Science Explores the Roots of Joy and Happiness

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Science Explores the Roots of Joy and Happiness

Happy employees stay with their employers longer, and generally are more productive than unhappy employees. Happy customers stick with their suppliers longer, and typically buy more. So, it follows that the goal of every manager should be to make customers and employees happy.
But, until recently, there’s been a lack of hard data about what truly makes people happy. In fact, looking back over history, there’s reason to believe that the main factors involved in making people happy have changed.

Research shows that there is a direct relationship between income and happiness in the lowest income brackets. However, as we reported in the July 2004 issue of Trends, once people reach the level of middle-class income, they no longer become happier as their incomes go up.

As Gregg Easterbrook explains in his book The Progress Paradox,1 “The trend for happiness has been flat for 50 years.”

A 2002 study showed that the percentage of Americans who said they were “very happy” was no greater than it was in the 1950s, even though the average American’s real income went up by more that 200 percent from 1957 to 2002.2

Easterbrook points to the work of Edward Diener, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, whose work had led him to conclude that lacking money causes unhappiness, but having money does not cause more happiness. Millionaires as a group are no happier than people of average income.

So, researchers are finding that money does not buy happiness, at least among Americans in the middle class and those with higher incomes. So, what does? According to Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University, 50 years of research shows that the happiest people are those who have the best relationships. Moreover, having solid relationships seems to help people stay in good health and live longer. This finding indicates that those companies that want happy employees need to encourage good inter-personal relationships within the firms as well as in the employee’s personal life.

Happiness research is also yielding other insights into how to keep workers cheerful, which translates into greater productivity and higher profits. This has real-world implications for employee training and development. Consider David’s Bridal, a chain of nearly 300 stores that serves women who are planning their weddings.

Most of these customers bring a volatile mix of emotions to the shopping experience: They’re nervous about the wedding ceremony; they have high expectations because they expect everything to be perfect; and yet, as first-time brides, they are bewildered because they haven’t shopped for a wedding dress before...

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