The pursuit of true happiness has become a burning issue for politicians, economists and psychologists, and far from assuming that happiness is a personal matter, employers, too, should be doing far more to put smiles on the faces of staff.
That’s according to the 50th Market Research Society annual conference, held in Brighton last month. It strayed away from its usual diet of consumer behaviour and media fragmentation to serve up presentations on why happiness has become a political hot potato and how it is being measured around the world.
Measuring your mood
According to Richard Reeves, author of Happy Mondays and co-founder of the Intelligence Agency, long-term happiness and satisfaction with your life is now measurable by economists and psychologists and should no longer be seen as an abstract concept.
Reeves says that while starting a new job, winning the lottery or getting married could temporarily lift an individual’s happiness quotient – although it appears to dip back again when there are young children in the household – most research concludes that people revert to their ‘normal’ state of happiness once the initial euphoria wears off.
“Research shows that while there is a strong correlation between money and happiness, there is a limit to how much happier you as an individual can ever become,” adds Reeves.
“While you will be initially far happier with a big lottery win, there is a clear point at which you will start to compare yourself with other rich people and find your new life lacking.”
Intriguingly, the tipping point at which the benefits of more money begin to fade apply to entire nations too, says Reeves. “Once a country becomes as rich as, say, Portugal or Spain, its people don’t become any happier,” he argues.
A second speaker, Dr Sheila Keegan, a psychologist and director of the research company Campbell Keegan, says that although the UK is the 10th wealthiest country in the world, it is only 108th on the list in terms of people’s happiness.
Despite the general dissatisfaction though, she believes that our society “is becoming more and more obsessed with being happy and fulfilled.”
Keegan argues that forward-looking firms need chief happiness officers (CHOs) just as much as they need chief executive officers, chief information officers and chief finance officers, although she admits the idea may take time to catch on.
“There was a time when companies simply brought in jesters to keep the workers happy, but that wouldn’t be so relevant today,” she says.
“The 21st century CHO should be responsible for encouraging people to be more creative, challenging and spontaneous at work. Happiness makes us more productive, and employers need to be more proactive in spreading it around.”
By Virginia Matthews
What really makes us happy?
Taking into account the mountain of happiness statistics from around the world, the things that make us happiest, aside from wealth and a happy relationship, are:
Having a job in the first place
But above all working in your own garden (not to be confused with gardening leave), believed to be the single most important factor in boosting a happiness rating.
Tips from Richard Reeves