Happy Work, Happy Life

"People are redefining the workplace. Previously we thought work was hell and leisure was great. That is just silly. Work can--and should be--a source of happiness, if workplaces are designed right." John Helliwell, co-editor of The World Happiness Report


How different would things be if most people were really happy with their work, consciously involved in a positive and meaningful pursuit?

The Happiness Research Institute, in Copenhagen, conducts an ongoing study that drills into the sources of personal and professional contentment. Once the basics of safety, civility, and fair wages are met, what matters most?

Number One is a sense of purpose. Purpose contributes twice as much to an individual's job satisfaction as the runner-up, which is having a high-quality manager, The Atlantic reports. Institute CEO Meik Wiking says the good life is not a life of snoozy leisure, but rather one filled with meaning and striving toward a goal: "We need a sense of purpose" to become engaged and stay inspired every day.

We caught up with him to learn more.

"As I get further into happiness research, I find there are some clear patterns across the globe when it comes to drivers of happiness and satisfaction," Wiking told us. "That goes for outside the workplace as well as inside."

It's all good: people who say they have a sense of purpose are more likely to participate in their community--at work and in their personal lives. Their "quality of life" scores are higher. They are healthier. They have fewer accidents. They maintain perspective. They stay out of debt. They laugh more. They have vibrant relationships. They are, simply, happier.

When your employer's values resonate personally, another benefit emerges: happy, engaged employees tend to focus on their work instead of complaining about it. They don't waste valuable time and energy undermining company goals. They're comfortable associating themselves with their organization; can explain to a friend or a child why they do what they do.

To Wiking and his team in Copenhagen, the 10% who do not see an overall purpose in their lives is a "most concerning" numbers.

"It's worrying for two reasons. One, it's a strong statement to say I don't see a purpose with my life. To me that is quite alarming. Second, I suspect that the actual number is even higher! Remember, this is a survey, and I think there is some stigma attached to admitting you do not see a purpose in your life.

"The good news is, there are shared characteristics for the people who do see a purpose or meaning with their lives. They are much more inclined to take part in community work: 50% of them participate in volunteer activities. And"--in part due to this community involvement--"they are happier."

It's a powerful cycle.

So how can business leaders leverage the idea of purpose to boost the engagement of their people at work? Is this a difficult challenge, or is it simply common sense?

"Start with why," Wiking advises. "Make it clearer, what the overall purpose of the organization is. How are we making the world a better place. And clarify for the individual how he or she is helping in accomplishing that goal."

Photo: Beau Willimon, the creator of the Netflix series "House of Cards," in the TriBeCa writers' room. Credit Ruddy Roye for The New York Times