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Cheer Up! The Happiness Consultants Have Arrived

February 24, 2010

Several months ago I reported that happiness was a hot topic in business reporting these days. But unfortunately, some depressing news has recently developed in the happiness department.  

Apparently worker happiness is on the fritz.  

A January survey by the Conference Board revealed that more Americans than ever before are unhappy at work, representing the nadir of a steady decline that has been ebbing away for the last 30 years.  

According to the research, only 45% of Americans are currently happy at work, compared to 52% in 2005, and 61% in 1987.

Most likey these unhappiness trends are linked to the effects of a dismal recession: employees are required to do more with less resources; they are more likely to settle for jobs they are not suited for; and incomes have not kept up with inflation. Blech! No wonder everyone is so miserable.  

According to Linda Barrington, Managing Director at the Conference Board, this is a very troubling sign for not only work in America, but our greater economic viability. If the job satisfaction trend is not reversed, economists say, it could stifle innovation and hurt America’s competitiveness and productivity.  

“Workers who find their jobs interesting are more likely to be innovative and to take the calculated risks and the initiative that drive productivity and contribute to economic growth,” Barrington says.  

Given those bleak statistics and their potential economic impact, shouldn’t we find ways to cheer up all of those disheartened employees? Besides, who wants to work with a dejected whiner?  

Plus it’s fairly obvious that positive attitudes can make for a more productive workforce.  

Enter the Happiness Coach

Sue Shellenberer, author of the Wall Street Journal’s “Work and Family” column reports that there are now Happiness Coaches on the job to help employees be more positive and productive, offering them happiness tips and techniques such as meditation and expressing gratitude.  

Much of this movement stems from the burgeoning Positive Psychology field that was pioneered by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. Many of these consultants are credentialed professors, researchers and consultants with legit qualifications, like  Shawn Achor, a former Harvard researcher, now head of consulting firm Aspirant, and my favorite blue-chip executive-Coach, Marshall Goldsmith, who offers advice  for executive happiness in his latest book, Mojo.

But should we really be so obsessed with everyone’s happiness at work?  

Meanwhile, there is a not-so-enthusiastic backlash brewing against all this emphasis on cheerfulness, with anti-happiness books like “Bright-Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich, and “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy” by Eric G. Wilson wedging their way into the non-self-help market. 

Ehrenreich views this blooming industry of happiness with skepticism, and blames positive thinking as a prop that allows people to avoid confronting serious problems affecting the economy and the workplace.  It is, after all, difficult to achieve happiness when fear, pain, abuse or poverty is looming over one’s fragile life. And these issues are far too real for too many people to gloss it over with a sunny disposition.

We Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For

To me, all this talk of happiness at work has a ring of spiritual search-i-ness to it. 

Because, who are we kidding? Happiness, like spirituality, is by definition an elusive quest. It is something we are often confused by, with the pursuit of happiness becoming a mistaken substitute for the thing itself.

Rather than happiness, what I think we really want out of our work, and life, is: 

  1.  A sense of deep purpose, connecting our spirit to what we do all day;
  2. Combined with some economic stability; 
  3. Closely followed by meaningful and compassionate relationships; and finally 
  4. Some semblance of hope to relieve the ominous anxiety that comes with the inevitability of the insecure and unknown. 

So then, what is my take on all of this happy-talk?  

I think we have a workforce in search of a more meaningful spiritual life. 

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Melo permalink
    February 24, 2010 8:24 am

    Bless you, my son. :p

  2. February 24, 2010 9:55 am

    Your end points, Brad, knock it out of the ballpark. I wish we could publish them on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

  3. February 24, 2010 11:26 am

    Acknowledging unhappiness can be a good thing, so long as those expressing their unhappiness understand what is making them unhappy and act on what they intend to change – and often the change has to be internal – to find contentment.

    We are, at bottom, stewards of our own happiness.

    • February 26, 2010 6:06 am

      Maureen, you have summed it up well. It is up to each of us to take responsibility for making our own contentment – even if it is hard work! Happiness will never come from external circumstances or events.

  4. February 24, 2010 12:22 pm

    Wow camel, you’re no shrinking (violet) in this punchy post. Yes, the table needs four legs. It wobbles otherwise. Brilliant words of life.

  5. February 24, 2010 12:37 pm

    Wow, Camel-friend, this goes right along with our book club over at HCB this time around. I am loving your end points too! Wonder why Beckett never considered hiring a “Happiness Coach”? I’m going to check into your resources. Thanks for the info!

  6. February 24, 2010 8:36 pm

    Personally, i believe happiness is over-rated.
    Work was supposed to be fulfilling with an enternal perspective, but not necessarily on a day to day existence. Some jobs I knew were important but i wasnt necesarrily happy at….

    of course, in this modern world happiness trumps purpose…

    • February 26, 2010 6:09 am

      Happiness vs. purpose? That is a great question – are people focused more on one than the other regarding their work and careers? Do they know the difference? What difference would it make in their lives if they starting working on their purpose rather than for happiness? I think it would change everything.

  7. February 24, 2010 9:19 pm

    If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time. ~Edith Wharton

    Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible. ~St. Augustine

    Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

    Man must search for what is right, and let happiness come on its own. ~Johann Pestalozzi

    My crown is called content, a crown that seldom kings enjoy. ~William Shakespeare

    As people spin faster and faster in the pursuit of merely personal happiness, they become exhausted in the futile effort of chasing themselves. ~Andrew Delbanco

    There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do. ~Freya Stark, The Journey’s Echo

    Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill. ~Johnny Carson

  8. February 24, 2010 9:21 pm

    that orange is kinda creepy looking…just sayin’

  9. February 25, 2010 7:15 am

    I guess you’re right with the conclusion of this happy-talk being a quest for a more meaningful spiritual life.

    Besides getting this meaning and happiness from work I think we could also bring them to work.

  10. February 25, 2010 10:51 am

    Bradley, you’re right: what is happiness? It is so subjective and based on soooo many things. I’m not for the “happiness” movement.

    But I do agree that we should all (or at least most of us) find some sense of purpose in our work. People with purpose in their jobs are not always “happy” but they do their jobs well and contribute to the overall company.

    We need purpose not happiness

  11. February 26, 2010 8:25 am

    I think seeking or knowing a sense of joy, which is deeper and more sustaining and not about personal agenda, is maybe a better goal. I can find purpose and joy in the overall picture , but trying to be happy would make me crash from reality too often. Happy sounds selfish or childlike.

  12. February 26, 2010 10:24 am

    Happiness coaches? What a riot. C. Clinton Sidle in his book “The Hungry Spirit” talks about happiness and leadership, and human effectiveness. He says he’s learned being an effective human being is less about mastering certain skills and more about fostering a certain attitude in yourself as well as in others. The factors that contribute to happiness also contribute to success and inspire you to make positive contributions to the world.

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