Dave UlrichGuest Author

Happiness Is Within My Grasp!

By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization

A study was recently published on SSRN that purports happier employees are more effective. This claim is probably not a surprise. As a consumer, I would rather return to stores, restaurants, hotels, and even airlines where the employees seem happier. So how do we affect our personal happiness to help improve our work effectiveness? And what can business or HR leaders to do encourage happiness among their employees?

Based on recent happiness research, happiness is both something that happens to you and something you create. In general, the predictors of happiness may be bucketed into three categories:

  • Circumstances:                   10% (wealth, beauty, weather, education, country)
  • Biology:                                50% (DNA from heritage, “set point”)
  • Controllable choices:          40% (choices we make)

When we recognize happiness determinants, each of us as individuals may identify ways to increase our personal happiness, and leaders may be able to promote employee happiness.


Each of us finds ourselves in both positive and negative circumstances. Recognizing that these circumstances are much less important for our happiness than how we choose to deal with them helps shift happiness from circumstance to an internal locus of control.


Our heritage (parents, ancestors) gives us a predisposition for happiness. Think about your parents’ and/or grandparents’ overall optimistic versus pessimistic attitude and how they dealt with specific good and bad situations. Their attitude generally offers a set point, or predisposition, for each of us.  If we recognize our happiness DNA, we are more likely able to change it.

Organizations also have heritage and legacy attitudes about happiness, often rooted in stories, embedded values, and shared messages about how to respond in good and bad circumstances. For example, consider how IBM’s Service Corps dedicated to helping others, Alibaba’s rapid response to the Japanese tsunami, and many other companies’ commitment to philanthropy often indicate an overall sense of corporate well-being for the organizations.

Controllable Choices

Ultimately, happiness is a choice. Each of us can ask if we are making choices that lead to real happiness. I identified 24 activities that broad-based happiness research indicated might create more happiness. Then I clustered these activities into five life typology categories: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. We can measure how well we are doing these activities as an assessment (0 to 10) for both knowing where we personally stand on creating happiness and identifying leadership/HR actions to drive happiness in our organizations.

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Which of these 24 items do you do well? Which could you do better? Are there patterns of your happiness strengths and weaknesses in the five domains?

What can you, as a business or HR leader, bring into your organization?

Aspiring to be happier and actually being happier are both doable. By taking this assessment, leaders might have a pathway to build happiness into their organizations; and being personally responsible for your own happiness can move you beyond circumstances and heritage to help you create greater happiness in your own life and bring your best self to work. 

Republished with permission and originally published at Dave Ulrich’s LinkedIn

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