Well-BeingThe early season for electives begins this week at the Asian Institute of Management. For me and the students who are enrolled in my subject, this means spending the next month discussing happiness, what is it, how to achieve it. 

Personal happiness

Research on positive psychology has yielded many interesting and useful findings concerning happiness. For managers, one of the more interesting of these findings is that happier people are more likely to perform better at work. This in turn results in increased job satisfaction and increased happiness. This creates a reinforcing loop between job satisfaction and job performance.

However, it is not this simple. Evidence also shows that there is significant spillover between life satisfaction and job satisfaction. This means that unhappiness in one’s personal life can taint one’s happiness on the job. The implication is that managers need to find a way to ensure employees are happy, not just on the job, but also off the job. 

While this seems a daunting task, thankfully, evidence also shows that managing goal setting behavior and goal constructs is a powerful tool for creating general happiness. In simple terms, individuals who choose goals that are important to them, as opposed to those that are imposed on them, are more likely to achieve these goals. This sets the stage for a virtuous cycle of satisfaction and performance.

Now, to develop a prescription for happiness, we need to define happiness. At the individual level, happiness is best explained as the presence of positive affect, moments of joy, laughter, and enjoyment; and the absence of negative affect, moments of sadness, worry, or anger. Hence, one part of happiness is emotional. Happiness is associated with pleasure. 

However, research also shows that happiness is more than just pleasure. Individuals derive satisfaction not only from enjoyment. In fact, as individuals mature and get older, satisfaction becomes more about feelings of accomplishment or relevance. This means that happiness is also related to meaning.

Finally, one of the more persistent conclusions from many studies is that individuals who are more engaged in something are far more likely to be happy that those who are idle. 

Hence, the simplest prescription for happiness is to be able to shape life in a manner that enables engagement with activities that bring both pleasure and meaning.

For many of our students, the focus will be on setting the stage for creating happiness not just for themselves but also for employees they will work with. However, for those that intend to pursue a career in government or in the non-profit sector, the job can be even more daunting, it is about setting the stage for national well-being.

Societal happiness

In March of 2019, the United Nations released the 2019 World Happiness Report (WHR). The very first WHR was released in 2012 and used data from the Gallup World Polls from 2005 to 2011. This year’s report looks at how world happiness metrics have evolved in the last fourteen years.

The Philippine happiness index has increased steadily from 4.985 in 2013 to 5.631 in 2019, with global ranking increasing from 92nd to 69th (of 156 countries) Finland, which ranked first in the world, has a happiness index of 7.769 while South Sudan, which placed last, has a happiness index of 2.853.

By contrast, population-weighted global happiness has tracked downwards from 2006 to 2018 although non-population–weighted happiness has increased. This indicates that, while many countries have experienced increased happiness, a decline in happiness in countries with larger populations have offset these gains.

The world happiness report looks at three measures of happiness: (a) life evaluation, reflecting respondent measurements of their current lives between a worst possible scenario (1) and a best possible scenario (10); (b) presence of positive affect, and (c) absence of negative affect. 

The 2018 report sought to explain country happiness using six factors: GDP per capita; healthy life expectancy; available social support; the degree of freedom to make decisions about one’s life; generosity in society; and absence of corruption.

The 2019 report reviews the relationship between happiness and voting and once again concludes that national happiness is a better predictor of government vote share (at least in Europe) than GDP growth rate. 

The 2019 report delves deeper into generosity, what the authors call prosocial behavior, and conclude that there are likely causal mechanisms that support s virtuous cycle between prosocial behavior and national happiness. In other words, generosity increases satisfaction and happier people are more likely to be generous, creating an upward spiral.

The 2019 report also reviews the conundrum of improving economic indicators in the US and declining happiness. The report concludes that increased use of social media is highly correlated with declining happiness and points to potential causal mechanisms. The report also points to the increased use of big data tending to be used most successfully by large, organized entities, potentially leading to a sense of loss of control over one’s own information. Furthermore, the report points out that increased use of gadgets results in decreased social contact, potentially damaging an important factor for happiness, social support. 

For those of us studying happiness, or simply wanting to be happy, there are a few easy lessons from the 2019 report. Reach out and engage in prosocial work. Spend less time with gadgets and more time with people. Happiness is still about connections and engagement. 

Readers can email Maya at [email protected] Or visit her site at 

Topics: happiness , structural well-being , life evaluation , life satisfaction , SKILL , world happiness report
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