Stop the Happiness!


or why I don’t really show you how to be happy in business.

If you type “how to be happy” into Google, you get 656,000,000 results in under one minute. Happiness is serious business, as evidenced by the myriad of self-help books, magazine articles and offerings by coaches and consultants, yours truly included.

But the happiness industry is getting a bad reputation. It is being condemned as a tool for governments and big businesses manipulating the masses and held responsible for the obsessive behaviour of people pursuing happiness at all costs. And there is a lot of truth in these criticisms.

It all started in the early 1990s when developments in neurosciences enabled researchers to study brain activity and well-being and when positive psychology emerged as a field of study. Positive psychology wanted to level the playing field that in the past concentrated studies on pathological states – but ignored positivity and well-being. But then pop-culture came along and the marketplace realised that money could be made and happiness has almost become a responsibility and duty.

This leads to bizarre and creepy behaviour by businesses who micro-manage their employees’ happiness (and even fire unhappy ones), which is obviously wrong.

The constant pursuit of happiness has also resulted in a change of how we classify negative emotions. Sadness and anger are now seen as something abnormal, something to be resolved, rather than a part of life, and, in some cases as something very useful. Problem is, negative emotions evolved for a reason. For instance, without fear, we might not notice some danger lurking in the dark or engage in risky behaviour. Sadness is important, too. Without it, we can never experience our full humanity. Artists throughout the centuries have known and accepted sadness to create great work:

Beethoven composed his later works in a melancholic funk. Vincent van Gogh, Emily Dickinson and other artistic geniuses saw the world through a glass darkly. The creator of “Peanuts,” Charles M. Schulz, was known for his gloom while Woody Allen plumbs existential melancholia for his films, and Patti Smith and Fiona Apple do so for their music.

And these emotions are important in business. Studies show that when you are in a negative mood, you become more analytical, more critical and more innovative. Similarly, anger can encourage people speak out against injustice and increase creativity.

So why do I run a webinar next week on happiness in business? Actually, the title is just to get your attention. There, I admit it. I use the term “happiness” as a “translation” for flourishing. It’s not a very good translation because flourishing is so much more than the popular notion of happiness. It encompasses progress, social relationships, getting into flow and achievement and more.

Why do I want people in your business to flourish?

Simple: I believe that if people can truly flourish in their life (with work being a big chunk of life for most), they will make better ethical decisions for themselves, their jobs and their communities. Who knows, having more people flourish might just change the world, bit by bit.

The fact that it also helps you make your business more productive, innovative and sustainable, just makes it easier.

So if you want to find out more how to help your people flourish, sign up to our free webinar on Jan 28, 12.30 GMT.