From tragedy to purpose
The podcast episode begins by Jen sharing her very powerful and touching personal story, about the sudden illness of her husband, while they were expecting their second child. You can listen to the episode to know the full story, or read about it here in Jennifer's HBR article.
What has emerged however from this very powerful personal experience (with a happy ending) is a quest to understand what makes people resilient, why are some more apt to deal with tragedy, illness or other setbacks.
Happiness Isn’t the Absence of Negative Feelings
Following their research into feelings and behaviour during and after the recovery of Jen's husband Jim, the couple were determined to share what they have learnt with the world. Subsequently, Jen wrote a book called "Unlocking Happiness at work", published by Kogan page, aiming at debunking the myth about the place and role of happiness at work - which you will be glad to learn is not about cheers and group-hugs over spreadsheets.
Happiness is not about masking whatever goes on inside of us, rather building resilience to be able to cope with uncertainty, with failure and setbacks, be able to communicate these feelings and still maintain positivity, gratitude and remain our authentic selves.
Looking inside the brain
What is greatly advancing the conversation around feelings overall and happiness in particular generally, and more specifically at work is the great advances in neuroscience. What the study of the brain now shows very clearly, is that different parts of the brain are engaged with different emotions, and more importantly, how we react to certain situations or external stimulus makes all the difference to our overall feelings of wellbeing and this can be learnt. Alex Korb’s research demonstrated that our thoughts—and the emotions we feel in response to those thoughts—have a profound impact on surprising areas of the brain. And our thoughts, or rather our reactions can be changed, can be learnt and trained.
Making the invisible visible
What needs to happen is changing the conversation around happiness. It needs to move on from a generalised term for a cheery disposition to understanding the nuances it entails, how it relates to a number of different facets of our lives, for instance to conflict - trying to resolve it instead of avoiding it, or failing and learning from failure. Building the psychological fitness of people shall be a key consideration of organisations that are aiming for sustainable employment and a more conscious capitalism.
You can get in touch with Jen via Twitter and order the book here.