Monthly Archives: July 2010

Designing Happiness

Yes there really is a course called “Designing Happiness”.  It is taught by Professor Jennifer Aaker at the Stanford Business School. Last week she shared her insights on what makes us happy at an FWE&E event hosted at Cisco.

It was thrilling to see this beautiful woman professor, wife and mother take on a topic I would never have imagined being taught in academia. Professor Aaker tells us we think we know what happiness but it turns out we don’t. Happiness is hard to pin down and even harder to hold onto. Some of the reasons for this are:

1. Economics

Work Life Balance Affects Happiness. Whilst we may have become richer as a nation in the last 30 years, it has not increased our return on happiness. For example, women who are married with children and working outside the home, are 20% less happy than their stay home counterparts.

2. Age and Stage

The meaning of happiness shifts every 3 to 5 years as our priorities change. If conquering the world is what makes us happy between age 23 – 26, we trade ambition for balance at age 27 – 30. If having children makes us happy in our 30’s, feeling calm and content is what we seek in our 40’s.

3. False Memory

We don’t remember what makes us happy. For example, taking the children to Disneyland should make us happy. We forget the long lines and sugar filled screaming toddlers.  Memory decay happens when we take the happy pictures. Reviewing the photos later we forget the unhappy price we paid to get them.

4. Pinning your Hopes

We have ridiculous ideas on how to get happier. We pin our hopes on chasing things which in reality don’t makes us happy. For example people think if they were promoted at work, won the lottery, had a less stressful job, spent more time with good friends, had their worry gland removed or spent more time on vacation they would be happier.

These goals focus on being somewhere else and not on where you are in life. It turns out that within 3 days of receiving a promotion, winning the lottery or being on vacation, people are right back to a set point happiness. Once we experience the sensation of happiness, expectation creeps in. Happiness is fleeing and lasts only a short period of time. There is a gap between expectations, performance and happiness.

The Key to happiness

Happiness is generally the by-product of other activities, and not an outcome of consciously focusing on getting happy. In a study conducted at Yahoo! employees were given $100 and told to go and distribute the money. Half the group were told to use the money in a meaningful way, the other half on their own happiness.

People in the happy group spent less time doing things that were actually good for them. By contrast, the people in the meaningful group were happier because they were spending the money on others. They were connected to other people and their happiness came from helping others, not just themselves.

Meaningfulness is key to being happy. Our happiness is payback for the impact we have on others when we choose to engage in some small way and help them. Small acts can create big change.

What small act will I do to help someone today?

If you are Coca-Cola, you will put a vending machine on a college campus then film the students delighting in the unexpected behaviour of the machine dispensing gift. You will post to YouTube and call it the Happiness Machine.

So glad there is a machine for that…


The Elephant House at London Zoo

All day we have been
At the elephant house
Watching these giants trying to move
An elephant in the wild
Occupies 100 square miles of territory;
Here they are fitted into an architecture
Moulded to their shape
But solidfying, regidifying, atrophying.
At night we go home
On the bus or the tube
Our homes of convenience
Our own little cage in London Zoo.

The Elephant House at London Zoo

Royal Relationship

The Queen and Ban Ki Moon at the United Nations

The Queen and Ban Ki Moon. Address at the United Nations

Growing up in the United Kingdom, the Queen has been a constant in my life. My first memory, was accidently walking into her at a trade fair for the Badminton Horse Trials. I wasn’t looking where I was going and when I looked up, not very far, since she is quite short, I saw a wise woman wearing a brown rain coat, a head scarf and intensely polished old brown shoes. It took me a moment to realize it was the Queen before I ducked out of her way.

More recently, whilst staying in a hotel in Bayswater, London, I put my head out of the window when I heard the sound of horses hooves on the street outside. Incredibly, 6 horses were pulling a massive gun carriage, at a canter, en route to the army barracks in Hyde Park. Now you say, why do you need to gallop your gun carriage around London? – a tad excessive perhaps, a bit over the top. The citizens of Great Britain indulge you in this activity because of what – tradition? Heck if you had a gun carriage and a standing army in Central London, wouldn’t you want to show them off when they go out exercising?

My other memories of her are more indirect. For example, everyone on my street enjoyed a block party held for her in 1975 to celebrate her Silver Jubilee. We all received a commemorative mug which we have somewhere. On the radio we hear her voice when something really bad happens, expressing her condolences or laying a wreath for the fallen ones. She opens schools and universities. She rides her horse and walks her Corgies in her own garden. She invites people to have tea with  her and gives them prizes of recognition.

To this day my family gathers to listen to her broadcast address to the nation at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day. We standup while the National Anthem plays and then settle down to listen. As a teenager and in my 20’s it all seemed rather silly and pointless and very out of touch with real life.

With age and distance I have softened and become quite attached to this marvelous career woman. Today, when she spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York I was deeply moved by her words. This time it was personal, she was imprinting her legacy on the Assembly and by extension the world.

In her speech she said “It has perhaps always been the case that the waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all,” She went on to say, “I know of no single formula for success, but over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”

These are the words of a wise woman. After 58 years on the thrown, she is still passionate, on point and modeling what real leadership can look like.  For the cost of just 62 pence a year (about 1 dollar) per person, the people of Great Britain pay for her upkeep. On days like today, I think it is something citizens can well afford.