The Science of Happiness can help us identify what motivates us on a daily basis - but can we really use technology to quantify something so elusive and help us find work we love?
There is a rising tide of professionals who want to do something different
As an ex-barrister dissatisfied with the job, I’ve wondered why is it that lawyers, bankers and other professionals are near the bottom of happiness studies like the Career Happiness Index. Your money or your life - an oversimplified expression of the trade off more and more young professionals are no longer prepared to make. We all yearn for something different, yet are often lost about how to move on. Identifying what it is, exactly, that makes us happier in our work lives can be challenging - good work can often be a concoction of fun, excitement, challenge, stress and uncertainty. However, what all good work has in common is that it’s rewarding (and not in a monetary sense) - it gives us something invaluable, and that ‘something’ is what we should be looking for in our professional lives.
Technology can help us
Robert Sapolsky puts it nicely in his thought-provoking book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers “Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.” That is exactly what some researchers, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations are trying to do: reinvent and reinvigorate the mystery of happiness. There is no doubt that happiness is becoming a movement and a welcome one at that. But how can technology help us, and where is the science behind it all?
For one thing, innovation in mobile technology is moving towards the holy grail of quantifying happiness. When your smartphone helps to remind you of your dissatisfaction at work, or of the moments that make you happy throughout the day, then the balance could begin to tip away from high status, low-happiness jobs.
The digital industry certainly hopes so with apps like Happify, Happier, InFlow and many others available. By keeping track of and being reminded about things that matter to us, activities that uplift us and moments of emotional turmoil we can hone in on what makes us happy (and what doesn’t) and turn the latest happiness science into practical action. We can use technology to track and then influence us in simple ways to improve our well-being. Moreover, through the data that we ourselves produce we can contribute to a deeper and more qualitative understanding of what happiness is and how to promote it inside and outside the workplace.
The limits of happiness according to your smartphone
Yet technology cannot measure all the things that make us happy and, more importantly, we cannot rely only on our smartphones to know what is good for us and what isn’t. Our responsibility as individuals is to take a lead on our own happiness by understanding and not ignoring the potential for technology to improve self awareness. That said, data alone is not a window to our deepest motivations. Sigmund Freud reminds us of how the complexities of a situation dictate the right approach to decision making and, in turn, the position of technology to assist.
"When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature."
We all have to be alert to how we feel in order to choose where and how technology can assist us. It’s when we reflect, experiment with doing things differently and pay attention to how this changes our state of mind that we can we optimise our happiness. As Paul Dolan, an LSE economist and government well-being adviser, says attention is a scarce resource: give it to one thing, and by definition you can't give it to something else. If you're not as happy as you could be, "you must be misallocating your attention". Technology helps us to focus our attention on what really works. We can learn to listen to ourselves and explore our own path to live well.
Five Practical Ways to use Technology to find Happiness at Work
Here are five practical tips on how to use technology in order to improve your happiness at work. I would encourage everyone to find at least three practical ways to increase your happiness at work and to use apps like Happify, Happier, Mappiness or InFlow to help you keep track of those small (or massive) moments of happiness throughout your workday [this can be interactive on apps people download given time or with the person sitting next to each attendee]. The numbers indicate what you can measure whilst the letters indicate how we can all reflect on changing.
1. Ask yourself weekly, whether your job is one that matters to you
In his bestseller, Drive, Daniel Pink shows how we no longer respond to dated “carrot-and-stick” management techniques (and never have, really). What really shapes today’s workforce are three things: autonomy (the ability to engage with your own curiosity and creativity in the workplace), mastery (the desire to get better at something, just because it matters to us) and purpose (the driving force behind our desire for greater autonomy and our pursuit of mastery - a knowledge that what you’re doing has a meaning that matters to you). If the work we do has a positive impact on the lives of people and/or the environment around us we are more likely to know why our jobs matter to us (it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a global scale - the small things count just as much). This knowledge can help us overcome our daily challenges and give us a better understanding of why we do what we do. Try these little tasks to start off with:
- choose meaningful projects over busy work
- try to become a key player in your organisation or community
- identify how your work has bettered the lives of others and see how this makes you feel.
2. Connect with people
Research on workplace morale shows that helping people at work increases your own happiness and, what’s more, that happier people are more likely to help others. It’s a positive cycle. Here are a few ideas on how to connect with the people you work with with
- work on collaborative projects when possible
- eat lunch with colleagues or clients
- seek help and offer feedback
- praise colleagues who do good work
- remember birthdays and write personal notes
- choose face-to-face work when possible
3. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR WORK
Nataly Kogan, founder and CEO of the Happier app, points out how setting even small goals to acknowledge the progress of your work helps to increase your productivity and morale. A couple of easy ways of taking control are to:
- set, when possible, a timetable for finishing work
- develop your own strategy for meeting goals
4. Record the number of hours you’re working
This one’s relatively easy to record, perhaps harder to implement. Start by keeping track of how many hours you spend in the office, behind your desk or just checking your work emails throughout the day. Compare that time with the time you spend at home or outdoors, with your family and friends or just doing the things you enjoy most. Now think about the following points for improvement:
- be willing to sacrifice income if necessary (it won’t matter)
- consider telecommuting or “5 days work in 4” options
- discuss work flexibility with sympathetic partner and bosses
5. Identify your “flow experiences”
These are the pleasurable activities that you feel fully immersed in and where time just flew by. Keep a record of the following - you'll be amazed at what you find:
- identify common characteristics of those projects
- look for tasks that challenge you but are within your abilities
- avoid, when possible, tasks that are so easy as to bore you
- find a work setting where distractions are minimized
- try to include a variety of tasks within your work day
In these ways, technology really can help us shed light on the missing link between the extrinsic values that drive our behaviour and the awareness of our internal state of being in order to have more happiness and meaning in our lives.