I'm from Philly and have marveled at the happiness effect that the Eagles' Super Bowl win has spawned in our city. While there have been a lot of headlines about what the success says about grit and resilience, there is an ancillary and equally important lesson that of, happiness and contentment. The International Day of Happiness is coming up (March 20), so it's timely to start thinking and acting more deliberately about happiness.
Even if you are not a football fan, you have been touched by the lighter mood on the streets of Philadelphia: a knowing smile as you pick up your coffee from Wawa and a bit more patience in traffic on the streets of Center City (our downtown). Positivity and happiness are infectious. What sociologists call "stickiness" has taken hold: people pause more frequently to have conversations and connect. The turnout alone for the Super Bowl parade demonstrated what a catalyst the win was in bringing together an amazing diversity of citizens who typically would have never connected.
This got me to wondering: How might you design more opportunities for happiness and contentment into your daily life and work environment? How could you be more deliberate about the intersection of design and emotion? Here are three ways to approach this journey to contentment in work and life.
1. Connect on Purpose
The 2017 World Happiness Report lists these six variables for driving happiness:
- Healthy life expectancy
- Having someone to count on in times of trouble
The report emphasizes that employment and productivity go far in producing happy people. But it is not enough just to have a job; one must be in a high-quality work environment.
Designing a high-quality work environment happens in two ways: through aesthetics and through deliberate altruism.
Aesthetics matter because beauty, order, and harmony in our physical environment affect our sense of well-being and how we interact with one another. When The Design & Emotion Society (a diverse group of designers, psychologists, engineers, anthropologists, and marketing professionals) convenes biennially, they consistently discuss research on the role of beauty and sensorial design (design that touches on all five senses) to trigger positive human behavior and interpersonal connection. So, no matter how humble or bombastic your office environment is, be intentional about creating cleanliness, order, and beauty. Pay attention to access to natural light and the type of lighting used, minimize clutter; use harmonious colors, and demarcate clearly designed spaces for hunkering down in private versus those spaces for free-flowing conversation.
Deliberate altruism creates a feedback loop that increases generosity and freedom. You can do this by regularly and frequently acknowledging teammates' contributions at daily and weekly huddles. You do not have to wait for expensive and infrequent events such as retreats. Companies that design a working climate where people feel seen, heard, and validated produce employees experiencing higher levels of satisfaction. No one wants to feel invisible. Incentivize your team to acknowledging each other--validation does not have to only be the job of the boss.
2. Document Gratitude
The Science of Happiness podcast and Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project advocate for and show evidence of the transformative effects of being grateful. The expression that "gratitude is an attitude" goes beyond cliche when put into practice. Reflecting on every unexpected gesture of benevolence (someone lets you make a left turn at a busy intersection) and contact with others (you had a good laugh with office mates during lunch) makes you more aware of all that you have. As a former boss of mine liked to say, "Keep your eye on the doughnut--not the hole."
But being aware of all that you have to be grateful for is not enough. It is also important to document the people, experiences, and things that make your life easier and bring a smile to your face. Commit to the discipline of writing down those things that you may otherwise take for granted. As shared in the "Science of Happiness" podcast, writing down "3 Good Things" every day, over a month's time, will have a transformative effect on your outlook, mood, and interactions with others.
A key principle in design is that of producing a minimal viable product, or MVP. That is to say, the most stripped down, elegant, and functioning version of a product, service, or experience that you want to create. The MVP is about identifying what is essential. That notion- "What really matters?"--is transferable to designing happiness into your life. The books Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath both focus on the benefits of identifying what you need versus what you want, and on appreciating the tremendous effects of singular moments.
This requires reverse engineering your life and acknowledging that while there are a lot of things you could do, you cannot possibly do them all well and in an meaningful way. Begin practicing this on a daily basis by making a list of all the things you would like to accomplish, and then choose two or three things that you can realistically get done--and do them. This results in an amazing sense of satisfaction and contentment. Then, if there is time, move on to the next item. This practice can be scaled to being more mindful about what you would like to accomplish over the next year, and over your lifetime. It's what I call the "Baby Food Method"--breaking down overwhelming tasks into bite-size chunks is a more feasible and viable way to design life.
These three action items ultimately translate into greater feelings of self-worth. Happiness and contentment are inside-out design ventures.