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Happier @ Work

We spend a majority of our waking life (dis) engaged at work. Given the sheer amount of time we spend at work, its imperative that it provides us the fair returns on our most precious investment- our time. While for many of us the return is in monetary terms, ideally it should be in terms of the currency that matters most to us – our own happiness and happiness of those around us.

Bring Back My Happiness

Bring Back My Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a majority of people work is drudgery – but it need not be so!  In this mini- course you will learn how you can become happier and more fulfilled at your work, and thereby becoming more productive and successful at the same time. You will learn the art of thriving at the workplace by making small changes to the way you think and act. Nothing grand, just small baby steps.

Its a 10 day mini-course, where each day I will be posting a tiny blog post of about 400-600 words in length and hopefully you would have learned something new. I had made this course for some online courses site, and hence had been restricted by that format. Hope you enjoy.

Collected below are links to all the ten mini-lessons as and when they were /will be published:

  1. Why Happiness (at Work)
  2. Helpful tips to be happier @ work
  3. Creating a positive, gratitude filled culture
  4. Finding meaning in work
  5. Orientation towards work and job crafting
  6. Remaining motivated at work
  7. Optimistic and Positive attitude
  8. Setting powerful goals
  9. Discovering and deploying strengths at work
  10. Leading positively


If you would like to learn more about increasing happiness at the workplace you can contact me for individual 1:1 coaching or for group corporate workshops.


India’s happiness is on a downward roll

I know I am late to the party, but I happened to read the World Happiness Report 2016 update [pdf] issued by the UN today only.

English: "Gross National Happiness is mor...

English: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product” by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, king of Bhutan. Slogan on a wall in Thimphu’s School of Traditional Arts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hadn’t expected India to have come near the top, since the publication of teh report, it has consistently been near the middle, slightly towards the bottom; but I also hadn’t expected it to be one of the biggest losers when it came to changes in happiness from year to year.

The World Happiness index is constructed by asking a representative sample of people from a nation a single satisfaction with life question (Cantril ladder) and then averaging the responses to arrive at the index for the country. One can answer any number from 0 (worst possible life) to 10 (best possible life) to register one’s satisfaction with life.

India’s score was 4.4 while Denmark aced the happiness test, with its index being 7.4 (a difference of 3 point from India’s).  In a list of 157 countries India came at #118 behind every other country in South Asia including Pakistan!

More worrisome is the fact that when the current data from 2013-2015  was compared with data from 2005-2007, the average happiness level of people in India fell by 0.75 points from205-2207 and this decline made India earn the distinction of being the top 10 losers in the world as far as happiness is concerned!!  So we seem to be on a downhill descent into unhappiness and dystopia.

Another good this the authors of the report started measuring this time was inequality or distribution of happiness among the nations population. To put it simply just like there is inequitable distribution of income, well-being is also inequitably distributed among the population.

In some nations like Bhutan , the spread (standard deviation) of happiness among its population is not too large; its only 1.3 for Bhutan, meaning that with average happiness in Bhutan being 5.2, most of the population’s happiness lies between 3.9 to 6.5.  In India, on the other hand, spread of happiness is 2.1 , a much larger value signifying more inequality in distribution of happiness. Also, to note, this inequality or spread is itself worsening from 2005-2007 to 2013-2015.

Where does this leave us? What does it portend for India? For starters, we can learn from Bhutan which measures Gross National Happiness and has happiness as a cornerstone for all its policies. While its performance on the world happiness index is not outstanding (it features at #84), it is first in world when it comes to lowest inequality of well-being in the population.

It is thus apparent that happiness inequality can be reduced by systemically trying to make happiness a priority . Hope India learns from its neighbor in time and is able to reverse the downward spiral.

Maximizing Happiness: to each his own!

Happiness means different things to different people, but happiness or well-being researchers have typically broken down happiness into three components:

  1. Absence of negative emotions
  2. Presence of positive emotions
  3. Life satisfaction
Jeff Woloson in Thailand. The birds atop Jeff'...

Jeff Woloson in Thailand. The birds atop Jeff’s head and left arm are Brahminy Kites; the larger bird on his right arm is a young White-bellied Sea-eagle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently extended this framework to include life outlook as an integral component of happiness and you can read more about the same at my The Mouse Trap blog here.

