On a damp Tuesday morning in London, a client kindly invited me to an event with the Dalai Lama, who was speaking on the concept of happiness.
The event was held in the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden. It was a full house – some 2,000 people, keen to hear words of wisdom that would generate more happiness within their own lives.
Amongst His Holiness were several other speakers, ‘experts’ in happiness. These included Doctor Richard Davidson, world-renowned Neuroscientist and Mathieu Ricard, French born Buddhist monk and speaker at the famous TED talks.
To kick start the seminar however, we were introduced to two ‘non-professional speakers’. Both of which had seen notable changes in their lives as a result of attending an Action For Happiness course. I must admit, before anyone had spoken, I was curious and perhaps dubious to know how, in busy and demanding lives, do we find true happiness? I thought about my work life specifically and wondered whether true happiness could exist where high-pressured and target driven careers were concerned?
The ‘Warm and Fuzzy’ Happiness Effect
One of the first speakers was Adrian Bafoon, a primary school teacher from Brockley. Adrian was, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring people of the day. He appeared to be a fairly down to earth, average guy, with a not so average quest to increase happiness in those that he met. Adrian spoke about how he wished to increase the happiness of the people he came into regular contact with, starting with his students.
He decided to introduce 2 new actions as a result of thinking more about happiness;
1. Daily meditation
Once a day, every day, Adrian and his class sat down and conducted a short meditation session. It was simple he said, sitting in silence and watching the breath in and out for 10 minutes a day made his class feel more mindful and appreciative. No judging one another, no competing just simply being still and silencing your mind, with the focus on the breath. Adrian said that his students started to tell him how much they enjoyed their meditation sessions and how calm they felt afterwards- perhaps something we as adults could benefit from in our daily lives.
2. Gratitude sessions
Every Friday, Adrian asked his class to gather round and each say one or two things that had gone really well for the child that week, whether in or out of school. This got me thinking. In our world as “grown-ups”, are we too serious, too stressed to take time out and speak about what went well for us? What if managers or companies at all levels enforced this type of practice- collectively celebrating what went well? We could even extend that further. Perhaps families could sit down together once a week, maybe over dinner and do this very same exercise. What would be the change we saw?
The Science of Happiness
Dr. Richard Davidson spoke next of the neurological impacts of happiness on the brain. He talked about happiness being an identifiable change within cognitive brain circuits. He stated that there were 4 constituents of well-being that have been neuroscientifically validated, to contribute to happiness. These are;
Resilience, being able to bounce back successfully from a challenge and learn
Seeing positive in the world, your perception of what was good and bad and being able to change those perceptions
Bringing attention to your day, the wandering mind is an unhappy one Dr. Davidson told us. Interesting to note in a world where we are always doing more than one thing. I in fact checked my phone several times throughout the session- quite unnecessarily perhaps!
Being generous, this is said to create a feeling of altruism, so in theory doing good actual feels good.
He continued to explain that by acting in a certain way, the brain creates connections that reinforce our behavior. Similar to that of creating a habit- we could actually create the habit of cultivating happiness. The Dalai Lama agreed with this and stated that happiness and true peace could be created by repetition of positive actions, discipline and routine so that the brain associates these repeated actions with happiness feelings.
External Influences on our Happiness (or unhappiness!)
His Holiness said that if you allow yourself to be affected or impacted by external influences then these influences have the ability to take your happiness away- so it isn’t real.
For example, you do a really good job at work and your boss praises you and you’re happy- well great! Praise is important in work. The next day you make a mistake your boss reprimands you and lets you know what you did was not good enough. You are miserable, you get into a bad mood and everything that happens after, feels negative. What a rubbish day you have had.
But did you really? Or, did you put too much emphasis on one person’s opinion? Now I’m not suggesting that the feedback you received wasn’t important but what I am suggesting is that we should learn to listen without putting too much personal emotion into a situation and where possible we should try to detach.
This enables you to appreciate the praise or reprimand but it doesn’t ruin your entire day- we do what is called ‘adding logic to our external factors’.
You then learn to take more control of your own happiness and become more self-reliant and less influenced by external factors, of which you often have little control over.
Finding Happiness in Work Tasks
According to Dr. Davidson, in the workplace, there is no real thing as multi- tasking. If you are multi tasking you are simply rapidly shifting form one task to another but never really giving one thing your focus.
Dr. Davidson stated that this could be a contributor to unhappiness in peoples work lives as it potentially leaves people with feelings of doing half a job for every job – leading to dissatisfaction to frustration – leading to, yes you guessed it- unhappiness!
I personally found this theory interesting from an HR and recruitment perspective as one of the most common things employers want to know is if an employee can multi-task!
Actions for Everyone
So how are we on a company level using this seminar? Well we are taking steps to implement gratitude. Every Friday at 4:30pm we are taking a leaf out of Adrian’s book. We will be stopping to say what went well for us this week and we may have a cheeky drink (or soft drink if preferred!) to collectively celebrate.
Personally, I am taking a stand to switch my work mobile off at night and not to check my personal mobile every time it bleeps. I’ll make more time to do things that aren’t goal oriented and things that I can focus on, one activity at a time.
Seeing a friend, reading, going to the theatre – things that I can be engrossed in simply for the pleasure of it and definitely without keeping one eye on my phone.
So stop and think. What are you doing either for yourself or for your team to increase happiness? If you need the ‘why bother bit’, well happy employees will stay with you and your company, will be more productive and potentially more loyal to you. But please, don’t do it for that reason if you can help it. Work on your own happiness levels to increase your contentment in life and in turn, that of others.
Do it simply to bring about a small but positive change to the world.
After all, as the Dalia Lama advises us:
“Happiness is not ready made, it comes from your own actions.”