… and yes, I’m aware of some of the obvious responses to that, but bear with me … Happiness tends to arise organically given the right circumstances and inputs. (The sheer range of things that can go into it is a testimony to human diversity and ingenuity.) It need not cost anything to create – indeed, it can be a by-product of other activity. Things grow out of it more abundantly than they would in its absence. And to achieve the most with it, you’re best off spreading it far and wide, and just deep enough to still be effective.


Of course, you can do all this with chemicals. But the long terms effects of drenching natural systems with high-powered artificial compounds are subjects of potential controversy, and the chemicals can have undesirable side effects. Falling foul of regulatory bodies’ monitoring of their use can also be bad for your career.

But why bother? Depending on your faith – or lack of it – might you not just think ‘happy’ is one of things that happens sometimes like rainbows or migraines, and that’s all there is to it? It does, however, seem to get debated quite contentiously sometimes: see our recent post about Alain de Botton and his new book. Maybe de Botton has a good point – perhaps a recession is making us reflect on happiness and its place in the office.

But there surely shouldn’t be any green lights or flag waving for those managers who trot out that most dispiriting of clichés: “We come here to work, not to enjoy ourselves”. Misery, pain, longing and suffering have been known to produce astounding works of art, cinema, literature and music – indeed, some artists’ entire public personae might be ruined by an off-guard public grin – but their powers of encouragement in mainstream business are substantially less proven. If we’re talking about happiness and work – and they need not be mutually exclusive – the positive impact of happiness should not be under-estimated.

Without a shred of irony (which would display too much emotional sang froid), happiness has its cheerleaders. Alexander Kjerulf, editor of the Chief Happiness Officer blog and author or Happy Hour is 9 to 5 – How to Love Your Job, Love Your Life and Kick Butt at Work, doesn’t just ardently – and cheerfully – believe more happiness would be a good idea, he offers us his Top 10 reasons why happiness at work is the ultimate productivity booster.

Like supporting learning transfer, happiness is therefore a vital area for line managers. Just as people’s training gets applied and sustained if they’re encouraged and supported, their output and creativity increases when they’re happiest. Impact on others is a vital skill for managers to understand if they’re going to inspire great performance, and – as far as their reports’ well-being is concerned – they might give a little thought to exactly what they’re spreading. As the old joke hints:

My Granddad had just won first prize in the local vegetable growing show and would proudly announce his secret to anyone who would listen. “Manure!” he’d bellow “Every night, cover them in horse manure…”

Now my Aunt, who likes to think she’s a bit better than the rest of the clan ‘cos her husband has a desk job and isn’t a miner like the rest if us, objected to this and asked my Gran if she’d tell Granddad to call it fertiliser rather than manure. Gran looked at her wearily and said:

“It’s taken me 30 years to get him to call it manure. I’m quitting while I’m ahead….”

It certainly seems employers have something to learn when it comes to happiness – According to a 2007 MORI poll, ‘job satisfaction’ failed to outscore ‘getting a dog’ when it comes to sources of human happiness – and replacing all line managers with Labradors is probably impractical.

That happiness had actually become an important social issue was underlined when Baron Layard of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics was, in his governmental advisor capacity, referred to in many of the UK press as our Happiness Tzar. Happiness was finally being taken as seriously as drugs, albeit possibly not as frequently. (Bhutan, by comparison, has a Gross National Happiness Index that influences many aspects of government policy).

Less flippantly, it was also being seen as important to the economic performance and social well-being of the fabric of society. To quote Layard in 2006:

The best society is that where the people are happiest, and the best policy is the one that produces the greatest happiness. So argued the great 18th century thinkers like Jeremy Bentham, and their admirable views did much to inspire the social reforms of the century that followed. […] The first thing we know is that in the last 50 years average happiness has not increased at all in Britain nor in the USA – despite massive increases in living standards. […] If everyone gets richer, they feel no better off. In rich societies like ours what really affects happiness is the quality of personal relationships. Always top comes the quality of family life, or other close personal relationships. Then comes work – having it (if you want it) and enjoying the meaning and comradeship it can bring. And then comes relationships with friends and strangers in the street.”

Sadly for those of us in work, his Lionel Robbins Memorial Lectures of 2002-3, Happiness: Has Social Science A Clue? showed “Working” as our second least favourite part of our days (only commuting was worse), and “Boss” as the person whose company was least likely to induce happiness.

Where human happiness does come from is always going to contentious. Tim Black at Spiked Online attempts a demolition job on both Baron Layard and Oliver James, whose best seller Affluenza also suggested material wealth wasn’t the best route to nirvana, but seems too focused on lobbing balls at a political coconut shy: surely Layard and James’ common point is that one of our best hopes of happiness is each other – if only we’d realise it and act on it.

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