Avoiding The Pitfalls of Workplace Happiness

The idea of happiness at work has become more of ‘a thing’ now days.  This is wonderful as for years I’ve been talking about it with the mission to raise awareness – mission accomplished!  Woo-hooo!

However, with the raising awareness of happiness science in the workplace, there are also concerns about the application (or misapplication) of happiness science at work.  A few are:

  • Dr. John Sullivan has posted 12 Good Reasons You Should Be Cautious About Employee Happiness – part 1 and part 2.  I have a lot of respect for Dr. Sullivan and have followed him since the way back days when ERE first started.  The view from both pieces seems to point towards issues around mislabeling and measures.  Also, it seems as if the view of workplace happiness is that it is just fluffy stuff that is not tied to the bottom line with fringe benefits being an example. Also, Dr. John posits that productivity drives happiness. This point is debatable as Shawn Achor and Nic Marc have pointed out.
  • Against Happiness |Economist provides a lopsided view of forced happiness which, to no great surprise, is not really a sustainable or a worthy endeavor.

Luckily, these views are addressable if we keep a few basic guidelines in mind according to 5 Pitfalls of Employee Happiness Initiatives by Dr. Aymee Coget:

  1. Avoid ‘happiness pressure’ and ensure employee buy-in.
  2. Avoid stressed out leaders by ensuring leaders are positive and helping to pull the effort forward.
  3. Avoid using surface level techniques and instead use sustainable happiness strategies.
  4. Implementation must be done properly with a clear thought out plan that delivers as designed.
  5. Avoid making happiness superfluous by using rigorous measures of success aimed at the most meaningful needs.

I can say that I have used very similar points in framing up Happywork as a science-based, metrics driven approach with the leaders I work with and they are very helpful.  The most powerful piece from Dr. Aymee’s list to avoid happiness pressure that we use is what we call the opt-in approach.  I am sure to give ample opportunities to opt-out as we go through each phase of the program.  Participants are exposed to program elements in a methodic way over a period of time and invited to participate in the next of four phases.  From every group, there are always a few that opt-out as they are plenty happy already or the approach just isn’t for them or whatever.  Happywork does not seek to be a fix all or one-size-fits-all.  Our approach is customized like a bottom-up engagement program akin to executive coaching made available to everyone.  Not everyone is motivated to do something about their workplace happiness and so coaching would not be helpful.  Putting the employee or worker in the driver’s seat to be able to chose to participate is the key.

Love & Bonding Boosts Oxytocin for Happiness

In previous posts on Dopamine and Serotonin, it has been pointed out that each person experiences happiness through positive emotional states brought about by a mix of brain chemicals.  Each chemical has an important part to play in happiness.  A major well-being booster of happiness is oxytocin.

Oxytocin has been called ‘the ‘love drug’ by some. An example would be Gary Vey’s blog Understanding LOVE and Oxytocin.  “Bonding provides comfort, safety, security, less anxiety and less fear through the release of oxytocin which inhibits brain centers that usually produce the opposite feelings. Bonding is the behavior that the neural network is hardwired to reward. Bonding also appears to promote health and prolong life.”

One great source of insight on oxytocin is Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation from Frontiers In Psychology.  “Oxytocin is released in response to activation of sensory nerves during labor, breastfeeding and sexual activity. In addition oxytocin is released in response to low intensity stimulation of the skin, e.g., in response to touch, stroking, warm temperature, etc.” The study goes on to say that “Oxytocin is released in response to pleasant mental experiences. Such a release of oxytocin may, e.g., be induced by seeing, hearing, smelling, or thinking of well known and loved persons…” and so having deep and trusting relations at work where you have bonded with your colleagues is very important.  Another interesting item from this study is the effect of owing and petting dogs which provide for a nice boost of oxytocin…I wonder if it works for cats too?

Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation comes from one of my heros, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson.  Dr. Fredrickson and her colleagues published a nice study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.  This new 2016 research shows “…the first experimental evidence that spirituality, endorsed by millions worldwide, appears to be supported by OT(Oxytocin)” and “…It also boosted participants’ experience of specific positive emotions during meditation, at both explicit and implicit levels.” Yet more research about how great meditation and connectedness are so important.

