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Questions About Happiness

Photo Credit: donireewalker, Flickr

Photo Credit: donireewalker, Flickr

In recent times I have become obsessed with happiness.  I want to be happy, all the time.  I want to be able to turn to happiness in the face of adversity.  I want the noise of life to be drown out by the tranquility of happy.  I want to guard against anger, frustration, exhaustion, short-sightedness, jealousy and idleness.

A couple of weeks ago I heard Michael J. Fox speak about life’s challenges.  He talked about how useless it is to worry about things that might or might not happen.  He suggests that problems rarely go down as you imagine they will, and if by some fluke they do, you will have lived through them twice.

I don’t want to live trouble twice, so I have found that I need activities to do as a stop gap to prevent my mind from turning to trouble.  I sometimes wonder if unhappiness is an addiction since it seems so easy to brood, look for the worst in others and generally, to fall into a habit of being unhappy.

I’ve made a lot of changes in my life to support my own happiness.  I’ve found that keeping my calendar full of experiences helps me stay happy.  I’ve found that I’m happy when I’m working on goals.  For example, just last night my husband and I were walking in the neighbourhood and I found an old window frame set out for the garbage truck.  I asked myself what I could do with it if I rescued it.  Lately I’ve taken a lot of pictures of old barns and decided the window frame could be used as a picture frame.  I started feeling happier and excited about the act of creating the end piece but I also felt happy because the times and locations where I was in proximity of those old barns made me happy.

I find myself happy when there’s no one but me, hubby and the dog.  I’ve found happiness when things are challenging physically.  My end-to-end walk of the Bruce Trail is my current physical challenge.

Am I happy overall now?  Wow, that’s a tough question.  I can say that I am happier than I’ve ever been but I still find myself measuring my happiness against the happiness level in others, and realizing that I think they might be happier.   That’s a good example of the imperfection of happiness.

Indeed, I think it is difficult to be happy in HR.  In HR we see the best and worst in people.  It is hard to be happy when you see people make poor decisions or like to gripe or overly focus on problems.  Do we realize that our own state of mind impacts others?  It is funny what people expect of us HR folk.  They want us to be nice but not too nice.  Positive but not too bubbly.  Professional but not cold. Friendly but not a friend.  Helpful but not invasive. Genuine but not too genuine. We have to be free of vices, bad habits or a poor sense of style.

We have to be resourceful. . .

With all those mixed messages, and so many buts. . .how do we get happy and stay happy?

The truth is that I don’t really know.  It might take the rest of my life to figure this out.

Lately I’ve been using downtime to ponder questions about happiness.  I am sharing them and encouraging feedback from others about them.  Please read and comment if you wish.

Happy Questions

What does it take to be happy?

Is happiness a choice?

Can you fake it until you feel it?

What’s the difference between happiness and joy?

Is happiness related to mental health?  Can you medicate your way to happiness?

Is happiness genetic?

Is happiness infectious?

Is happiness a by-product of luck?

If you’re happy and you know it should you clap your hands?  If yes, why?

Are there specific categories of things that trigger happiness?

Can you be happy even when many things in life aren’t going your way?

I look forward to the dialogue.


Bonni Titgemeyer CEBS, SPHR, CHRL, CMS, SHRM-SCP is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. and founder of The EO List blog.  She is a well-known entity in the total compensation and organizational effectiveness fields, and has highly-sought after experience in the global arena.

Will the robots make us happy?

Photo Credit: John Lawlor, Flickr

Photo Credit: John Lawlor, Flickr

I spent last week at WorkHuman, the conference focused on humanity in the workplace.

Inspired, I’ve spent a lot of time following the conference reflecting on themes.  As a conference envisioned by Globoforce, an employee rewards network, it is no wonder that there was a lot of discussion around the value of technology in supporting an environment of happiness. As someone in the total rewards field, I appreciated the focus on the connection between the ways and outcomes.

I was struck by the number of references to robots at the conference.  It was somewhat unexpected.  It isn’t my intention to go all Terminator 2-3D in this blog. . .well given I was just in Orlando, maybe it is.  But the robot references have me asking:

In the not-so-near future, what will be the role of the robots? 

To replace the humans? 

To augment the humans?

There was a time when to suggest that the robots would become sentient was outlandish. Increasingly improved understanding of human algorithms makes for a more believable and more efficient robot.  Will we need us at work?

