Many of you loved our blog on pisstivity – the degree to which you are fed up with the world. This week, we’re turning things around to talk about happiness, which is more in line with our generally sunny perspective.

We’re big fans of happy leaders, largely because it’s much harder to strive with passionate commitment for the greater good if you’re wallowing in despair. Plus, you’re just not fun to be around when you’re viewing life as a glass half-empty.

Leaders do have intense, demanding jobs. Doesn’t it just make sense that a person with a good foundation of happiness would withstand those pressures more successfully? What is the connection between happiness and leadership?

To understand the connections between leadership and happiness, we should first dispel some common myths about happiness:

My boss makes me unhappy. Your boss can make your life more challenging, and it is still possible to continue being a happy person in the face of Bosszilla. Happy people stay focused on what they can do to improve their situation, rather than dwelling on the boss’s irritating behavior.

I would be happy if I got that promotion. Life circumstances (like income or job title) actually account for very little of our happiness. We humans quickly adapt to a better lifestyle, so whatever happiness boost you get from your new corner office is brief.

If I had more money, I would be happy. Material stuff doesn’t make people happy, except for that transient uptick in happiness from a positive change. Too quickly, your brand new car doesn’t give you that feeling of joy, and you need to chase another thing and then another thing and then another…

If I could be lazy every day, I would be happy. Sorry, coach potato wannabes! The reality is that much of our happiness is directly impacted by what we do, not what we do not do.

There is an abundance of research on happiness and other aspects of positive psychology (studying what is healthy in people, rather than dysfunctional). Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social psychologist, wrote The How of Happiness. This happiness research indicates that the real determinants of happiness are:

Genetics. People have a genetic set point for happiness, which accounts for about half of their happiness.

Intentional activities. About 40% of our happiness is determined by our own behavior – intentional happiness strategies, such as exploring a new interest or controlling our thoughts and feelings.

Life circumstances. Whether you live in a shack or a mansion, your life circumstances contribute only about 10% to your overall happiness.

So what’s the connection to leadership? It just so happens that a lot of those intentional activities (Dr. Lyubomirsky calls them happiness strategies) are the same things that great leaders regularly do. Some of these include expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism, developing strategies for coping and committing to goals.

Another intentional activity modeled by high performing leaders is increasing the number of  “flow” experiences. These are the types of experiences that are so engaging that time seems to stand still. If you are in the flow, you are 100% focused on the task and are willing to engage in the experience even if you’re tired or aren’t seeing a lot of immediate success. (You’ll recognize people in “flow” by their concentration and the contented look on their faces.)

Which came first, the happiness or the great leadership? Who knows? The two seem to feed each other. Perhaps exceptional leaders are lucky enough to be born with good genes for happiness. Then they engage in strategies that produce even more happiness, whether intentional or not. By engaging in happiness strategies, they feed both their own happiness and their leadership capabilities. When facing adversity, they lean into it, ready to absorb the lessons learned and move forward….happily.

Possibly the most powerful impact leaders can have is to increase the level of happiness in those around them – or not. As Oscar Wilde said, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others when they go.”

Want to find out more about this or other topics? Contact Humanergy (and you’ll be happy that you did)!

Photo courtesy of Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography. See more wonderful photography at their website.