Is happiness the key to high performance?

May 15, 2024 | Development, Home Featured, How-to, Mental health | 0 comments

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Mike Thompson at Gen Healthy Minds explains the secret to happiness and how this can have a positive impact on performance at work.

Did you know that if you take a brisk walk outdoors during your working day then research has shown that you will have an uplift in creativity for up to an hour?

Thanks to those magical chemicals produced by the brain and body when we exercise called neurotransmitters, you will find it easier to solve problems and brainstorm new ideas. Dopamine, which floods the brain when we exercise, opens up our learning centres thus helping us solve problems and develop new ideas.

Positive state of mind

This is just one example of the brain being ‘in positive’ rather than the state which it is often in while we are at work, which is negative, neutral or even stressed.

Scientists and researchers exploring a relatively new strand of psychology called positive psychology have researched the impacts of the brain being ‘in positive’ (we would call this being ‘happy’) and the results have been startling.

They have shown that your brain in positive is 37% more productive and your intelligence creativity and energy levels all rise and your brain acts faster and more accurately.

So, if the key to performance is happiness, can we train our brains to be more positive?

How to be more positive

Research tells us that we can be more positive by doing a few simple things each day for 21 days. This enables us to lay down new neural pathways that allow us to see the world in a more positive light.

1. The first is practicing gratitude. By recording every day three good things that have happened in our day we can re-wire our brains to scan for the positives rather than all the things that went wrong or that we lack.
2. Exercising floods our body and brains with so called happy hormones that not only make us feel good but also, as we touched upon previously, open up the learning centres in our brains to help us to retain information, be more creative and see the bigger picture.
3. Practicing mindfulness allows us to calm our minds and reduce stress levels and live in the present moment rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future. Only five minutes of headspace mindfulness practice between meetings has been shown to dramatically reduce the level of stress hormone cortisol that builds up in our brains as we work.
4. Random acts of kindness – sending an email to a colleague or friend praising them or thanking them creates ripples of positivity and releases happy hormones in ourselves and also in others
5. Journaling – writing down something positive that has happened each day allows our brains to relive it, releasing the same hormones as if it were happening again.

Impact on mental health and resilience

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings from the research is the impact these simple practices can have on mental health and resilience.

In one of the largest wellbeing and mental health interventions ever undertaken, the US military trained over 1.5 million of its men and women by putting them through a combat resilience programme. Results showed a marked reduction in PTSD ,depression and other mental health conditions amongst troops returning from combat zones.

Why are these practices not taught and practiced widely in workplaces?

The answer lies in the fact that most of our workplaces still adopt a very reactive stance when it comes to mental health.

They put in place ‘mental health first aiders’ to help spots signs of ill health and support people who are struggling. They often also have the safety net of occupational health if more clinical support is required to get people who are unwell back to ‘ok’. These strategies are very reactive and mean we only deal with mental health on the back foot.

Be more proactive

What is really required if we want higher levels of engagement and performance from our early careers colleagues is to be more proactive with mental health and teach people how to not just be ‘ok’ but to really thrive at work and release all of the benefits this brings.

Simple learning interventions in the early days of someone’s career can equip them with the tools they need to thrive and perform at their best for their entire career and avoid mental health issues

At Gen Healthy Minds our team has done exactly this with thousands of apprentices and graduates and the results have been clear. We see not only reduced absence and sickness but also higher percentages of every cohort are thriving at work than the typical population.

We measure this using the wonderful ‘workplace wellbeing survey’ that measures not only people’s mental health but also the knock-on impact on performance and engagement. The results are very clear cut. Invest in teaching new recruits positive psychology tools and you will see higher engagement and performance both on their programmes and beyond.

Of course, it is also vital to teach people how to manage stress and build resilience for when life doesn’t go to plan, but if these skills are underpinned by a positive outlook built on every day then this is a recipe for long term success and happiness at work.

Why not try this out for size yourself?

For the next 21 days think of three things each day that you are grateful for. Be as detailed as possible. Maybe it’s a chance call with a friend or a piece of work that went well.

Whatever you think of, picture it in your mind and re-live it. I hope that you will begin to notice how easy it becomes to see the positives in life as well as the negatives that we are hard-wired to see.

Long-term happiness

But long-term happiness and the consequent high performance aren’t just about in the moment positivity it goes deeper than that.

This is where the PERMAH model comes in. Built on the foundation of 20 plus years of research, the PERMAH model stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishments and Health.

It is important to work with your early career colleagues to help them recognise these other key levers that will promote true wellbeing and performance.

Beyond experiencing positive emotions each day, it is vital that they feel a sense of engagement with the organisation they work for, have good supportive relationships, feel like their work has strong meaning and purpose, and that they are recognised for their achievements.

Strategies to build PERMAH into your approach to running early careers programmes include ensuring a strong support network is in place from day one. This could be well trained and briefed line managers, mentors etc.

It is also vital to foster supportive relationships within cohorts so that they are able to support each other through challenges. Often when people join a new organisation and have moved away from their traditional support network this can be a huge challenge so addressing it up front is crucial.

We would also recommend teaching basic physical and mental health tools and strategies as well as making sure progress and achievements are recorded and celebrated frequently. If you can achieve all of these things when managing your cohorts then high performance will follow.

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