Good health goes hand-in-hand with happiness. Various studies have shown an effective wellness program that recognizes the value of happiness and equips individuals with the tools to achieve more positive feelings can enhance employee performance, work abilities, and overall wellness.
While happiness certainly has a significant impact on wellness, it is important to note that it doesn’t boost well-being anytime it appears. Socrates argued this back in 347 BCE. He claimed that happiness comes in many varieties or flavors (he was primarily concerned with what he called “true” and “false” pleasures) and that the impact happiness has on well-being depends on the kind of happiness in question.
Attached Vs. Free-Floating
Happiness can be about or attached to particular thoughts or ideas, imbuing them with a cheerful glow. For instance, one may experience joy when daydreaming about their upcoming vacation.
Employers should be particularly concerned with employee happiness linked to thoughts about their organization, job, or colleagues. This type of attached happiness is more likely to positively impact critical organizational outcomes than happiness about less organizationally relevant thoughts (e.g., the belief that one had some excellent ice cream cake for their birthday last week).
While happiness can be about a particular thing, it doesn’t have to be. It can also be free-floating or aimless, without any object. This type of happiness is experienced by individuals in a “good mood” or engaging in meditative practices designed to produce a peaceful, tranquil state.
Free-floating happiness can improve employee productivity, engagement, and resilience. However, it can be challenging to produce reliably. To experience consistently high levels of free-floating happiness in the workplace, employees must first feel safe and that their basic wellness needs are being attended to by their organization. A comprehensive and modernized set of benefits can go a long way towards sustaining this state of mind.
Additionally, workers must be immersed in an environment that suits their beliefs, values, norms, and behavioral dispositions. In other words, they need to be in the right organizational culture. As a result, companies that want to capture the corporate benefits of free-floating happiness must be strategic and active in designing their organization’s culture.
Authentic Vs. Inauthentic
In recent years, philosophers have distinguished between what they call authentic happiness, which is informed and autonomous, from inauthentic happiness, which lacks at least one of those qualities.
Informed happiness is happiness that is about or attached to a true belief. While some say that ignorance is bliss, happiness that stems from false beliefs may not have the same wellness-boosting power as happiness that results from knowledge. This point has been well-known in philosophical circles ever since Robert Nozick developed his infamous experience machine objection to happiness-based theories of wellness.
In this thought experiment, readers are asked to imagine a virtual reality device that can perfectly simulate any reality for its user, who will think the experience is genuine. Such a machine would have the power to bring about false happiness. For instance, it could cause users to experience the euphoria of believing they just won the lottery, even when they didn’t. Though their intense happiness may be good for them, it’s not as good as happiness caused by true beliefs.
The upshot for employers is that they can’t create a thriving workforce by painting a falsely optimistic picture of their organization. Instead, they must strive to cultivate true or informed happiness, which is a much more potent well-booster.
Autonomous happiness is unforced happiness that reflects an individual’s genuine values. It comes about without any effort or external pressure.
Non-autonomous happiness can occur when an individual is pushed to accept particular values, beliefs, or viewpoints. After adopting concerns that are not their own, these individuals will experience non-autonomous happiness.
Non-autonomous happiness may become a wellness issue for organizations as they build and maintain their organizational cultures. Strategies that prevent employees from autonomously soaking up company values may produce a happy but unwell workforce. There are several measures that organizations can take to prevent this from happening, including:
- Hiring for culture: By bringing in applicants with values and beliefs that already cohere with an organization’s culture, companies can avoid encouraging employees to adopt traits that they don’t already have. When employees who naturally have the “right” qualities experience happiness because of them (e.g., because they value innovation or collaboration), it will be autonomous and, therefore, authentic.
- Giving employees a say in the culture: Employers won’t always be able to hire their ideal cultural additions. In these cases, companies will have to work with what they’ve got. Pressuring employees to adopt a non-negotiable set of values, norms, and beliefs would inevitably lead to inauthentic happiness. Businesses can give their employees some control over the culture to avoid this. If employees are included in the decision-making process, then the values they decide to adopt will more accurately represent their genuine concerns. As a result, the happiness that results from these values will be more authentic.
When using happiness to assess the wellness of employees, organizations should focus on happiness that is (i) attached to organizational outcomes, (ii) free-floating (assuming the organization has a culture and benefits system that supports adequate levels of it), (iii) informed, and (iv) autonomous.