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.
Gratitude in project management – When we express gratitude to our colleagues, we are making a connection, and you are making sure that they know that they are not taken for granted. With more than 2/3 of employees worldwide feeling disengaged according to Gallup, taking steps to help team members feel appreciated goes a long way to increase engagement. Increased engagement means higher productivity and lower error/accident rates – all good for projects.
This is the strength that is about approaching life with energy and enthusiasm and never doing things half-heartedly. Zest is a strength that rarely shows up as a top strength and is often quite low in most people’s character strengths profiles. However, you can cultivate Zest by making sure you exercise self-care, getting enough sleep, eating properly. Doing something energetic and fun – like dancing, singing, ziplining or windsurfing – can boost zest.
Zest in Project management – there are times in all projects and all teams when energy levels are low. It may be after a long stint of working long hours, or after testing has revealed a thorny issue to be resolved. Being able to inject some energy is really beneficial to the team. And it is simply done. Getting people outside for a walk or introducing a game, or quiz for the day, or inviting people to share a favorite quote or joke and then displaying them somewhere prominent (taking into account cultural considerations) boosts energy!
This is a strength that often gets short shrift at work because we confuse love with romance. Love is a strength that is about valuing connections with others. While we can easily see the value of love with family and friends, it has a much wider application. Expressing and receiving love is a big happiness booster.
Love in project management – Hopefully we have experienced those micro-moments of connection at work. Love expressed as focusing on others one at a time and seeing them as valuable individuals also contributes to building a trusting, appreciative and safe environment at work. A safe environment helps team members be more creative and tolerate failure.
Project manager character strengths
My studies of project managers show that like the rest of the world project managers are likely to rank Honesty, Kindness, Judgment, and Fairness among our top strengths. What is unusual about project managers is that they are more likely to rank Prudence, Forgiveness, and Perseverance as higher strengths. As you can see, none of these are the so-called happiness strengths. So, what are we to do?
Well first, we can cultivate any of our 24 strengths, so even if we are low in a strength, we can still engage it and reap the benefit. However, if we don’t want to do that, the other route to increased levels of well-being is to focus on top strengths. When we are aware of our strengths, and explore them mindfully, coming to understand how and when we use them that is a great start.
To cultivate higher levels of happiness, try using your top strengths in new ways. Kindness is strongly associated with Love. How can you use your strength of Kindness in a new way at work? How can you use Prudence – the planning strength – to plan a zesty fun moment or to incorporate Gratitude or Curiosity into meetings. For example at the start of a meeting you can pose a question about what has gone well or ask meeting attendees to express appreciation for a colleague who has done great work. How can you leverage Honesty to inject Hope into your project? Use your top strengths to work the happiness strengths!
In honor of the 2019 International Day of Happiness, what will you do to increase your own happiness and that of your team?
Gallup, Inc. (n.d.). State of the Global Workplace. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/services/178517/state-global-workplace.aspx
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.