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Entries in Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky (1)

Friday
Jul092010

The Upside of Happiness…for Your Club and Your Bottom Line

By Patricia Glynn

‘Don’t worry. Be happy.’

The straight-to-the-point catchphrase from the 1980s song offers a recommendation which, given the many burdens of our hectic daily lives, we’d all be wise to abide by. Of course, it’s much easier said than done.

Or is it?

Could we, with a bit of committed determination, fret less and become more optimistic? And would achieving a state of relative euphoria possibly have a greater end result, beyond just putting a smile on our face (as if that weren’t enough)? How, for instance, might a health club be affected if its owner and staff were, on the whole, full of cheer?

The subject of happiness is currently more popular than ever. Indeed, in my own office, I have more than a half-dozen recently published books on the topic. One is titled Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, and I recently had an opportunity to speak with the author, Marci Shimoff, about how we might become happier and how an improved mood could augment our lives, both personally and business-wise. 

While she’s in relatively jovial spirits nowadays, Shimoff wasn’t always so.  “I didn’t win the happiness jackpot at birth,” she admits. “And I really wanted to be happy.” But instead of feeling discouraged, Shimoff studied positive psychology. “I interviewed more than 100 unconditionally happy people. I found answers and applied them. Eventually, I went from a D+ in happiness to an A-.”

Surprisingly, she says, only one thing separates the happy from the unhappy: habits. In other words, what we do and how we think matter—a lot. “We all have a happiness set-point,” she explains. Scientists describe it as “the genetic and learned tendency to remain at a certain level of happiness.” Essentially, regardless of what happens in your life, be it a devastating loss or a lottery windfall, you always return to the same set-point from whence you began. Fifty percent is determined by genetics. But 40%, she’s happy to report, is malleable and dependent on our actions and attitude. (The remaining 10% is based on circumstances like the aforementioned lottery triumph).

“There are a number of techniques available to us,” Shimoff says. “For instance, ‘Don’t believe everything you think.’ We have over 60,000 thoughts per day. Roughly 80% are negative. We need to question their validity.” We must, she advises, ask if what we’re thinking is true. Is it really true? To illustrate her point, Shimoff recalls a time when, during a lecture, she was faced with a disagreeable man who failed to laugh at her jokes and who sat rigidly, arms crossed. She thought: “He hates my speech. He hates me!” Yet, when the surly spectator later approached, he offered nothing but sincere praise. “Just because you think something,” she observes, “doesn’t make it true.”

In addition to dismissing false thoughts, Shimoff recommends associating with more happy people while simultaneously limiting contact with negative individuals. “We catch the emotions of the people around us. It’s called emotional contagion. We are, experts say, the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So choose wisely and set boundaries when required.”

But of all the habits we might practice that can influence our temper for the better, one, in particular, stands out appreciably: exercise. For Shimoff, it’s vital. “Phys. Ed. class should have been called Happiness 101!” However, while she does advocate for fitness, she proffers one caveat: “I believe you ought to do exercise you enjoy. When you love what you’re doing, you get a double dose of happiness—body and brain both benefit.”

As with all her tips, Shimoff resolutely follows her own advice and visits the gym regularly. ZUMBA, the popular Latin dance-based class featuring interval and resistance training, is, she says, her “absolute favorite. I love the philosophy: ‘Ditch the workout; join the party.’ I’m literally smiling throughout the entire workout. It’s a celebration; it feels good.” And that, she attests, is key. “Find something you can’t wait to do.”

As it turns out, happiness doesn’t just make us feel good. All told, there are numerous repercussions resulting from amplified bliss. By bolstering the level of happiness in your business, you can, for example, boost your bottom line. Shimoff notes that, according to researchers, “people who are happy earn over $750,000 more in their lifetime.” A study led by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California-Riverside, confirms this: “Happy people tend to earn higher incomes.” So, while money may not buy happiness, a joyful outlook does lend to prosperity.

Also, “When the people you work with are happier,” she observes, “you’ll find it much easier, and more fun, to be around them. And they are going to be committed to your company.” Researchers back this up: In the “Happiness at Work Index—Research Report 2007,” published by Chiumento London, the British HR consultancy organization, experts found “staff who enjoy good working relationships, receive proactive career development, feel valued by the organization, and are well treated…are likely to be contributing the most. Furthermore, they will be ambassadors for the organization, sending out positive messages to the outside community and enhancing the employer brand.”

“I truly believe,” says Shimoff, “happiness has a payoff.” Case in point: “I’ve walked into a club where the associates were, unfortunately, very unpleasant. My reaction is consistently the same—I want to run out of there as fast as possible. Alternatively, I’ve encountered incredibly positive staffers. I feel welcomed and it’s a place I want to be part of. I am eager to return. Members of your club really do pick up on the energy of your employees. On a subtle level, happiness, or a lack thereof, can make or break your business.” 

As for achieving a joyful atmosphere, Shimoff recommends those in charge focus, first, on increasing their own happiness. Leaders will find it challenging to infuse enthusiasm into their staff if they themselves are lacking contentment. Further, she recommends reserving time during meetings to work on behaviors conducive to happiness. “Select one thing and have it be what your staff works on that week. You could even broadcast it to the whole club. Post a habit and encourage everyone to practice it.” Another effective tactic involves appreciation. “Acknowledge each person, recognize their contributions, and praise them for the ways they’ve brought happiness into the club.”

Happily, when optimism leads the way, as Shimoff teaches us, much is possible.

Is your club a happy place? Tell us how you keep your members and staff smiling in the comments section below. 

And to find out more about achieving your own happily-ever-after, visit Shimoff’s Website.

- Patricia Glynn is associate editor of CBI magazine and can be reached at p.glynn@fit-etc.com