Happiness at Work

29 September 2021

In celebration of the International Week of Happiness at Work, our Global Acoustics Ambassador, Pascal van Dort shares some interesting insights on the influence that happiness can have on human wellbeing and health. For example, did you know that happy employees are 20% more productive?

Article illustration, Rockfon, blog post, insight, happiness at the workspace, Office

My 4-year-old daughter, Emilia was listening to music and came to me and asked,  “How can laughing be healthy?”. It was the title of the song, and she was curious. I could’ve told her how endorphins act as a neurotransmitter in our brain; however, I don’t think she would get the message. She knows that fruit and vegetables are healthy as they have a lot of vitamins. So, my story to her was that when you laugh, the body produces healthy vitamins, and it increases the feeling of happiness.  

Her response to me was: “I want to be happy all the time, daddy”, and she walked away with a smile on her face. It made me think, isn’t it what we all want in life: to be healthy and happy? 

Improving happiness means improving people’s lives 

It makes sense that happiness is related to a better quality of life, but can people’s lives be improved with the simple means of more happiness? Let’s take a look. First, we have to look at how we spend our lives. About 38% of our life, we are sleeping and about 24% of a typical working period of 50 years, we are working[1]. Down to numbers, it means that the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. So, if we improve happiness in the workspace then it must have an influence on people’s lives. The connection between happiness at work and overall life satisfaction is close, and with changing how we see the work environment we can make a difference to the world’s 2.1 billion workers.[2] 

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.

Dalai Lama

What is happiness? 

Creating a happy workplace starts with the meaning of the word happiness. The first to look into “happiness” was the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) and Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (369 - 286 BC). Aristotle said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves”, meaning that how people enjoy what they have and how much they appreciate the essence of life define happiness. So, it’s up to the individual to value happiness and even figure out what immense happiness means to them. 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “happiness is the feeling of being happy”. So, happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfilment. While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction. And because happiness tends to be such a broadly defined term, psychologists and other social scientists typically use the term 'subjective wellbeing' (SWB) when they talk about this emotional state. 

So, what makes us happy? 

Now we know the definition of happiness but how do we become happy?  
Both Aristotle and Zhuangzi concluded that the role of the human mind is critical in the quest for happiness. Both draw a clear distinction between two kinds of happiness explained by the Greek, hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (a life well lived). 

More recently it was psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908 - 1970) who investigated what makes us happy. In 1943, he formulated 'Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs'[3], also known as the 'Pyramid of Happiness'. In the pyramid of happiness, health and wellbeing is located in ‘Safety’ and they’re one of the basic needs for humans to achieve happiness. 

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When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it influenced mental health in many countries. It had an immediate decline, as not being able to go to work had a negative influence on our wellbeing. The economic insecurity is associated with a 12% decline in life satisfaction [5]. But on the positive side, the pandemic has shone a light on mental health with more public awareness of human wellbeing than ever before. So, where in Europe we feel the happiest? 

Top 10 happiest countries in Europe [4] [5]

World Database of Happiness  (2010- 2019)   World Happiness Report  (2020)
1. Denmark 8.2   1. Finland 7.89
2. Switzerland 8.1   2. Iceland 7.58
3. Finland 8.0   3. Denmark 7.52
4. Iceland 8.0   4. Switzerland 7.51
5. Norway 7.9   5. The Netherlands 7.50
6. Austria 7.7   6. Sweden 7.31
7. The Netherlands 7.6   7. Germany 7.31
8. Belgium 7.5   8. Norway 7.29
9. Bosnia Herzegovina 7.5   9. Austria 7.21
10. The United Kingdom 7.4   10. Ireland

7.04

         

With all things considered, how happy would you say you are? That is exactly the question asked in a survey about job satisfaction and subjective wellbeing, conducted in 27 European countries. On a scale from 1-10, where low scores reflect unhappiness and high scores are associated with high levels of happiness, we overall score ourselves to be 6.99 happy at our work [6]. Not bad, but I would say there is definitely room for improvement. 

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The impact of being a happy camper 

Why does being happy matter? Well, first of all it has a huge positive influence on our overall health. Being happy improves sleep habits and sleep practices, and that’s related to better concentration, productivity, exercise performance and keeping a healthy weight [7]

Additionally, being happy helps to keep your immune system strong [8].  People who report having a positive state of wellbeing are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours such as eating fruits and vegetables as well as engaging in regular physical exercise [9]. Positive feelings increase resilience that helps people to better manage stress and bounce back better when faced with setbacks. For example, one study found that happy people tend to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and that these benefits tend to persist over time [10]

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about the importance of paying attention to peoples’ wellbeing and happiness. On the first International Day of Happiness, he showed that ‘The creation of an enabling environment for improving people’s wellbeing is a development goal in itself’. It goes without saying that we all want to work in environments that foster health and happiness and therefore turning our office into a happy place has many great advantages: 

  • Happier people are 25% more satisfied in their jobs [11] 
  • A happy workspace makes people 12% more productive [12] 
  • Happiness at the workspace boosts sales by 37% [13] 
  • Happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees [14] 
Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.

