“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep… and I fall asleep, counting my blessings.”
Can you hear the smooth baritone voice of Bing Crosby singing those lyrics? (If you can’t, do yourself a favor and add the watching of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to your holiday tradition list.)
It’s about happiness
Upon hearing about my interest in the construct of “Job Happiness,” a friend recommended a short video by Shawn Achor called The Happiness Advantage. (I was viewer #589,082 so it must be good.)
At minute 10 in that video he says:
“If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage.
“Which is: your brain at positive, performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact we found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.” (Emphasis mine.)
Further substantiating this link between positivity and performance, Swedish neuroscientist Sara Bengstsson of the Karolinska Institute has demonstrated in a 2013 study that simply saying positive things (“priming”) before an exercise, changed participant brain chemistry, causing them to respond and learn more effectively.
This is a fascinating finding, and something that could be easily incorporated into change management efforts and formal training.
The power of counting your blessings
Two things I know are true:
1. The body of evidence is growing for a scientific link between positivity, brain chemistry, and performance; and
2. There is still a huge problem with employee disengagement, malcontent, entitlement, and desensitization to rewards.
In that same Shawn Achor video, he briefly references a technique sometimes called “Three Gratitudes.”
In short, it’s an exercise shown to actually “rewire” the brain. The exercise consists of the writing down of three new things one is grateful for, every day for 21 days.
At the end of that time, Achor says the brain “actually retains a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.”
Can you imagine a workplace where employees came in every day and first wrote down a couple of things that they appreciate about their job, their employer, or even their boss?
Can you imagine if every meeting began with someone saying something positive about someone else in the room? If the science I’m reading is true, it could actually change everything.
What have you done for me lately?
In my current role as the guy responsible for people strategy and culture, I look for every opportunity to remind myself and employees of all the benefits of employment.
We work hard to not only provide a great place to work, but also to remind people frequently of our commitment to them through good compensation, strong benefits, growth opportunities, and a caring culture.
Without an intentional effort to highlight “blessings” like these, they tend to fade into the world of entitlement where they lose their happiness-inducing potency.
In addition, a focus on other core organizational principles like solving problems, resolving issues, communicating openly, making timely decisions, and providing clear direction also result in a healthier, happier work environment for employees.
These are the tangible and intangible “blessings” that leaders can provide for their employees.
Let’s face it. No organization is free of problems. Many factors affect overall happiness.
Leaders, however, can help drive job happiness by staying positive and helping people enjoy the personal benefits of counting their blessings every day.
JEFFREY J. DeWOLF is senior vice president of talent & culture at $1.9 billion asset CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Kansas City. He has a passion for maximizing organizational effectiveness through committed leadership, intentional strategy, strong cultures, and happy employees.