To me, this break-up of well-being into negative emotions, positive emotions and life satisfaction seems incomplete and I propose adding another component to the mix: life outlook.

Life outlook, is how excited you are about the possibilities of the future, and in your ability to make your dreams come true; it is future oriented, unlike life satisfaction which is past oriented; though like life satisfaction, I believe, it can be reliably measured by self-report method. This involves an attitude of looking forward to whatever life has to offer; to be truly considered ‘happy’ one should be hopeful and optimistic, rather than resigned or pessimistic.

So well-being= ‘presence of +ve emotions’ + ‘lack of -ve emotions’ + ‘life satisfaction’ + ‘+ve life outlook’

Life satisfaction is typically measured using Satisfaction with Life scale; the absence of positive and negative emotions by PANAS scale. I would suggest to know real well-being of a person we also need to measure Life Outlook and this can be tentatively done by using the Adult Hope scale, although to be frank we probably need a new measure.

We control what we measure and to me it is apparent that if we want to control our happiness i.e. maximize it we also need to be able to measure its components and see improvements.

What is interesting is that each type of happiness is associated with a different type of self, and based on the properties of these selves, different method of increasing happiness apply to different selves.

Take minimizing negative/unhelpful emotions, this is associated with Materialistic self and you could possibly reduce discomfort by gaining material possessions. Beyond a certain point more possessions or assets typically lead to increasing hedonistic pleasure, but no gain in real happiness. Conversely having negative possessions or liabilities is likely to make you unhappy. So buy that new iPhone but not at the cost of a materialistic liability like a recurring EMI.

Or take maximizing positive/ helpful emotions that are related to the experiencing self, and by having intense ‘in the moment’ experiences you could possibly feel euphoric joy. An experiential purchase like a vacation or attending a concert may lead to real joyful experience. If you were focused on this type of happiness you are better off maximizing positive experiences in your life; and reducing the negative experiences or hassles. If planning and executing for that vacation is more of a hassle, and if even on the vacation, you can’t live in the moment, then perhaps you are better off not taking that vacation:)

Similarly, it has been found that life satisfaction is related to income/wealth and I associate it with the Remembering self. To me, it is all about building a corpus(typically of wealth/ status, but at times of experiences) about which you could reflect back and feel good about yourself. It is also related to making use of past opportunities and if one doesn’t dare greatly then one is doomed to live with regret. Opportunity cost is one construct relevant to this. To maximize this sort of happiness, one can satisfy rather than maximize, while making decisions, so that regret is lowest.

Lastly, we have life outlook that I relate to the Anticipatory self or the Homo Prospectus. As I came up with the construct idea last night only, not much research has apparently happened on this:-) and we don’t know with what it correlates. I believe investing in yourself, by say investing into your psychological resources like building confidence and resilience, may be one way of maximizing this sort of happiness. To have SMART and WISE goals for oneself seems like another factor that may lead to being more hopeful about life; on the other hand not having any goals/ dreams could lead to an attitude of resignation and lead to living lives of quiet desperation. So to maximize this type of happiness perhaps its important to have the right types of goals: WISE, intrinsic and other-oriented.

All happiness are created equal, but some happiness are created more equal than the others. Its best to figure out which type of happiness makes most sense to you and then to go ahead and maximize that kind of happiness. Here is wishing you loads of happiness as you venture forth on that path. Happy flourishing!

Exploring what Matters in Life


How many of us can clearly articulate what we want from life? How many of us know how to be happy and have peace of mind? Do we appreciate the value of relationships and want to figure out how to treat others well? Do we want to create a happier workplace, a happier community and a happier world, but are seeking answers as to how?

If you, like me, have been puzzled by such questions, look no further. Action for Happiness has been running the ‘Exploring what Matters’ course in the UK, which enables you to ponder these questions along with like-minded people. And till now the course was only available in UK.

But now, for the first time the, course is also being offered in Pune/ India and here is your opportunity to take part in this course and explore issues of consequence.

The course will be co-facilitated by me and Manish Hatwlane of My Zen Path and is an eight week course. It will run from 25 June 2016 to 13 August 2016 on Saturdays from 5:30 pm to 7:30 Pm IST.  You can register for the course here.

