Imperfect Outcome: Happiness

whatsyourread_bkgdI recently had brunch with a friend who just returned from a tour of Scandinavia where he visited friends in Oslo. A few months before, he was on a Mediterranean cruise with his siblings. Vic had been employed in the travel industry for decades, and is now looking to venture into the world of entrepreneurship. His recent globetrotting was time away for some much needed soul-searching and field research.

“I want to remain in travel, ” Vic said decisively, “but I don’t know how to carve my own niche.”

“Who do you want to make happy,” were the first words I uttered,”and to whom would you love giving a delightful experience that becomes a story they will tell and retell for years to come?”

Vic stared at me as if to say, “The road to success I imagined suddenly turned into a maze.”

We’ve all encountered the question “What does success look like?” in strategic planning conversations. The typical answer is a set of definitive, measurable and visible outcomes — the value of which I cannot overstate. But are we shortchanging ourselves by stopping there?

Do we keep going and ask the question, “Who do I want to make happy? Who should my organization strive to keep (fill in blank with specific positive emotion)?”

Is it worth investing time and resources to be clear about everyone whose emotions we should care about and how we should make them feel? Does it matter? Does that make our work more difficult? Or does it add more value and impact for the outcome?

A study conducted by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan, was published by American Scientist in 2003. It showed that positive emotions don’t just transform individuals.

“I’ve argued that they may also transform groups of people, within communities and organizations. Community transformation becomes possible because each person’s positive emotion can resound through others. Take helpful, compassionate acts as an example. Isen demonstrated that people who experience positive emotions become more helpful to others. Yet being helpful not only springs from positive emotions, it also produces positive emotions. People who give help, for instance, can feel proud of their good deeds and so experience continued good feelings. Plus, people who receive help can feel grateful, and those who merely witness good deeds can feel elevated. Each of these positive emotions—pride, gratitude and elevation—can in turn broaden people’s mindsets and inspire further compassionate acts. So, by creating chains of events that carry positive meaning for others, positive emotions can trigger upward spirals that transform communities into more cohesive, moral and harmonious social organizations.” — Barbara L. Fredrickson, The Value of Positive Emotions

What I’m saying here may seem ridiculously obvious. But can we honestly say that we are always mindful and intentional about this? Or have we evolved to care more about proving our successes through numbers?

Measuring success requires that we break it down into quantifiable components. On the other hand, an emotion cannot be defined by its fragments. We feel because of how layers of experiences weave themselves into one memorable story. Emotions are our window to what will always be the bigger picture.

I’m very excited for my friend, Vic as he begins his new journey — destination: happy.

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