Knowing that the robots are mostly more efficient than humans, if our goal is to augment humans, what do we have to do to make humans more efficient, more effective?”  The answer seems to be focusing on human happiness.

Most of the speakers had some theme of happiness to their sessions. From Steve Pemberton’s message to rise above the labels others give you and Shawn Anchor’s message describing the environment of happiness, to Amy Cuddy’s message to encourage girls to take up space and Michael J. Fox’s message to never give up, the audience was left to reflect on what makes us happy with a mission to focus on that.

Applying this in the workplace, two questions arise:

  1. Gary Hamel, WorkHuman

    Gary Hamel, WorkHuman

    Is it possible to evolve people in every industry, every workplace culture in existence towards happiness? g. is happiness an accessible idea for every workplace?  Shawn Anchor pointed to scientific research that shows that happiness is infectious, spreading from one to others. Gary Hamel said it well when he suggested that bureaucracy was the death of the modern organization.  Some organizations seem to have a much better shot at happiness.  And they will probably be the ones with fluidity.

  1. Will they develop robots who understand the human algorithm better than humans and therefore will make better people managers? Will these robots use feedback to support human happiness?  This question evolved from the notion suggested by some that there needs to be a lot of energy placed on developing managers so why not take them out of the equation. The feedback platforms are designed to do just that. Eventually the best feedback may be from the robots themselves.

Or not.  Especially if we value humanity as essential element of culture.

So where is HR right now?  Well the folks at the conference were all working on their yoga poses and mindfulness techniques.  They were contemplating a full rounded life with the hope that they will inspire happiness in others.

Essentially, HR is a great tool in the face of robots.  And, the more we adopt a platform of challenge, feedback and happiness the more effective we will be.

Or maybe we’ll just be initializing the robots.  You decide.

Gaming Feedback and Recognition

Photo Credit:  Joe Haupt, FlickrI’ve just spent a terrific day at the WorkHuman Conference in Orlando.  WorkHuman focuses on identifying the building blocks needed to create “humanity-focused workplace cultures”.

I like this concept.  I write a lot about the grind of HR and feel refreshed after being around people who want to make sure we have programs and practices that matter rather than firefighting.  After listening to several sessions already, there are so many ideas in my head so I thought it would be good time to stop, digest, reflect. . .and blog.

What I appreciate about the forum here is that the hosts of WorkHuman, Globoforce, seem to welcome a participant perspective on human motivation and psychology. And it is clear that the no one here is viewing the future as a set of cookie-cutter approaches to effective workplaces.

One thing I’ve noticed is that crowdsourced performance reviews and recognition systems are hot topics.  They solve a whole host of problems with traditional reviews including manager centricity, inaccuracy and inefficiency.  The capabilities they offer are so much better than traditional one-way manager reviews or traditional paper thank you’s.

I was left wondering though if we have contemplated all the challenges of a human-centric approach.  Even happy people have less than noble tendencies.

As an illustration. . .

I’m totally a believer in the power of social networking.  I’m heavily invested.  It has proven to be a positively life changing experience.  I’m surprised though by how many people know of me as a result of my social networking activities.  Truth be told, I’m just an HR person and very much of ordinary folk.  But I get a lot of recognition.  I wonder how that phenomenon of ordinary recognition will impact those who participate in platforms like Globoforce and end up doing well specifically because they are good connectors.  And is this is terrible?

We live in a world of gamers.  In the context of recognition, it seems a natural human tendency to “game the system” because we achieve the award by increasing our social currency (perhaps by actively increasing their LinkedIn contacts).  Does the efficacy of crowdsourced reviews wane as the gamers get better at gaming? Or the opposite?  I’m not sure.

This idea of gaming the system is interesting to me.  Back in the 1970s there were adorable hand-held football games which essentially had a 3-play formula built in.  Once you knew how to run the right patterns, you won every time. This is a lot more difficult today in a multi-dimensional context, but we humans are naturally inclined to figure out the shortcuts.

The benefit of the analytics will be that with the quantity of data being generated we can really see the link between social currency and recognition.  It also seems clear that we are in for many evolutions of recognition ahead, learning much from each iteration. This is exciting.

Having a platform for recognition is not a fad.  And WorkHuman will be there to help us along the journey.