Wednesday, March 20th was the International Day of Happiness. Our basic brains are not wired for happiness, they are wired for survival. Fight/Flight/Freeze under stress or rest/digest when things are safe. Those are the two basic modes of our brain function. So, if we want happiness, and let’s face it who doesn’t, we probably need to work at it.
Another misconception is that happiness is a state of being, that it is a destination. We often believe that certain milestones achieved – that promotion, certain body size or weight, having a family, seeing kids off to college, that next job, or retirement, will lead to that state of happiness that we long for.
It turns out that those common assumptions are false. Happiness is a journey, not a destination. We can all take steps to be happier but being happy all the time is just not feasible and possibly is not even desirable.
So how do we achieve a greater level of happiness? Research shows that there are five character strengths – those attributes that are the positive parts of our personality – that are strongly correlated with higher levels of happiness.
These strengths are:
This is defined as a goal + agency. It is more than optimism or a vague sense that things will “work out OK in the end.” It is the idea of having a goal you want to achieve and then putting the steps in place to make it happen.
Hope in project management – As project managers, we have a role to play in bringing hope to our teams and our projects. That combination of a vision of the future plus putting the steps in place to make that vision more likely to happen helps teams overcome obstacles and get to the end of the project! When supported by prudence, the planning strength, which shows up as a high-ranked strength for project managers as a group, hope can make projects reach fruition.
This is a strength that keeps us open to new information, new ideas, and new experiences and helps us to keep asking questions. There is plenty of research to show that a learning mindset – curiosity is closely allied with a love of learning – is good for health, slows down aging, and keeps us engaged.
Curiosity in project management – as we engage with our teams, asking questions, being open to new information, feedback from prototypes and testing, for example, are key to keeping the project adaptable, and the team agile. When we model a curious mindset by asking questions, we pave the way for others to ask more questions too. Information is shared more effectively, and decision making is like to improve.
Expressing gratitude through journaling three good things or things I am grateful for has become very popular in education, self-help and even therapy. There is a wealth of evidence that when we express gratitude, we improve our mood and the mood of people around us. A favorite quote that I use in workshops is “it is not happy people that are grateful, it is grateful people who are happy.” I wish I knew who to attribute that to because I have put that on buttons and given them out to people in workshops and it is amazing the impact that small concept has.
Ruth Pearce, JD, PMP, PMI-ACP, ITIL ACC is the founder of Project Motivator (ALLE LLC) and is a certified coach trainer. She is the author of Be A Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management. Ruth has 25 years of project and program management experience in financial services, state government and non-profits, working with teams across the globe. Her focus is on developing project management skills in human factors enabling them to build empowered and engaged teams that deliver. Ruth writes about communication, stakeholder management, and culture & behavior.