Re-imagining the workplace: Let’s unpack subject of happiness as it relates to performance

I have heard many claims about what happiness really is and a good number of people across the globe seems to hold the view that it is subjective and that we cannot say that for humanity there is a method for happiness and a system whose thread can be traced and established with authenticity just like the digestive system.

The response to the claim that achieving happiness for humanity or being happy is a scientific matter and the truth around it has been received by many as unreasonable and just a claim with no basis whatsoever. It is our aim therefore to make that argument and present compelling evidence that happiness has a clear way to obtain or know.

This is pursuant to our larger argument that it is connected to performance and for our purposes, the performance we are treating is workplace based, although the issue is general and the principles can be applied to any form of performance.

The refusal to explore that line of thought, in our opinion, is responsible for the elusiveness of happiness in the world and of course, also for our treatise here, for poor performance in organisations around the world and in Zimbabwe in particular since our focus is Zimbabwe.

When we claim that happiness is scientific and methodological we mean that there is a specific way to obtain it or to experience it and that when it’s not obtained that way it is not happiness.

We are aware as we make this argument that many will present themselves as being happy and so claim that it is indeed subjective based on their own experience. Well, we are happy to interact with such people and maybe show through evidence that, indeed, they could enjoy more happiness.

We need a working definition of happiness to qualify our claims, without which we will just be all over the place and lose your attention.

Google defines it as ‘the state of being happy’ and does not commit itself to a clear definition. This leaves the reader free to define their happiness. We think that leaving everyone to define their happiness is as good as doing so for the digestive system and many other systems we see in our lives.

The Aristotelian definition of happiness also touches on a number of things, but does not seem to want to commit to something more systematic. It says; achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc. — that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life.

We have a challenge about the achievement of things in this case. Goods, for example, and even health. We argue that one can have all these mentioned things and still be unhappy.

What we seem to relate with on his list, to some extent is, maybe the knowledge part and the enrichment of human life. We are not saying that such things as goods, health and friends have nothing to do with happiness, we believe they do but we go with the Biblical statement that ‘all these will be added unto you’ when you have found the kingdom, where the kingdom for us is happiness.

One of our principles is that anything that is not permanent or can be lost cannot make someone happy, instead, it can become a source of anxiety and fear. Take your kids for example and think about how certain thoughts as ‘what would happen if I lost them…Your fancy car and mansion house can easily become a source of pain leading to sickness because of their temporary nature. If one can have such thoughts as ‘I will still be happy even if I lose my car, my house, and my friends…’ then they have either achieved happiness or are beginning to flirt with it and so are enjoying these things as what is added unto them. Their happiness is not attached to anything because they have it based on the right methods.

If you are following you would have realised by now that we have already shared one or two elements of our definition of happiness and that one of them is being unattached to things because things are temporary and we are not in direct control of keeping them forever.

If our happiness is attached to them and they go, they go with it and we go back to zero. One might want to argue that happiness does not have to be permanent and that at that time when we are experiencing some good feelings because we just bought a car or got promoted, we are happy.

Well, the disturbing reality is that just the thoughts around the impermanence of things does biochemically cause stress within and lead to a human being secreting stress hormones such as cortisol that come not only with sadness but with a higher version of it which is stress and this can go deeper to depression. Just the thought and not reality can still one’s happiness just like that. Even the thought of, ‘I am going to die and leave all this behind or the existential thought of, ‘why do we have to die and where do we go when we die’ can steal one’s happiness in a second.

Interestingly this means that even attaching one’s happiness to life itself or health is unhealthy because these can go.

Let me not go that deep yet and risk losing you. I am also aware that just this exercise of scrapping the myths we are attached to regarding happiness can easily get you stressed when you realise that you hold an illusion about happiness and might need to throw it away and seek true happiness.

One who views that as work that requires a lot of strength might get stressed when they begin to consider the ‘work’ that needs to be put into all this. The good news is that there is no work and that in fact there is more work in chasing attached happiness than in letting go and letting truth take over in stillness and in silence.

It can really be stressful to imagine that what we have held on to as our sources of happiness might actually not be happiness giving especially if we have lived all our lives holding on to such beliefs and have grown old and even shared such with our offspring in our grey-haired wisdom.

The good news is that in our definition of happiness which we are yet to fully present, presence is at the centre of it, meaning that even if one was to know this in their twilight years, they would still be as happy as any other person and be without any regrets regarding the years they spent ‘chasing the whirlwind…’

Our deepest desire in this matter is to then have this understanding promote performance and healthy performance in the workplace for that matter. I hope to further explore this with you next Sunday.

Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as head of human capital, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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