by David Bork

#4 in 4-part series based on “The Happiness Advantage“ 1

Are you happy?

What we have learned in the previous three columns is that happiness is a choice. Happiness is not something that comes to you from somewhere in the universe. It comes from within. It is not about seeking and achieving and then you become happy. You choose to be happy first. It is an internal attitude that you elect and it permeates all parts of your life.

Achor cited a study, appropriately titled “Very Happy People,“ that there was one — only one characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else. It was the strength of their social relationships.

Daniel Goleman reported MIT researchers found that employees with strong ties to their manager brought in more money than those with only weak ties. Each employee bested the company average by $588 of revenue each month. 2

Add to this data from Gallup who asked ten million employees around the world if they could agree or disagree with the following statement: “My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.“ Those who agreed were found to be more productive, contributed more to profits and were significantly more likely to stay with this company longterm.“

The data tells us what successful aging is and how it can be achieved. Study members seem constantly to be reinventing their lives. They do not flinch from acknowledging how hard life is, but they also never lost sight of why one might want to keep on living it. Often the subjects looked on life as a book filled with many different chapters. When one chapter was finished, they were compelled to go on to the next chapter. When they lost a friend through death or distance, they made new friends. It meant cultivating relationships with surviving old friends and success in making new ones.

Vaillant concluded that after 70 years of studying these men, the evidence overwhelmingly pointed out that one’s relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in this world.“ 3

John Cacioppo 4 concluded from more than thirty years of research that lack of social connections is just as deadly as certain diseases. People with few social ties where two or three times more likely to suffer from major depression than those with strong social bonds.

When we blend all of this information into a package, it is clear that relationships in the family business , what Achor calls “social investment“ is a factor in both success and level of satisfaction.

The Beattles wrote the song and then Joe Cocker re-worked the words — it went like this:

“I get by with a little help from my friends…

Achor has some suggestions for us when it comes to building relationships. While his data is generic, it relates to concepts I identified more than twenty years ago. That concept addressed the importance of building and maintaining relationships in family business. It is as if family members have a “relationship bank“ into which they must make deposits. Then, as they work together and together must face difficult or stressful matters, they can draw on those deposits to help them through whatever the relationship challenge might be.

To build good working relationships in family business one must be pro-active in making “social investments“ in one another. Here are some specific things that can be done:

  1. Be enthusiastic in your response – Be enthusiastic in your response to a family member reporting success. Make specific, positive comments about their success and ask follow up questions like, “How did that work out?“ or “What contributed to the successful outcomes?“
  2. Introduce new hires to all family members and to other employees – This will help integrate the new hire into the culture and convey to them that they are important, that there are others in the business who have interests similar to theirs. If one is a fan of a sports club or enjoys a particular sports activity, make the connection so they will have something to discuss as in the lunch room.
  3. Outlaw cell phones and blackberrys in all meetings – Meetings are a time for direct, person-to-person exchange. Make direct eye contact when you speak to another
  4. Listen until the end of each person’s statements – Don’t be sitting in the meeting thinking about what you are going to say. If you are focused on what you want to say, you don’t hear what the speaker is saying. A good technique to let the person you heard what they said is to say, “If I understand correctly, you mean….“ Look for the “nod,“ the movement of the head that indicates “Yes, that is right.“ If you don’t get the nod, chances are you didn’t listen well.
  5. Use common courtesy — “Please….“ “Thank you… “I really appreciate… Remember this parable: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.“ Good manners are always in fashion and treating a family member with such respect goes a long way toward enhancing the relationship.
  6. Express gratitude to family members — it could be gratitude for an opportunity they give to you, for something they have done or for something that brings benefit to all family members. Gratitude has become more and more scarce as people seem to believe they are entitled, “owed“ something.

Thus, we bring to a close the series on “The Happiness Advantage,“ by Shawn Achor. His presentation of information is powerful, convincing and, in my opinion, the principles he advocates stand the test of time. Few persons, on their deathbed are focused on the size of their bank accounts or other “things.“ Most people at that stage treasure the relationships they have had and the people who are important to them.

Achor’s contribution is his passionate insistence that we all can make the happiness choice.

  1. “The Happiness Advantage“ by Shawn Achor, ISBN 978-0-307-59154-8
  2. Goleman, D. (1998) Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam
  3. Aging Well, © 2002 by George E. Vaillant, M.D. ISBN 0-316-98936-3 Little, Brown & Co.
  4. Cacioppo, J.T. (2008). Loneliness; Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. New York, W.W. Norton
  5. Bork, D., (1991)., Nation’s Business, “10 Keys to Success in Family Business,“

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