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How to be Happy

An interesting article in New Scientist set me thinking. It describes research into happiness based on the theories of two ancient philosophers Aristotle and Aristippus as to whether happiness is caused by virtue-building activities (like writing down goals or volunteering) or pleasure-seeking activities (like using drugs or alcohol, or going for a nice long walk). The research found that, ‘as Aristotle argued 2400 years ago, the more virtue-building activities people engaged in, the happier they said they were both on the day in question and on the following day. Perhaps surprisingly, there was no relationship between pleasure-seeking and happiness.’

The article concludes that we should have conversations about meaning and purpose and highlights the importance of people’s jobs and work in bringing purpose to their lives.

This brought to mind how some organisations use team building activities to make a contribution to the local community – by decorating a room in a community project like a day centre or children’s home. A few years ago I heard the then Chief Executive of Barclaycard, Gary Hoffman, talk about how ‘Community’ featured as one of the organisation’s values. I thought this an enlightened approach for the business world (particularly financial services), but at the time did not recognise that this could be directly benefiting employees as well as the organisation.

This research demonstrates how important it is to make work meaningful for people so that it makes a greater contribution to their lives than a financial one. If only more managers had the skills to engage the ‘whole person’ at work.


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