“Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
— Albert Schweitzer

It would almost be an understatement to point out that we are in a time of chaos. You hear it talked about from the dinner table, to the supermarket checkout line, to the water cooler—the economy, jobs, home foreclosures, bank failures, shrinking retirement savings, and rising costs for everything. It gets under the skin of everyone on your staff, and affects their daily work and ultimately, the effectiveness of your organization.

It would be easy for you as a leader to let it get you down, too, but in times like these, your people need you to be one of the bright spots in their day. Most leaders I meet—whether in health care, in government or in high-tech—do what they do because they love it. And as Albert Schweitzer said, happiness is the key to success and not the other way around. A major contributor to your happiness is that you love what you do.

How do you let some of that positive energy rub off on the people around you so your organization keeps moving in the right direction during tough times?

Here’s a little ditty you might recognize to help you, as a leader of people, cut through the gloom and help your people be effective:

“Don’t worry, be happy
Cause when you worry
Your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
So don’t worry, be happy”

Remember Bobby McFerrin, who wrote that simple, catchy, #1 hit song? He’s actually a good example of what he sang about. Some days it might get Bobby McFerrin down that he’s known widely as the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” guy, and that most people think of him as a “one-hit wonder.” However, I’m guessing he just smiles, starts humming that tune, and thinks about the 10 Grammy Awards he’s won in his lifetime—twice as many as Celine Dion and three times as many as Elvis.

Besides his 10 Grammys and thousands of vocal credits, McFerrin has traveled extensively as a guest conductor for symphony orchestras that have included the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the London Philharmonic. Not bad for a one-hit wonder.

Don’t worry, be happy.

What Can I Control?

In times like these it can rightly seem that many things are out of control. Resilient leaders are those who look at a chaotic situation and say, “What are the things in all this chaos that I can control?”

Happy people are also resilient people, because both happiness and resilience come from that ability to look at life’s situations and determine what portion you can take the reins on, and then taking action to achieve positive results.

Scientific evidence is now showing that one thing we can control, to a large extent, is whether we are happy or not.

Becoming a Happy Person

How do you become a happy person? Is that even possible? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD—author of the book, The How of Happiness, A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want—it absolutely is. Based on her 20 years of research as a psychology professor, she slices happiness up into a pie, with 50 percent of happiness attributed to genetics, a small 10 percent attributed to our life circumstances (including where we live, how we look and how rich or poor we are) and a whopping 40 percent that we can completely control.

“That 40 percent is left for the intentional activities that we can choose to engage in, the things we do and think every day of our lives,” says Lyubomirski. “These are the things that can either increase or decrease our happiness.”

Focusing on that 40 percent of what you can control of your happiness quotient will help you be more resilient, and it is an action that will have a significant impact on your effectiveness as a leader.
And there are many great benefits to striving for happiness.

According to Lyubomirsky, “The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life.”

One thing you can control that can have an amazing positive effect is your own attitude toward the challenges we are now facing. The way you show up every day can change the tone of what happens throughout your department or organization. You cannot be going through the day feeling your way around through the doom and gloom with everyone else, but to keep your people motivated in rough times you’ll need to do more than walk around wearing a big smile.

Taking Hold of That 40 Percent

So how do you take advantage of the 40 percent of your happiness that you can control? “If we observe genuinely happy people, we find that they do not just sit around being contented,” Lyubomirsky said. “They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings.”

While Albert Schweitzer said happiness is the key to success, Buddha took it one step further in a statement that speaks to leaders: “Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.”

Your goals should be to turn the chaos around you into a good situation for yourself and others. Your people need to feel when they walk up to you that they are running in from a driving rainstorm and closing the door into a warm, cozy room. In these times they need to see you relaxed, methodical, putting one foot in front of the other and modeling the way for the rest of them.

There is a lot of commiserating going on out there. As a leader you have to distance yourself from the commiseration. Misery truly does love company, but you cannot fill that role for your people. Remember, though, and this may sound like a contradiction, you must be compassionate and understanding at the same time.

Remove Some of Your Chaos

In order for you to be that rock, you must remove some of the chaos from your own life as well. Again, get back to the basics, and find things you can control—that overflowing inbox that is always gnawing at the back of your mind, for example. Spend an hour or two and go through it. I guarantee that half the things in that in-box that had you worrying are nothing but recyclable clutter, and much of the rest can be easily handled.

These are good times to get rid of certain things in your life you’ve been tolerating or neglecting for too long, and it can be as simple as piles of junk. I recently hauled six large boxes of books from my house down to the library and donated them. It’s amazing what a positive effect on my attitude just letting go of those books has had.

Some of the things you might have been neglecting too long are not as simply handled, including interactions with people. One of the 12 keys to happiness Lyubomirsky talks about is gratitude. Every once in a while she will write a letter or e-mail to someone—it could be a colleague or an old high school teacher—expressing gratitude for something they have done for her in her life.

The same thing goes for forgiveness. While Lyubomirsky admits that there are many things that can’t be forgiven, many things can be. Letting go and forgiving someone for some transgression can take a huge weight off of you and greatly increase your happiness.

A little altruism once in a while can also help you take advantage of that 40 percent of happiness you can control. There is nothing like performing a selfless act to bring an internal and external smile to you.

Other simple things I know increase my happiness are exercise, not giving into the wasted emotion of worry, taking time out to truly rest my mind and body, and performing simple acts of kindness for others.

Remember too, there are always many things that are already going well in your life and they don’t require much work. Take a little time each day to reflect on what’s going right for you and savor it a bit.

All of these things help you as a leader show up where you work as a happier person and an example for the people who count on you for guidance. And it’s more than just a little ditty—scientific evidence shows it can be done.

“Research is showing us pretty convincingly now that happiness is really within us; it’s not outside of us,” Lyubomirsky said. “It’s in what we do, how we act and how we think every day of our lives.”

So don’t worry, be happy.