Four Keys to Releasing and Sustaining Happiness
by Jean Marie Johnson
The pursuit of happiness may be one of our most cherished freedoms, but, if you ask most people, they’d say attaining and sustaining “happy” can be rather elusive. So much so, that the pursuit continues to be the subject of books, blogs, projects, retreats and—significant research.
Happiness is worthy of our attention, because like love, friendship and kindness, its contribution to our sense of well-being is priceless. In combing recent research on happiness, we were intrigued by the work of UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb, who has unlocked these four keys to happiness:
1. Identify what you are grateful for
This concept is not new to you because gratitude has long been associated with a positive sense of well-being, personal satisfaction and yes, happiness.
According to Dr. Korb, when you feel grateful, your brain is affected on a biological level, boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine, and making your social interactions more enjoyable. And it turns out that the very act of pondering what you are grateful for makes you happier because it shifts your attention to what’s positive in your life. Not surprisingly, Korb’s research confirmed that when you express gratitude toward the people in your life, you “create a positive feedback loop” in your relationships.
- The MAGIC connection: You can “increase the happy” for yourself and for your customer by expressing genuine gratitude: “Thanks so much for waiting,” “I appreciate that information,” ”I’m grateful I had the chance to find what you were looking for today.” It really is that simple.
2. Label your negative feelings
This happiness booster may sound counter intuitive because you are accustomed to thinking that if you go there, you will only feel worse. And if you empathize with a customer who is feeling angry, sad, frustrated, or hopeless, that you will add salt to the wound. Not so. Studies show that trying to suppress a negative emotion can backfire, intensifying the dreaded emotion. So much for pushing things down!
It turns out that labeling, or putting a name to the feeling, makes a big difference. When we call out an emotion we reduce its impact. How’s that for slaying the dragon and focusing on what you can control! And all it takes is a few words or a metaphor: “I feel very angry;” “I am like a pot about to boil over.” Doing so reduces the brain’s arousal center and tempers the feeling. If this sounds a lot like a mindfulness or meditation “best practice,” you can express your gratitude for connecting those dots!
- The MAGIC connection: When you are on a particularly challenging call, face-to-face meeting, or when you are having “one of those days,” instead of trying your hardest to push those bad feelings aside, name them, and then get on with doing your best.
Remember, you “control” your emotions by first acknowledging them and moving forward from there. When you do, they are far less likely to spill over into your next customer interaction…which means that you can start to turn that bad day into something you are grateful for.
3. Make that decision
Spinning in a vortex of indecisiveness makes you feel out of control and stressed out. We have all been there. It feels terrible. And now that we’ve named that emotion, we can take that next step and make a decision. Doing so reduces worry and anxiety because it helps us to create an intention, set a goal, and solve a problem. A perfect trifecta, right?
But what if we don’t make the best decision? Neuroscientists resoundingly claim that a “good enough” decision is more than good enough because it reduces worry and anxiety, reduces our pull toward negative impulses and routines that keep us stuck, and makes us feel more in control. The very act of making a decision and moving forward on it gives us a pleasure boost and makes us feel good. Dr. Korb explains how doing so has an impact on happiness: “We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.”
- The MAGIC connection: When you offer a customer options and solutions, both you and your customer feel empowered to choose and to take action. Instead of spinning in indecisiveness, you are grounded in choice and action that lead to solutions, or at least next steps.
4. Touch people
If I were to “name your emotion,” I would say that you are at the least intrigued, and more likely, aghast. I get it and am grateful for it. Touching is verboten for many good reasons outside of our most trusting, familiar, and intimate relationships. That can’t be overstated, and it makes me feel sad that I need to. At the same time, there is simply no substitute when it comes to the relationship between touching and happiness.
The fact is we need to feel love and acceptance, and when we don’t, the feeling of rejection is painful. That’s why, when people are in a stressful situation, they feel better when they visit with loved ones or talk to them on the phone. It is also why we go to great effort to schedule coffee dates, meet-ups, and Facetime with people we care about. We touch one another in real time, or through the visual and tone recognition that act as—well, virtual hugs. But when it comes to texting, neuroscience tells us that there is no effect on happiness, zero. Our bodies respond to a text message as if there was no support at all.
- The MAGIC connection: A “hug” can be a literal hug when the relationship and circumstances are appropriate. It can also be a touch such as a handshake, or a pat on the back that acknowledges connection and goodwill. But what about those conversations by phone or chat? How do we extend a hug in a virtual way? We do so by translating our warm and positive feelings through the tone of our voice, and the kind words we speak from the heart. A virtual hug really is as simple as that.
Up your happy. You and your customers will be happy you did!
Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.