The course is backed by the Dalai Lama, who is the patron of Action for Happiness. It has received rave reviews, when offered in UK, and we hope to replicate the magic here.

From the past runs and pilot studies of this course, it has been shown, that course participants are happier, more compassionate, have greater social trust and are mentally healthier, post participation in this course. The course participation involves a pre and post survey as per which life satisfaction, mental well-being, compassion and social trust are assessed at both times; and it has been found that these positive qualities increase on an average by 8 to 18 %.

I am looking forward to learning from other course participants, and would encourage you to do the same, in case you are based out of Pune.

Happiness and good relationships at work

I came across this study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) today, courtesy a post by Dr. Nico Rose; and have been thinking about the primary finding highlighted by Nico that relationships matter for your happiness – even in the workplace.


Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I have been  long time fan of Herzberg‘s two factor-theory of workplace motivation and happiness, where he makes a difference between motivators or those factors that drive job satisfaction and Hygiene factors or those that drive dissatisfaction. As per Herzberg, dissatisfaction and satisfaction are different constructs with different underlying antecedents and are not the converse of each other.

Now, if one equates job satisfaction with positive emotions and job dissatisfaction with negative emotions, one would conclude that positive emotions and negative emotions too should be different constructs and not the opposite of each other; and that is exactly what we now from research in psychology. It is well established now that mental health and mental illness are different constructs and so are positive emotions and negative emotions. Reducing the negative emotions does not guarantee that you will be happy; to become happier you have to resort to different tactics than those used to reduce suffering.

Returning to Herzberg’s theory,the Wikipedia page list some good evidence in support of that:

That said, a study by the Gallup Organization, as detailed in the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, appears to provide strong support for Herzberg’s division of satisfaction and dissatisfaction onto two separate scales. In this book, the authors discuss how the study identified twelve questions that provide a framework for determining high-performing individuals and organizations. These twelve questions align squarely with Herzberg’s motivation factors, while hygiene factors were determined to have little effect on motivating high performance.

So we do have some evidence for the validity of two factor construct. Now, Herzberg’s theory mentions the following as motivators and hygiene factors :

Two-factor theory distinguishes between:

  • Motivators (e.g. challenging work, recognition for one’s achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, sense of importance to an organization) that give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth,  and

  • Hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary, fringe benefits, work conditions, good pay, paid insurance, vacations) that do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, though dissatisfaction results from their absence. The term “hygiene” is used in the sense that these are maintenance factors. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary. Herzberg often referred to hygiene factors as “KITA” factors, which is an acronym for “kick in the ass”, the process of providing incentives or threat of punishment to make someone do something.


Its interesting to note that Herzberg puts relationships with peers, colleagues and subordinates under hygiene factor or those that can lead to dissatisfaction; however in doing so I think Herzberg was placing too strong an emphasis on the KITA factor of supervisors and colleagues (who hasn’t faced an a**hole boss or colleague or even a subordinate). What he ignored was that while other people are hell, so are they heaven.

The same supervisor that can be an a**hole, can also be an angelic mentor ensuring your growth and development.  And that is exactly what  the BCG have found in their survey of over 200,000 people from all over the world.  To quote a verbatim response from an example respondent:

As for relationships with superiors, it’s “important to me because I would like to learn and grow” and having the right super­visor “can help facilitate that,” she says.

The discourse since the days of Herzberg has clearly moved towards viewing people primarily as hell, to viewing them as having positive potential. The top factors for happiness in the BCG survey are all related to relationships. (money related factors appear at the eighth rank ).


Also important to note that Herzberg distinguished between motivators as being related to intrinsic factors or intrinsic motivation, while Hygiene factors as more extrinsic or environmentally controlled. It is easy to put relationships in extrinsic factors, but that ignores research by Deci and Ryan on self-determination that puts Relatedness as a basic intrinsic human need at par with Autonomy and Mastery.

I think its time to disentangle the effects of good and bad relationships in the workplace, and while conducting research or surveys, its imperative that we separate questions about engagement / satisfaction from questions about dis-engagement/ dissatisfaction; and then we will have a clearer picture of what factors are important for workplace happiness and what are necessary to prevent workplace misery.

Relationships, intriguingly, may figure prominently in both lists. So the bottom line is that other people matter – for good or for worse!

Launching soon!

Keep posted!