As the year ends, I revisited Jonathan Haight's book, The Happiness Hypothesis, to remind me of the right conditions for happiness based on history and science.

Haight, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business, writes, "I don't believe there is an inspiring answer to the question, 'What is the purpose of life?' Yet by drawing on ancient wisdom and modern science, we can find compelling answers to the question of purpose within life.

The final version of the happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge." 

Work can make you happy when you can get these relationships right:

1. Create the right relation between you and others.

The right relationship between yourself and others is about working with your friends, or becoming friends with the people you work with, having empathy for others--internally for your team and externally for your stakeholders, your customers and even your competitors; and valuing the trust that comes from empathy; and being part of a tribe of people who share a common goal.

2. Get the relationship between you and work right.

The right relationship between yourself and your work comes from having a beginner's mind; being curious like an octopus, learning like a sponge; gathering inspiration like a bee to navigate the ambiguity of ideation; the joy of solving problems and coming up with new ideas as you strive to do good and well.

3. Finally, align the relationship between yourself and something larger than yourself.

The right relationship between yourself and something larger than yourself is the deep sense of purpose that comes from being at the service of others, putting people at the center of your thinking and honoring them by making their life a little easier, better, safer and perhaps a little more joyful and even beautiful, and having the optimism that no matter how hard the problem you will eventually come up with a better solution.

Striving to get these three relationships right then has the potential to make you happy, perhaps not every day, but most days. My examples come from my own experience of thinking like a designer and its successful results. They're also reinforced by the example of some of my own heroes--Marshall Goldsmith, world's leading executive coach and bestselling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Frances Hesselbein, CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute and former CEO of Girl Scouts, Alan Mulally, business executive and former CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Whitney Johnson, bestselling author of Build An A Team, Dr. Jim Kim, The President of the World Bank and Alex Osterwalder, author and creator of the Business Model Canvas.

To learn more about what makes people happy I recommend reading Haidt's book, cover to cover. Mine is dogeared.

Published on: Dec 21, 2018
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