform packed with appealing custom content. It’s amazing how quickly people can become engaged once they’re given a choice, resources, support, and awareness of the impact they’re creating!

How do you define Purpose?

For some people, it will be their kids, golf, hiking the Appalachian trail, or their little pet terrier; for others it’s helping refugees or donating blood. Others rally around a candidate or a cause.

We asked Wiking if all of those motivators can be labelled as Purpose.

“Hmm, I love dogs but calling a pet terrier purpose is a stretch, I would say. To me, it is making the world a better place. Something that goes beyond you and your own self interest.”

The 2016 World Happiness Report ranks 156 nations on well-being. As you can imagine, factors affecting people’s happiness vary widely and depend on a range of individual and shared conditions. People who can bounce around the block to yoga class and enjoy a soy latté before walking to work are more likely to be “happy” than people whose neighborhoods are ravaged by violence or drought.

“People are redefining the workplace. Previously we thought work was hell and leisure was great. That is just silly. Work can – and should be – a source of happiness, if workplaces are designed right.”

—John Helliwell, co-editor of The World Happiness Report



Video of Meik Wiking presentation, Vancouver, May, 2015:

Which Countries Have the Best Work-Life Balance? February, 2016 World Economic Forum

World Happiness Report, March, 2016 Update