How Much Does Happiness Matter?


Happiness matters. It matters so much that it predicts the amount of success you will have in almost every area of your life(1). Your health, relationships, financial status, career trajectory, overall sense of confidence and well-being – you name it, happiness plays a vital role.

 The meaning of happiness is subjective and is dependent on individual interpretation of circumstances. So how do we define happiness if it looks different to everyone? When working with individuals and organizations, I ask participants to consider five questions and answer them on a 1-5 scale (from almost never to almost always). This kind of self-reporting is ideal since you are the best judge of how happy you are.

  1. Do you feel confidence in your life, in the present, and for the future?
  2. Do you feel deep satisfaction with your life?
  3. Do you feel a deep connection with others?
  4. Are your levels of stress and burnout low and manageable?

This simple self-assessment provides a place to begin a journey to increased health and happiness. But there are other ways to define happiness. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor describes happiness as the joy we feel striving after our potential.” Additionally, Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, has found that those who pursue pleasure, engagement, and meaning live the fullest lives.

Though most would agree that happiness is extremely important in our personal lives, most do not consider the vital overlap between personal happiness and the workplace. In fact, it is one of the most significant predictors of professional success(1). Happy people are more productive, perform better in leadership positions, and are a part of more successful teams. They produce higher sales and receive higher performance ratings. A happy employee will take fewer sick days (on average 1.25 less per month, 15 less per year), require fewer healthcare costs, and is less likely to quit or suffer from burnout(2). 

For those who view happiness as an ideal but not something important for the workplace, consider the fact that researchers have found that a 3 to 1 ratio is what it takes for a corporate team to be successful(3). Meaning, it takes three positive experiences to outweigh the impact of one negative experience. When you dip below that ratio, work performance is going to suffer.

We know the happiness (or lack there of) of employees affects the bottom line of an organization. So, what can you do about it?  Happiness in the workplace comes down to two things: you get what you expect and what you focus on expands. You get what you expect: if leaders anticipate that their employees will be disgruntled and unhappy, they will be. On the other hand, if they are expected to thrive and succeed, that is what they will do4. What you focus on, you get more of: people can become happier, and this doesn’t just apply to the “naturally happy” employee. Our brains are data processors, with a single track that absorbs all input and accepts whatever we tell ourselves is true. Luckily, we can train our brains to upgrade our default happiness settings. We can work on our ability to automatically default to looking for the good in people and experiences.


If you want to increase your own happiness and the happiness of your employees, here are 5 things to encourage in your
workplace starting today:

  1. Be grateful: What you focus on, you get more of. Begin or end each day by writing down five things you are grateful for today. This exercise will help train your brain to look for the positive and good in your life. Your brain is like any other muscle in your body. With practice, your happiness muscle will get stronger.
  2. Meditate: Focused quiet time helps to grow your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that impacts your feelings of happiness). What’s more, the benefits of meditation stretch far beyond feelings of happiness. Meditation has the power to boost your immune function, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and reduce stress(5). Spend five minutes a day in stillness, where your only task is to breathe; four counts in, four counts out.
  3. Seek out more of what make you happy: Take small breaks in your day for the things you know you enjoy. Make a phone call to a loved one, watch a short funny video, do a puzzle. These short breaks will lift your spirits and will cause your brain to be more creative and productive.
  4. Assess your work-space: Do your surroundings bring you joy? Are there pictures of loved ones, a favorite vacation spot or your beloved pet on your desk? Clear out the clutter, get organized and infuse happiness into your immediate surroundings. Looking at these joyful items will give you small bursts of happiness throughout your day.
  5. Move more and get outside: Not only will exercise boost your happiness and productivity, but it will also reduce stress and help you sleep better. Whenever possible, get outside for a walk and aim for at least twenty minutes. Fresh air and sunshine are proven to lift your mood and creativity once you return to work. Enlist your coworkers to walk with you, this creates both accountability and a social aspect to your midday walks.

Happiness is a habit, just like any other. This means everyone is in control of how happy they are and, as a result, how successful. Anyone can decide to become a happier person and with consistent time and effort, they can achieve that goal. For the individuals and organizations that take on this worthwhile pursuit, the rewards are lifelong and far-reaching. There is plenty of return on your investment.

Change in workplace culture begins at the top. A happy CEO initiates a trickle-down effect on the entire organization. If managers are empowered to implement happiness habits for themselves throughout the workday, their direct reports will feel encouraged to do the same. Focus on improving happiness and success will follow, not the other way around. Success does not come until happiness is in place. Save yourself from the mind-trap of “I’ll be happy when…”. Choose to be happy now. You deserve it, your employees deserve it, and the organization benefits.

To learn more about health & happiness coaching or training for you or your organization email me: 


  1. Lyubommirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.
  2. Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index. (2008). As referenced in: Associated press. (June 18, 2008). Poll: Unhappy workers take more sick days.
  3. Losada, M. (December 9, 2008). Work teams and the Losada Line: New results. Positive Psychology News Daily.
  4. Drawn from Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y of leadership.
  5. Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G.E.R., & Santerre, C. (2005). Meditation and positive psychology. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 632-645). New York: Oxford University Press.




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