Learning to be happier

Wales Audit Office staff, Matt Mortlock, Stephen Lisle and Sara Utley spent last week at the Wales Public Service Summer School. The event at Lampeter University was attended by managers and leaders across the public sector that were there to listen and learn from some of the world’s most high profile thought leaders and leadership theorists. In this blog, Matt, Stephen and Sara reflect on the top lessons from the week. 

Going back to school for a week might not put a smile on everyone’s face.

But one of the main things we took from summer school was the secret of happiness.

If I said the answer was drugs, would you be surprised?

It’s only partly a joke as workshop facilitator Mark Hodder did increase our dopamine and serotonin levels just by talking to us about the benefits of Applied Positive Psychology.

Dopamine and serotonin are the drugs our bodies release when we smile.

You probably knew that. You probably didn’t know that you can give your happiness a huge boost by taking just 20 seconds out of your day.

The approach, called Learned Optimism, is really, really easy.

All you do is stop, reflect, and spend 20 seconds thinking about the good things that happened to you today. If you do this for 21 days you will be much happier. This might sound a little hard to believe but the evidence is supposed to be compelling.

And the benefits of smiling are broader than the Cheshire Cat’s grin.

If our leaders smile, we will be better organisations. A study of American Navy Seals showed that military units run by smiley commanders outperformed the rest. Talk about a killer smile.

Clever organisations are putting their money where their mouth is. Google and Gore Tex say that for each $1 they invest in staff happiness they get $300 back in productivity gains.

So we can be happier in work but we can also be happier at home. Mark urged us to talk to our loved ones about the good things that have happened in our day. Instead of (or as well as) moaning about our day, take a minute to discuss the nice things that happened. Everyone in the family will be happier in time.

We also heard a lot this week about trust. Helen Paterson Chief Executive from Wrexham County Borough Council reminded us that trust is a contract. If leaders want to be trusted, they must give their trust generously. This will help to empower staff to think differently as they fight their way through the difficult problems facing public services across Wales.

Behavioural economist Tim Harford told us that there will be mistakes along the way. We are only humans, after all. Tim challenged us to discuss our mistakes and learn from them.

The sun has now set on summer school 2014 but we urge you to sign up next year – we give it a huge A plus.

I am now going to go and stop and reflect, perhaps you should too?

Find out more on the Academi Wales website.

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