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The never-ending pursuit of happiness – is happiness a fool’s game?

‘International Day of Happiness’ is a global event arranged by the United Nations annually and this year it falls on the 20th March. We are told that we must seek happiness, that it is the ultimate goal of the human experience, but if you think about it, how often are you genuinely happy? Think about a time when you were happy and then ask yourself how long you sustained that feeling of happiness? One week? One day? One hour? A few minutes?

The truth is that happiness is just a fleeting feeling, a fragile state and one which we cannot sustain for awfully long, and it is not wise to devote your life to achieving it. Indeed, with such a goal, you are probably set up to fail, tasked with endless chasing of the dream creating frustration in the meantime. We are pushed to pursue happiness constantly, bombarded with products that will ‘make us happy’ – that holiday, that house, that new shiny car, that mouth-watering chocolate cake; the chase for happiness is all around us yet it rarely delivers a true long-lasting sense of satisfaction and wellbeing, and on top of all of that, we can be made to feel that if we are not happy all the time then there is something inherently wrong with us.

At Robertson Cooper, we hold this knowledge about the fleeting nature of happiness firmly in our approach when we do our work to improve employee wellbeing. Our approach goes much deeper than surface level happiness because human wellbeing is not just a few minutes of joy, it is about a more balanced and sustainable sense of satisfaction.

That is why our mission is to create Good Days at Work, not ‘Happy Days at Work.’

In a world where we are told we must be extraordinary, the word ‘good’ seems somewhat bland and unexciting, but one look at the etymology of the word ‘good’ and we find that its origins are associated with words like ‘desirable, beneficial, effective, entire, complete.’ This already feels more attractive and achievable than ‘happy.’

That is why a Good Day at Work comes from much more than a fleeting sense of happiness, it is a broader term targeting a sustainable and deeper sense of wellbeing. The Good Day at Work concept has four components, which yes, include the positive emotions often associated with happiness, but more importantly it also includes a sense of purpose and meaning; a feeling that we have achieved something. After a Good Day at Work, we always finish our day with a clear sense of accomplishment, and in contrast after a day where we were just ‘happy’ it is rarely as impactful on us psychologically. A Good Day at Work may even have been a really difficult day full of hard challenges (I.e., little happiness) but because we overcame the challenge and delivered the goods, we are left with a sense of meaning and purpose. This is where true satisfaction lies, not in a fleeting sense of happiness.

So where does that leave ‘International Day of Happiness’?

Our message is yes, pursue some happiness on the 20th March, but the happiness hit will inevitably subside so remember that it is only supposed to be fleeting, you are not inherently inferior. And then, think about how you can extend out to broader wellbeing drivers. This usually means taking on a task, ideally a hard and challenging task which stretches you somewhat – because this is what will give you a sense of accomplishment and will eventually give you purpose, meaning and a more balanced and sustainable sense of wellbeing.

What is something you would like to challenge yourself to achieve? Set the goal and make the plans, then observe how it impacts your wellbeing.

The same ethos goes for any effective approach to employee wellbeing. Yes, it is great to provide some joy and happiness for employees, but that is not the thing that will give your employees a more balanced level of wellbeing where they perform at their best, more consistently. A Good Day at Work also considers solid collaborative relationships, being able to get on and do the tasks of your job, and importantly being able to create some impact by the work you do. Ping-pong tables and the fruit drop have their place, but a sustainable approach to employee wellbeing looks a long way beyond these happiness-driven initiatives.

Creating more Good Days at Work is not straightforward, but we have the tools to take you in the right direction. The Good Day at Work Platform is our unique measurement tool to get you the data you need to be able to take your wellbeing strategy to the next level.

Discover the far-reaching business benefits of the 'Good Day at Work' approach with our free guide...