The search for happiness: How to celebrate small 'bursts of joy'

Expert on the impact of social media and how HR leaders can foster a feelgood factor in the workplace

The search for happiness: How to celebrate small 'bursts of joy'

What makes us happy? I think we can all agree the past couple of years have been anything but blissful – however, it's not the grand, sweeping moments that make someone truly happy. According to one happiness researcher, it's the small bursts of joy that make all the difference.

"How do you define happiness?" Dr. Gillian Mandich, a Canadian researcher and happiness expert, posited. "On the surface, it seems like such a simple question. However, if you asked 100 people, you'd probably end up getting 100 different responses. That's because happiness is hard to encapsulate into words - it's something felt in the moment. One definition commonly cited in the literature and that I use in my research comes from Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky. And it's that happiness is the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one's life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. I like this definition because it has range and scope for interpretation."

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What drives us to be happy?

The first step in figuring out how to live a happy life is learning what happiness is. Part of the challenge of finding happiness, Dr. Mandich told HRD, is that we aren't taught how to be happy. We grew up learning math, science, language in school, but nobody taught us how to be happy.

"Compounding that is the role media, TV, movies, and social media plays in creating the story of what happiness is," she added. "It’s as if we’ll be happy if we look a certain way or have a certain amount of money – or if we wait for Prince Charming to come riding in on a horse – but it’s not reality. That’s not how happiness works. We know from research that happiness is not a destination; it’s a practice. Similar to how we practice healthy eating or mental health – it’s a continuous process that has to be worked on every day.”

The paradoxical search for happiness

The search for happiness has ramped up over the past few years. Unfortunately, digitization and the advent of social media have only created ‘online lives’ – ones that show snapshots of perfection devoid of reality. This incomplete picture has led people to seek an unrealistic version of happiness – one that doesn’t exist. It’s this endless chase for happiness that’s, somewhat paradoxically, making us unhappy.

“We know from research that people often think the big shiny moments in our lives bring us the most happiness,” added Dr. Mandich. “The birthdays, the graduations, the vacations. But that same research found that a happy life is the sum of small joys throughout the day. So instead of focusing on those big moments that don’t happen very often, and bring less happiness than we anticipate, happiness from small bursts of joy is what adds up to a happier life.”

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How to encourage happiness at work

It's been a rough few months, from pandemics to cyberattacks, social unrest, and global warming. As such, it’s more important than ever for people leaders to encourage happiness at work – be that in the office or remotely. But, of course, part of that comes down to spreading healthy ideas and examples of happiness – after all, happiness is incredibly contagious.

Research from Harvard found that our happiness spreads three degrees from us. As such, when we focus on our happiness, it affects the people that we meet through the day.”

“We know from research is that focusing on our happiness is one of the most selfless things that we can do,” added Dr. Mandich. “When we put ourselves in a better frame of mind, we’re better equipped for other people. We can’t pour from an empty cup! We can’t give what we don’t have.

The good news? You can increase your level of happiness! In UKG’s latest guide, The Truth About Happiness, Dr. Mandich outlines five evidence-based practices to improve your wellbeing right now. Download a free copy.

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