Oxytocin is awesome stuff for sure.  As Happywork is about workplace happiness, it is worth asking how this applies to a work setting? Well, some key takeaways are:

  1. Create trust and bonding at work through items like brainstorms where everyone is encouraged to speak, all ideas are welcome and no one interrupts to create an open and supportive environment.
  2. Take the time to get to know who you work with on an ever-increasing deeper level.  The time will create opportunities to open up and trust the relationship.
  3. Consider a dog-friendly work space like we have at Avvo!
  4. Meditate, meditate, meditate…it has so many great benefits.  I love to start my day off with some meditation in a park on my walk to work as well as a mid-afternoon refresher.

Boost Serotonin to Improve and Regulate Happiness

In a previous post on Healthy Ways To Boost Dopamine for Happiness, it was pointed out that each person experiences happiness differently.  Positive emotional states are brought about by brain chemistry.  When we are happy, it is usually from a mix of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin.

Each of these chemicals have an important part to play in happiness.  A major regulator of happiness is serotonin. Medical News Today with James McIntosh and Dr Helen Webberley point out that “serotonin is thought to be especially active in constricting smooth muscles, transmitting impulses between nerve cells, regulating cyclic body processes and contributing to wellbeing and happiness.” In other words, serotonin helps  to keep our body running well by stabilizing body functions like mood and appetite.  Serotonin is a main component in some antidepressants and eating disorder medication.

Also, Christopher Bergland  in The Neurochemicals of Happiness calls serotonin “the confidence molecule” and talks about a “higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness.” Bergland goes on to say that as well as being “able to say ‘I did it!’ will produce a feedback loop that will reinforce behaviors that build self esteem and make you less insecure and create an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.”  I am all about upward spirals of feeling good!

Now that you know a lot more about serotonin, how can you get more of it? In Why You Need More Serotonin and How to Get it, Emily Roberts suggests:

  1. Get tested to see if you are low on serotonin
  2. Take care of your gut as 80% or more of serotonin production come from your GI
  3. Get serious about managing your stress
  4. Exercise

So, as a happiness consultant, I recommend to eat healthy with lots of probiotics and go for a walk to allow yourself to feel pride in taking such great care of yourself and managing your stress.  Also, before you go to bed, give yourself an ‘atta-boy/girl’ for cultivating more serotonin for your happiness.  I like to close my day by putting a quick entry into my happywork Evernote journal so it is the last thing on my mind as I drift off to sleep.  Give it a try and let me know how it works.

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Learn more at:

Website: Happyworkteam.com

Email: happyworkteam@gmail.com

Phone: (818) 308-4365

Dopamine and how to boost happiness

Each person experiences happiness differently.  There are differing degrees of positive emotional states brought about by brain chemistry in each of us.  The same event may invoke a different mix of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin that make us happy.

Each of these chemicals have an important part to play in happiness.  However, dopamine seems to have the largest part to play as the drive of our pleasure / reward system in our brain. Its activity spans so many of the key positive emotional states that we commonly share as happiness: joy, bliss, butterflies in the stomach, zest for life and the drive towards achievement are some examples.

As a powerhouse of happiness, there is a great upside and downside potential.  Unfortunately, we can get our dopamine fix by some very self-destructive means like gambling, drugs and alcohol or over-eating bad foods. I myself have sought out caffeine and sugar to give me a ‘pick-me-up’ in the past and probably have gone over-board few times.  The same goes for my use of my mobile phone where, at times, it has been my constant ‘pacifier’ to help me escape during stressful periods.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 5.15.12 PM

Luckily, there are some very healthy ways to boost dopamine.  On the awesome website Brainfit, Deane Alban helps readers focus on How to Increase Dopamine Naturally.  Among the tips given, a few of my favorites are:

  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Exercise (double-points for endorphins!)
  • Avocado
  • Curcumin (active ingredient in the spice turmeric)
  • Meditation
  • Creative hobbies (like wood working)
  • Green tea
  • Sauerkraut (mmmm…sour yumminess)
  • Listening to your favorite music
  • Creating and achieving short, mid and long-term goals
  • Watermelon (mmmm…sweat summer yumminess!)
  • Trying something new to learn

Happy: The New (old) Productivity

I am always on the hunt for videos and papers that illustrate the benefits of happier workers and give best practices on how to do it.

