INTOUCH : Happiness: Why employers should care

Businesses should be seriously concerned about their employees’ happiness if they want to grow and be innovative, says one of the world’s leading psychologists.
Professor Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology, told 150 people attending recent lecture at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, that evidence shows happy people are more productive, and much more creative, than unhappy people.
Seligman refuted long-held theories that only “really miserable” people are creative – saying one reason for this notion is that famous writers and artists such as Sylvia Plath and Fyodor Dostoevsky experienced periods of deep depression.
“It turns out that it was factor of bipolar depression … and creativity took place when they were up, not when they were down. If you want creativity, you want people feeling good.”
He said his experiments in positive psychology show that people have much faster reaction times and are much more aware of what is going on around them when they are happy than when they are sad.
People who are fully engaged in what they are doing are also much more able to ignore discomfort and negative stimulus, he said.
“Engagement is definitely better analgesic than aspirin, and may be better analgesic than morphine,” which has implications for business, Seligman said.
Jamie Ford, director of the Foresight Institute that sponsored the lecture, said it is important to realise that the sort of happiness and engagement Seligman talks about is not fixed behaviour and can actually be learned.
“Employees need to find out what it is they’re good at and can really become involved in, and then find jobs that make the most of those strengths. And if they have too negative an outlook, they can learn to be more optimistic.
“But employers also need to find out what motivates their employees, and help build that motivation into the tasks they have to perform. And it’s in employers’ interests to help their employees overcome any negative thought patterns that may be holding them back.”
Seligman is the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1996 he was elected president of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in modern history. He was in New Zealand to deliver his public lecture in Auckland, private seminar to Fletcher Building and Air New Zealand executives, and public seminar through the Leadership Development Centre in Wellington.

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