First comes happiness, then comes success : A case to prioritise happiness in the workforce

Updated: Aug 16

Society has taught us that "if you work hard, you will become successful and once you become successful, then you'll be happy. Success first happy second."


What if we were to tell you that this formula is actually backwards and that happiness could fuel performance? Learnings from Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage introduces this concept, and is backed by science.


You may be aware of the "fight or flight " mode that happens when our body thinks we're under attack, physical attack that is; like when our lives were in danger and we had to fight a wild animal or another tribe. This mode is a naturally occurring safety mechanism, but our body hasn't caught on to the difference between the stress we experience at work or in our personal lives (which is not life threatening), and us running away from a wild animal!


So, when our body is stressed we trigger the fight or flight respose, which isn't a helpful state to be in when we're at the office or going about our day. It means that we close our attention to being narrow and short-sighted because we're only looking to the finish line and nothing else. We remain in this state until the stress has gone. This isn't a productive or creative mindset for performance.


The opposite of this mode is called 'broaden and build', a theory where positive emotions take us to a state that is very beneficial for operating in the office. The endorphins (dopamine and serotonin) that are released take on a biological effect on the body that helps us not only feel good, but allow us to store information in the brain for longer, retrieve information quickly when needed, organise information effectively, efficiently analyse situations and the creative ability to solve complex problems. This is obviously a state of peak performance and the state we want to be in when tackling a day at work.

It's a simple formula. Be happy = performance.

While reading this are you thinking; is this evidence enough to support an updated 'wellbeing policy' at YOUR work? Or in the purest form, to prioritise happiness in the workforce?


Here are three things you can incorporate into your work day to cultivate productivity through happiness:


1. Socialise

Being social is part of our biological make up and is essential to holistic health as well as thriving in the workforce. Simply think about how your day plays out when you've seen your best friend for lunch and have come home to someone you love; compared to a day when you're in the office on your own, or working from home or have no social interactions. We are social beings. The more positive social interactions we have, the more resilience we can maintain.


So when a co-worker stops you in the kitchen to say hi (and they're a lovely co-worker), this is. a positive interaction that can help build your happiness baseline, and therefore reaping the benefits of work performance - so say hi back Take this back to work:

1. Spark positive conversation

2. Join the Friday night drinks group

3. Stop people in the hallway for a chat

4. Be the first to say hi in the morning


2. Happy thoughts

Studies have been conducted with kids and doctors where the same task was given to a control and stimulus group. The difference was that the control group were given instructions in a neutral tone, whereas the stimulus group were primed to think of positive thoughts or were given candy (to stimulate happiness) prior to performing the task.


Results? The stimulus group who were primed in a positive light and completed the task quicker AND with less errors.


Take this back to work:

  1. Positively prime the team or your co-worker with positive thoughts when delegating tasks or working on a project

  2. Look for ways to bring happiness to their day

  3. Give them a 3pm treat box ;)

  4. Bring treats to a team meeting


3. Give recognition

Studies have shown that even the smallest activities and quick bursts of happiness increase performance in the workforce.


So when it comes to frequent and intentional recognition, mangers saw a major shift of 31% in increased performance compared to teams where management was not giving positive recognition and were less open to praising employees.


Take this back to work: 1. praise your colleagues intentionally, they'll be happy and work better.


So remember, when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. Results are evident in the bottom lines of workplaces around the world.

Want more? Read this book:

The Happiness Advantage - Shawn Achor