Q. What do most want from life?
A. To be happy and successful.
Q. What should you do to achieve this?
A. Work hard, to achieve success, then feel happy.
The A-Level student knows they will be happy when they get into Medical School. The medical student will be happy when they graduate. The foundation doctor wants a good specialist training place. The specialist trainee will be happy when they complete training and find a permanent job. The GP/Consultant thinks they will be happy when they have saved enough money for early retirement….
Delayed gratification is certainly an essential part of the toolkit needed to achieve success. But, like me, you have probably learnt that there is more to actually being happy.
The obvious problem with the approach above is that happiness is all too often replaced by the next challenge. It is always in the future, when where we live is the present.
Evidence from the field of behavioural psychology suggests that this conventional wisdom about how to find happiness has even deeper flaws. And that the relationship between work, success and happiness is more complex than our instinctive, socially conditioned first thoughts might imply.
Shawn Achor, a Harvard Lecturer and psychologist, suggests in his book “The Happiness Advantage”, that the relationship between work, success and happiness actually runs in the opposite directions.
“People are smarter, more effective and resilient when they are happy”
His 2012 study of 1,600 Harvard students concludes that success does not lead to happiness. He did however find that happiness was a strong predictor of success. And most interestingly, that people work smarter and are more effective and resilient when they are already happy. Further, success was predicted by optimism, social support and ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.
Now, an afternoon spent looking at the Sunday newspapers shows that the rich, successful and famous are no happier than the rest of us living sufficiently comfortable, but less exceptional lives. But the suggestion that we do our best, most effective and cleverest work when we are happy is interesting.
“Think of the improvements in productivity and performance and the reduction in mistakes and serious errors that could be achieved through greater investment in NHS staff welfare and wellbeing”
It can be hard working in the NHS. Delivering good care and meeting patient and regulatory expectations, all within a budget which the taxpayer is willing to pay is tough. But it can feel as if the system is deliberately designed to frustrate, over work and demoralise workers.
The NHS and its patients must be missing out on getting the best from its staff through a lack of focus on staff wellbeing.
Think of the improvements in productivity and performance and the reduction in mistakes and serious errors that might be found through more investment in staff welfare and wellbeing. Investment to improve conditions for staff might well prove cost effective.
The lessons here are not just for employers. As individuals, we can harness the powerful effect of the happiness advantage. In seeking first to be happy, we may become more effective and productive for our patients and find we need to slog a little less to get through the day.
Watch Shawn Achor’s Ted talk about “The happy secret of better work”
Top tips to improve happiness from Shawn’s talk
Doing any or all of the following actions daily for 21 days is evidence based (according to Shawn) to improve your happiness:
- 3 Gratitudes – Writing down three new things you are grateful for each day will help focus the mind on positives in the here and now in order to improve your sense of wellbeing.
- Journaling – Write for 2 minutes each day and focus on achievements and what went well. Like anything else, becoming good at focusing on positives takes practice and repetition.
- Exercise – Succeeding at being active everyday provides a feeling of achievement and will keep you feeling fit and supple.
- Meditation – Sit quietly each day for 2 minutes and keep your mind clear to improve your ability to focus.
- Random acts of kindness – Genuine thank you’s and praise to those at work and at home make both parties feel good and strengthen social relationships, which are an essential ingredient for well being.
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