The United Nations recently declared the first International Happiness Day. What’s not to like about individual and general happiness? After all, our national culture is founded on an expectation of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So, what can we all do to get happier?
One of the things that I learned, while working for Amoco Oil Company, was the management principle that “what gets measured gets done.” The idea is that a leader must not only establish expectations, but create a way to measure progress and provide feedback to those who are responsible for, or affected by, the changes needed to achieve goals. (He or she must also find ways to reward those who promote that progress and punish those who obstruct it.)
The United States has used “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP) as a measure of economic activity since the Great Depression. Our measure of GDP has persistently improved; it has doubled since the 1960s. Yet, the economist who devised the GDP once warned Congress that “the welfare of a nation can … scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.”Our focus on GDP may have contributed to so many capitalists focusing so exclusively on their own economic score card to the detriment of anyone and everyone else.
In 2005, the small Asian country of Bhutan began building and tracking their “Gross National Happiness Index” as a better alternative to pursuing only their GDP. It turns out that being happier both results from and helps produce better health, education, work, housing and governance. Bhutan’s new emphasis is working for them and people are taking notice. What’s not to like about gross national happiness?
And, this is not just touchy, feely, tree-hugging, new-age, liberal stuff. Since 1985, the formal business practice of “appreciative inquiry” has helped many organizations to make dramatic performance improvements by deliberately discovering what works best and then choosing to do more of it. Applying the psychotherapy technique of “unconditional positive regard” has helped many people to resolve relationship issues, be happier, and raise resilient, optimistic children.
An entire field of research has developed around “positive psychology.” According to leading practitioner, Martin Seligman, “Positive psychology is primarily concerned with using the psychological theory, research and intervention techniques to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.” Positive psychology is a refreshing complement to the traditional practice of waiting for something to go terribly wrong before intervening.
Positive psychology is not just for individuals. Seligman also explains that it is "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural and global dimensions of life." Positive psychology helps people learn to take better control of their emotions. They become more optimistic and actually succeed in taking responsibility for their future. Ideally, individuals are supported by an environment in families, schools and communities where fewer unnecessary obstacles stand in their way.
Our lives do not have to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” [Thomas Hobbes] Most of us accept that “God is love” and that by imitating His love, by cultivating the fruitages of the spirit in service to others, we improve the quality and happiness of both their lives and our own. It sounds to me like a great formula for happiness.