Happiness & Productivity


Those of you who know me personally, know I am alwaysss busy! I have a hard time sitting down and just relaxing. This isn’t a result of being fidgety or that I don’t enjoy taking a break and feeling rejuvenated. It is because somewhere along the way I started viewing “unproductivity” as “laziness” :: There is so much I could be doing!; So much ass I could be kicking!... Relaxing? Isn’t that a waste of time???

Burnt out on work, exhausted and not quite satisfied, I have become more and more aware that this isn’t the best way to experience the precious time I have in life. Truthfully, I can easily go over board with the whole head down, grind harder work vibe.

So I’ve listened to some podcasts, TED Talks and other interviews to gather different opinions on Productivity, its correlation to Happiness Reading up on some studies I've found a variety of practices that can benefit these two factors -- and some that can backfire. 


“The link between happiness and productivity is an American phenomenon”

(NPR: Inflection Point: Why Are We So Unhappy?)


Lets take a look at the connection (if there is one) between Happiness and Productivity.

Often I think (and I know I’m not alone in this):

    If I could just get more done, would that make me happy? If I just try harder... Ill see results.

If this resonates with you, you may agree that this doesn’t just apply to work. ‘If I could just work out more // finally read all those books I’ve ordered on Amazon // meditate longer // take my kids to the park more often // cook for my husband more than once a month’

Lets ask: Can we apply the American dream mentality of diligently working hard towards a goal to emotions? The speaker of this talk, Ruth Whippman, isn’t so sure

“studies show that trying harder to be happy can back fire...”

This makes me think of a TED Talk I listened to that interviews people on their reactions to using FitBits to track their fitness, sleep, diet and weight loss goals. While they did site people’s positive reactions, a handful of users developed anxiety and guilt. They started to lie to the fitness or diet apps, at the very least becoming hyper-aware of recording their every move, every bite --- loosing their freedom, their honest acceptance of the challenges and triumphs on their journey to becoming healthier and happier... 

Back to Whippman’s talk about diligently working hard towards Happiness:

The speaker, from the UK (and to be fair she previous states that her culture tends to be more skeptical with a natural cynicism about life than Americans), laughs about what a chore Americans make the pursuit of happiness: you talk about getting happy like you’re going on a diet. You take it so seriously, saying “there will be no pleasure in this, but hey it’ll make me a better person”...


So, how does it go?

Does hard work and productivity lead to happiness?

Or, does being happy incidentally lead to becoming more productive?

A bit of a chicken before the egg situation.

What is the cause and what is the effect?


For all my Type-A friends: can happiness be solved by an equation? 

Happiness = hard work + achievement

Happiness = reality - high expectations + acceptance

Happiness = more sleep + more wine + more friends


Well... Happiness is quirky. It is individualized in how differently it can be defined for each of us. So, the answer is no happiness is not solved by an equation. And while I like the idea of the equation (because honestly it just seems easier) lets consider this:

Instead of seeing happiness as a rigid goal and intensely staring at our FitBits, diet apps, self help books and to-do lists... lets embrace the fluidity of life and concentrate on living a connected meaningful fulfilling life.

Let happiness be the by-product. Not the goal. 



>> Happiness : an individual quest vs. a group effort?

Hmm... living a connected meaningful fulfilling life... A statement is made in Whippman’s talk that resonates with me in a big way: 

“[all this time spent diligently working towards happiness in this way is] all at the expense of hanging out with your neighbors, seeing your friends, going to the park...”         

This argues the question: Can we find happiness on our own? Is finding happiness a personal journey as we work towards the goal with activities that are singular, an “individual quest”?

Other countries and communities beg to differ. They find that happiness is found collectively.

A study at UC Berkeley found that if people pursue happiness relentlessly as a personal individual quest to perfect the inner workings of the mind/body/spirit they show signs of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and ultimately are admittedly unhappy. Stunningly the opposite was found in other cultures that pursue happiness by spending time with friends/family/community (in other words, their time is spent more collectively). In these cultures, you simply switch the equation around to get a different (HAPPIER) result: the more you pursue happiness, the more happy you become... namely because the way you’re pursuing happiness is through enjoying life by spending time with your closest people, or meeting new people in the community.



HAPPY! Like, all the time???

Lets also point out the emphasis on constant positivity here in America. For example: how people’s lives seem perfectly beautiful due to their manicured Facebook posts. 

This just isn’t reality. Of course we’ve all heard “We need the darkness to appreciate life” So is ultimate happiness not important?

While instinctively as humans we all want to be happy, its important that we recognize its how we go about it. Stifling other emotions (even ones that are contradictory to happiness) is not the answer. Is learning to be more comfortable with discomfort, with those less desirable emotions the answer? 

A therapist in a utopian community in Las Vegas cited that people feel major pressure to be happy and not express those other not so fun emotions. Obviously, pursuit of happiness in this way backfires.

“If we blunt negative emotions, we also blunt positive emotions.”

Simply because as humans we naturlaly experience a large range of emotions other than happiness. It can be dismissive to deny, which gives ourselves the added guilty of thoughts like ‘just try harder to be happy’ as if we can help this-- which isn’t always the case.



All of this amounting to a lot to think about for sure! And let me know what your thoughts, experiences are.

For now, I’ll leave you with a short tip: 

“Embrace your community.

(Don’t worry wall flowers. The effect is just as strong for introverts. Nurturing and investing time into those few relationships you have is also on point!) 

Embrace a wider agenda of well-being, not pin pointing happiness. Being socially connected with those loved ones and your community leads to happiness on its own.”