Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What It Really Takes To Be Happier

My favorite research study of all time.

Last week this blog focused on my favorite TED talk of all time. Shawn Achor referenced some research that I have been studying for more than a decade. I originally became interested in the research after hearing Chuck Colson speak. Yeah, the same Chuck Colson that was President Nixon’s hatchet man. This is the same Chuck Colson who went to jail for his role in Watergate (younger readers, look it up!). Chuck was referencing a “recent” study noting that “while no one knows what makes people happy,” the researchers discovered that happy people all have one thing in common: they are thankful!

Dr. Emmons from UC Davis and Dr. McCollough from SMU were curious about why some people seem to have more happiness and a greater sense of well-being than others. After making initial observations and compiling all the previous research on gratitude, they conducted “The Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving.” The study required several hundred people in three different groups to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the normal, everyday events that occurred, while the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences (the bad things that they saw or experienced on a daily basis). The last group made a daily list of the things for which they were grateful.

The results indicated that those who daily noted the things they were thankful for reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved.

The findings for the other groups were telling as well. The group that simply wrote down their thoughts about the day experienced no statistical differences in any category. They really were a perfect control group!

But what about the group that looked for the negative things in life? Their experience was pretty much the exact opposite of the gratitude group. Life had gone downhill for them since the time they started focusing on the negative. They had gained more weight, become more depressed, and had chosen more isolation.

Leaders, listen up! First, attitude really is everything. Second, you can control your attitudes. Third, you can lead others to focus on the brighter side of life.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Leaders MUST take responsibility of their lives and of the organizational culture around them. Ask a few questions: What’s life like where you work? Is it joyful? Do the attitudes tend to look for the best in other people? Are you thankful? Do other people know?

Be thankful. Lead well.

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