Joseph Pilates

Can you design happiness? 

The big question is, how can you create a happy, nurturing and comfortable workspace? Your first step should be to focus on creating a welcoming atmosphere, which can be influenced by the interior design. According the Leesman Review (Issue 31, April 2021), almost 85% of the participants say that the design of the workplace is important to them. Additional research by the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology showed that to have happy, healthy and productive employees, it’s important to let them design their own workspace.

It’s found that the more control people had over their office space, the happier and more motivated they became. Not only in terms of decoration, but also in terms of their layout depending on the activity, the freedom to work in a space where you feel best really does make a difference. 

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How the indoor environment can boost happiness at work 

According to Dutch research; personal control in office buildings matters[15]. The results imply that people are more comfortable and healthier in buildings where they feel they’ve a higher degree of control over e.g., temperature, ventilation and noise. Unsurprisingly, the combination of cold temperatures, noise, and lack of window views as well as natural light causes the most distress. When employees are in uncomfortable conditions, they feel unhappy and less energetic at work[16].  

In a global survey by the Leesman Index[17] they asked the respondents, ‘Thinking about the work that you do, which of the following physical features are important and how satisfied are you with them?
From the Top 5 (desk 84%, chair 83%, small meeting rooms 77%, temperature control 76% and noise levels 71%), noise levels had the lowest satisfaction score of just 32.3%!

So, if you want to turn your office into a happy place, you might consider focussing on designing workplaces that sound right

Laughter is the best medicine 

It goes without saying that you can control your own happiness in a very simple way, just smile! 

Smiling lowers your stress as it releases dopamine and serotonin - and that’s what makes you feel happy. Smiling is the beginning of laughter.
It’s something everyone should experience every day because laughter improves your immune system, it relieves pain and finally, it makes you feel good [18]. This is obvious but what you may not know is that this positive feeling still is with you even after the laughter subsides. And believe it or not, a study found that it’s possible to laugh without experiencing a funny event. And this simulated laughter can be just as beneficial as the real thing[19].

Choosing to smile is a super easy, quick and effective way to boost your mood. And of course, it’s contagious. So, choose to smile more and spread happiness. 

 

We recommend some of our article for you to start making the office or workspace; a happy place. 

 

References: 

[1] source: Gemma Curtis, Dreams Ltd, Your Life In Numbers 

[2] source: Allas T, Schaninger B (2020), “The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships”, article McKinsey Quarterly, McKinsey & Company 

[3] Maslow A (1943), “A Theory of Human Motivation”, published in Psychological Review, Vol. 50, pp. 370-396. 

[4] https://worlddatabaseofhappiness-archive.eur.nl/hap_nat/nat_fp.php?mode=8 

[5] Helliwell, John F., Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs, and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, eds. 2021. World Happiness Report 2021, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ISBN 978-1-7348080-1-8 

[6] Cannas M et al (2019),  “Job satisfaction and subjective well-being in Europe.”, Economics and Sociology, 12(4), 183-196. doi:10.14254/2071-789X.2019/12-4/11 

[7] Sin L et al (2015), “Positive Affect and Health Behaviors Across 5 Years in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease: The Heart and Soul Study”, Psychosom Med. Nov-Dec 2015;77(9):1058-66. 

[8] Costanzo E et al (2004), “Mood and cytokine response to influenza virus in older adults”, J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2004 Dec;59(12):1328-33. doi: 10.1093/gerona/59.12.1328. 

[9] Sapranaviciute-Zabazlajeva L et al (2017), “.Link between healthy lifestyle and psychological wellbeing in Lithuanian adults aged 45-72”, BMJ Open. 2017;7(4):e014240. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014240 

[10] Steptoe A, Wardle J (2005), “Positive affect and biological function in everyday life”, Neurobiol Aging. 2005;26 Suppl 1:108‐112. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2005.08.016 

[11] Bowling N, Eschleman K, Wang Q (2010), “A meta-analytic examination of the relationship between job satisfaction and subjective well-being”, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 83. 915-934 

[12] Oswald A J, Proto E and Sgroi D (2015), “Happiness and productivity: Understanding the happy-productive worker”, Journal of Labor Economics, 33 (4). pp. 789-822 

[13] Book (2011), “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work”, author Shawn Achor, EAN 9780753539477  

[14] Sgroi D. (2015), “Happiness and productivity: Understanding the happy-­productive worker Global Perspectives Series” 

[15] Boerstra A, Beukers T (2011), “Impact of perceived personal control over indoor climate on health and comfort in Dutch offices” 

[16] Well Living Lab study (2028),”The effects of sound, light and temperature on employees in an open office environment”[17] Leesman Review (Issue 31, April 2021) 

[18] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456 

[19] Greene C et al (2016), “Evaluation of a Laughter-based Exercise Program on Health and Self-efficacy for Exercise”, The Gerontologist, Volume 57, Issue 6, Pages 1051–1061