Boosting Happiness at Work

Several studies show that focusing too deliberately on achieving happiness can make people less happy.
Boosting Happiness at Work

But those studies are based on short-term lab-based activities. Four researchers wanted to see what would happen if they asked people to focus on happiness over longer periods of time, in real-world settings.

The co-authors of a current working paper on maximizing happiness include Kelly Goldsmith and David Gal, assistant professors of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois; Raj Raghunathan, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business; and Lauren Cheatham, a doctoral student in marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California.

In one experiment, researchers asked 217 employees at Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace that connects businesses with workers, to focus on their happiness levels daily for a week. Each participant was placed in one of three groups. Each day, those in the “happiness maximizing” group answered the question “Did you do your best to be happy today?” Those in the “happiness monitoring” group answered the question “How happy were you today?” Those in the control group simply reported what day of the week it was.

The researchers found that those in the maximizing group reported significant gains in happiness at the end of the week, compared to the control.

Contrary to the findings of past studies, those in the “monitoring” group did not experience a decline in happiness—their levels stayed steady. The researchers speculate that “the negative consequences of happiness monitoring…may attenuate over longer time horizons.”

In another experiment, the researchers divided 349 managers from seven Fortune 500 firms in the U.S. into maximizing, monitoring, and control conditions. Each day participants received an email between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. with a query designed for their condition. The maximizing group again reported the greatest boosts in happiness. This time, the happiness levels of the monitoring group also improved over those of the control group.

To boost happiness in the workplace, companies may want to go beyond an annual review to discover what employees think of their jobs, say the authors. Instead, managers might send daily emails that ask employees what they did that day to find purpose in their work and to engage with the company.