employeeshappynessSuccess is not the key to happiness. It’s the other way around. The happiest people do the best work and achieve greater success. While companies often focus on what makes people happy in their jobs, though, they aren’t asking what makes people happy in their lives.

Shawn Achor, who wrote “The Happiness Advantage,” identifies qualities that make people happy to their core – not just in business – and these things have a profound effect on their professional lives.

The happier the person, the more he or she thrives at work. This affects productivity, creativity, attitude, cooperation, and willingness to do more than expected.

Let’s look at just a few of the tips Achor offers and how you can adopt them into a workday:

1.  Meditation. Achor is not the first person to tout the positive effects of meditation. It has been shown to counteract the effects of stress, lower stress in general, improve the immune system, improve sleep, and boost energy levels. A person need only meditate 5 minutes at a time to experience benefits. Longer sessions will be more effective, of course. Even a short session of mindful breathing will leave a person feeling increased awareness, empathy, and contentment. Long-term mediation will actually rewire the brain for more happiness, less stress, and stronger health.

So how do you mix meditation into the work environment? Many successful companies do so through free mediation (and sometimes yoga) classes and/or meditation rooms. Some companies that make meditating accessible to its employees: Apple, Google, Nike, HBO, Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Co., and Prentice Hall Publishing.

2.  Random acts of kindness (RAK). If you’ve ever given an unexpected gift or helped a friend in need, you know it feels good to give. Altruism actually enhances mental health and decreases stress. Debbie Tenzer, author of “Do One Nice Thing,” says that people are wired to feel pleasure when they’re generous.

There are many ways you can promote altruism in your employees:

  • Have employees post their own RAK on a page or board
  • Have employees post RAK they witness other employees doing
  • Choose something nice every month/quarter/year for all employees to do as a company.
  • Have employees help think of way to do RAK for customers. Many companies have started doing this, from airlines to soda companies to coffee giants.

One really great aspect of incorporating RAK into your professional structure is that it is easily shared with your market. You don’t want to negate the selflessness of your act by bragging about it, but there are appropriate ways to publicize it. From your company to your employees and customers, social media presents many great ways to share your efforts.

3.  Thriving social lives. According to Achor’s research, “Countless studies have found that social relationships are the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress, both an antidote for depression and a prescription for high performance.”

Nurturing the social lives of your employees is also a multi-level opportunity. Employees actually perform better when they feel they have a best friend at work, so providing platforms for your employees to socialize is a logical action to take. However, forcing employees to spend time together does not always work out. “Mandatory fun” can backfire if you steal free time and replace it with work, even if it’s fun. Rather, you may encourage breaks throughout the day for social opportunities. For example, some employees may like going on a short walk together every day. Employees could host different themed lunches to discuss topics of mutual interest. There are many ways to help nurture fun at work.

Another way to promote social life is to allow some flexibility for employees, giving them the needed time to blow off steam and spend time with peers. For example, many people socialize for St. Patrick’s Day, the Super Bowl, and a number of personal celebrations. Letting employees adjust hours the day after a social event without cutting into vacation time is a nice way to say, “you deserve to enjoy yourself.”

The Ripple Effect

Honoring the things that make people happy will benefit your company in a number of ways. As mentioned, happy people do better work. However, this isn’t the only way that business will be better. Happiness is infectious. Spirited, positive people can immediately lift the mood of those around them. Part of this simply has to do with the makeup of our brains.

According to Achor, we have “mirror neurons.” These brain cells sense and mimic the feelings, actions, and physical sensations of other people. Have you ever seen someone bang his or her elbow really hard and catch yourself rubbing your own elbow? That’s all thanks to mirror neurons. Similarly, if you make eye contact with someone who smiles at you, you smile back. Here’s the really cool thing about smiling:

While being happy causes a physical reaction in your body that makes you smile, smiling causes a physical reaction in your body that makes you happy.

So if your employees are happy to their core, not only are they performing well, they are spreading that happiness to your customers, vendors, suppliers, visitors, partners, and everyone else they come in contact with.

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