I had the most fascinating interaction I’ve had with an unknown person this week while boarding a flight from Calgary to Toronto. It was unexpected, confusing, and got me thinking. Here’s what happened:
As I was boarding my flight, the gate clerk smiled at me and said, “Have a nice flight, Mr. Happy-Face.” I immediately stopped, creating a traffic jam for the large crowd of Boarding Zone 2 passengers that were behind me. “Excuse me? Did you just call me Mr. Happy-Face?”
“Yup. Unlike most of the business people that board planes, you seem happy.”
This random interaction distracted me for the entire four-hour flight. Traveling across Canada at 35,000 feet, I couldn’t stop asking myself, was I a happy professional?
Later that evening, I decided to read a bit about happiness. Here’s what I found in my quick research. The usual (and well-discussed) markers of happiness are relative wealth, family relationships, a career, friends, health, freedom, and personal values (click HERE), but I wanted to dig deeper into professional happiness. Here are five findings worth mentioning:
First, the five happiest countries on the planet, according to the World Happiness Report 2015 (click HERE), are Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Canada. In addition to being far from the equator, these countries also have relatively small populations, are rich, and have lower-than-average inequality, low corruption, and possess strong social safety nets. In fact, island paradises like Mauritius and Jamaica rank 67th and 75th, respectively.
Second, self-employed people appear happier, despite working longer and more stressful hours for less money (click HERE), so much so that it might take as much as 2.5x the income to generate the same happiness in a traditional “job” (click HERE). Might some companies instill “self-employment-like” happiness by providing greater autonomy and control to professionals? (Think Google).
Third, commuting significantly decreases happiness, increases the likelihood of divorce, and can literally make you sick and die (click HERE). Research indicates that an extra hour of commuting time needs to be offset by a 40% bump in compensation to keep happiness constant (click HERE). Meanwhile, riding a bike to work meaningfully increases happiness.
Fourth, people who sleep more are happier (click HERE), less prone to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and a host of other ailments. For most of us, an extra 60-90 minutes of sleep per night would materially improve our happiness and health (click HERE). Interestingly, stressful careers tend to disrupt consistent sleep patterns.
And finally, happiness gaps between spouses increase the likelihood of separation. In a counter-intuitive finding, research finds that it is bad for a marriage to have one person happier than the other (click HERE). What does this mean for a professional environment in which some are happy while others are miserable?
This does not necessarily mean the ideal setup is being a self-employed professional working from (and occasionally hibernating in) your own igloo in the Arctic circle (as part of a community of peers equally happy in their own igloos), although I definitely felt that way this Winter. Perhaps that explains the gate attendant's suspicion of my happiness? Regardless, the findings suggest both employers and employees should proactively think about happiness.