In True Grit, Grace, and Gratitude, I used the term "happy hour" as a constructive and necessary analogy, but I do have a good bit of aversion toward the expression. Why does an hour we reserve to be happy have to be after work? I also have tepid excitement for the sayings "Work hard, play hard," and "All work and no play makes Jack a Dull Boy" because the masses interpret them as having work and play happening at two different times.
My approach to executive coaching is multi-faceted and situation-based, but my greatest mission is to blur the lines between employment and enjoyment. My view of the optimal workspace to which leaders should aspire is one where leaders create, in themselves and their employees, a pervading feeling of drive, purpose, camaraderie, and comfort. Now let's match the facets of that statement with the brain science behind the human state of happiness.
- Dopamine - Creates motivation. Exposure also produces an addiction to winning.
- Serotonin - Creates feelings of significance. People with high levels also manifest greater logic.
- Oxytocin - Creates togetherness. Environments promoting oxytocin are also marked by strong teams.
- Endorphins - Alleviate anxiety and depression. People with endorphin surges are also ambitious and perseverant.
Take a moment to see how well the bolded words map to my statement of the optimal workplace.
So what levers can we pull to promote happiness? And how do these techniques specifically map to the brain chemistry that makes you and your teams go to work with a big glorious smile?
- Turn your work into a game - Da Big Kahuna here is Dopamine. Take it from fellow Psychology Today blogger David J. Linden, Ph.D., who showed that the interaction of challenge and success inherent in video games leads to the secretion of great amounts of dopamine, (a.k.a. the pleasure circuit). Dopamine also addictive, achievement begets a further desire to achieve. Just this week, I received an email from a client with whom I had devised a game called "Listen All the Way." My interviews with work colleagues revealed her habit of interrupting, leading her to decisions based on incomplete information. Having played the game, she reported, "I realize we are often not aligned ... and it turned out that their solutions are often better than mine." She is surprised that her direct reports might have better solutions than hers because she at times forced her own solutions through interruptions. Through the game and a trickle of dopamine, she spontaneously gives herself room to empower her employees to empower her. By the way, when her employee is acknowledged for the solution, that serotonin release creates approval leading to a spontaneous ambition to achieve more, and when the team implements the joint solution, Oxytocin creates a feeling of togetherness. We find these chemicals appear together time and again.
I truly hope that understanding how the basic chemistry of happiness can be triggered during work will create greater incentives for today's most powerful leaders to remove the dividing line between work and play to catapult our nations global economic effectiveness.
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