In Vishen Lakhiani‘s video ‘Why Happiness is the New Productivity (The Story of Mindvalley) https://youtu.be/T8ZFU4FoNvY, he gives some great background on what creates happiness at work including some nice commentary on the state of Flow.  He also provides examples from his company MindValley where they have put into place some of the same “awesomeness” that Happywork aspires to deliver to our customers.

Vishen MindValley Post

Vishen reveals how they created a gratitude website for employees, have a Friday Awesomeness Report, a dog as the Director of Public Relations, guests that come in to attend company meetings, and taking 10% off the top of the profits of the month and re-distribute to employees, and…wait for it…daily corporate group senior team guided meditations!  They even have a “sweet sugar love machine” to help all 50 employees to be able to reward, recognize and appreciating each other.  There are a number of other best practices he reveals.Everything Vishen and MindValley have going on is SO AMAZING!!  I endeavor to attend their Awesomefest some day…mmmmmmmm. Who’s with me?



Our Workplace Happiness Workgroup Meetup now has a new Bellevue location!

Redmond Happiness Workgroup

We are very pleased that The Legacy Group Capital LLC has agreed to be our location sponsor for our free Bellevue Workplace Happiness Workgroup. We will get together to work on happiness on the 1st Wednesday of each month at 400 112th Ave NE Street, Suite 300 in down town Bellevue just off I-405.  The first meeting will be December 2nd from 6:00-7:30 pm.

Can’t make the 1st Wednesday workgroup? We still have our Redmond and Down Town Seattle locations on the 2nd and 3rd Wednesday of the month. Click here to see all our upcoming Meetups.  Not familiar with Meetups or don’t want to sign up with Meetup?  Send us an email at happyworkteam@gmail.com and we’ll get you on our participant list.

See you there!

Announcing a Downtown Seattle Happiness Workgroup

Happiness Workgroups now has a Downtown Seattle location!

Redmond Happiness Workgroup

Jackson Lewis P.C. has agreed to be our location sponsor for Downtown Seattle Happiness Workgroup.  We will get together to work on happiness on the 3rd Wednesday of each month on the 23rd floor of the Pike Building at 520 Pike Street.

Our first Downtown Seattle workgroup is Wednesday, November 18, 5:45-7:30 PM. Please RSVP and join us!

Can’t make the Downtown Seattle workgroup? We still have Redmond Happiness Workgroup every second Wednesday of the month. Click here to RSVP for the next Redmond workgroup, November 11, 6:00-7:30 PM.

Could 3 Little Steps be the Door to Happiness?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be happier and healthier in a way that was free, easy with just 3 little steps, and took just a few minutes each day? It’s true and it has been around for thousands of years! (It sounds like a late night TV commercial, doesn’t it?) What if those 3 easy steps were:

  1. Sit comfortably
  2. Focus on breathing
  3. Re-focus on breathing when thoughts come and go

Welcome to meditation!

Are you from a conservative background, like me, and thought meditation was too ‘woo-woo’? Would you say that to super bowl winning quarterbacks or elite forces of our US military? Yep; meditation.

But, maybe you are a high-level executive and don’t have time for fluffy stuff. Maybe you are like hard driving self-described workaholic Dan Harris the NBC News anchor. If you have not watched some of his stuff on-line, here you go:

  1. Dan Harris and 10% Happier from NBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sXBEfIXUno
  2. Dan Harris 10% Happier from Google Talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt5Qv9tUObI

* Key learning: 3 Base Responses: I Want It, I Don’t Want It, I Don’t Care…And a 4th can be learned through Meditation: Don’t Judge – observe without reaction.

Meditation is accessible to almost everyone and there are no serious negative side effects. If Dan Harris is right, meditation will someday be a common component of everyone’s health, like the evolution of running over the past 100 years. Folks are doing a nice job of dressing it up and re-purposing meditation such as presence or mindfulness…which is awesome! Anything to help with adoption of such an awesome tool for health and happiness.

If you have resisted meditation for religious reasons, there is good news! Meditation is also agnostic; take some time before or after prayer / ceremony / etc. to follow these 3 steps. Watch how it magnifies your experience.

Meditation for Priests