Facts About Happiness That May Surprise You

May 11, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

At the end of this month, I will be speaking in Copenhagen at a Happiness at Work Conference.  This got me thinking about what it is that makes people truly joyous.

Business Insider gathered some research on this topic and amassed 36 Scientific Facts about happiness, some that may come as a surprise.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself:  Perhaps that is why Forbes reported that approximately 543,000 new U.S. businesses are started every month. This is one of the reasons I work for myself. If I don’t like my boss, I only have me to blame!
  • Greater rewards mean less motivation and poorer performance:  “Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment. If someone offers a good Samaritan $5 for helping with a flat tire, then he starts thinking about the actual market rate for tire-changing, so a fiver is now insufficient—when a minute ago, he’d have been perfectly content with $0.” I have written about this extensively in the past. See my article, I Won’t Work for Money.
  • Happy people are lucky:  Lucky people tend to focus on the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse.  For example, an individual arrived to an interview with his leg in a cast and mentioned that he had fallen down a flight of stairs. When asked whether he still felt lucky, he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before as he could have broken his neck. This is absolutely how I live, maybe sometime to a fault. I do operate from the belief that everything happens for a reason – I learned this from my father.
  • Happiness is not a destination:  I will be happy when I’m married, have more money, or move to a new location. This is what we tell ourselves.  But the reality is that while these things can contribute to happiness, it is not as much as you may think.  According to Web MD, achieving these milestones account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture. “Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think — things you control — than with many of life’s circumstances.” This is the essence of my Goal-Free Living book.

Other studies show that people with more money are happy. But what is intriguing is that the researchers found that money did not cause happiness.  Happiness was the creator of wealth.

What other things make you happy?

A Toast to Creativity

April 26, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

In previous posts, I have shared a variety of activities that I engage in to still my mind and foster more creative thinking.  These include activities like walking on the beach, meditating or sitting in the hot tub.

Andrew Jarosz for the University of Illinois shares another way… drinking alcohol.

In his recent study, Jarosz found that a moderate level of alcohol “loosens a person’s focus of attention, making it easier to find connections among remotely related ideas.”

The study included 40 men, all of whom were social drinkers. 20 of the participants consumed alcoholic beverages until they achieved “an average peak blood alcohol level of 0.075 percent, just below the current 0.08 percent cutoff for legal intoxication in the United States.”  The remaining 20 participants abstained.

Men in both groups then completed a creative problem-solving task.

Compared to the sober group, the “tipsy” men solved their problems faster and were more likely to have sudden insights. Those that had been drinking solved about 9 problems correctly versus only 6 for the sober group.

Additionally, “it took an average of 11.5 seconds for the intoxicated men to generate a correct solution, compared with 15.2 seconds for sober men. The groups performed comparably on the test before the study began.”

Researchers say that it is likely the alcohol makes a person more relaxed and therefore, their brain is able to take in the bigger picture faster.

While I enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, I am neither condoning nor condemning the consumption of alcohol. However, this study provides one more data point confirming that a quiet mind is a creative mind.  How to achieve that – is solely up to you.

If You Think You Aren’t Biased, Think Again

April 12, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

Last week I had discussed the concept of confirmation bias and the impact that it has on innovation.

In a nutshell, confirmation bias is our tendency to seek evidence that supports our existing beliefs and ignores or refutes evidence to the contrary.  While these biases can impact any area of our life, one area where it has been scientifically proven to exist is in politics.

A 2004 Emory College study showed…

where in the brain confirmation bias arises and how it is unconscious and driven by emotions… While undergoing a brain scan, 30 men–half self-described as ‘strong’ Republicans and half as ‘strong’ Democrats–were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.

This in itself is not surprising.

During the assessment, the neuroimaging results revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning was dormant.

The most active parts of the brain were those involved in the processing of emotions, conflict resolution, making judgments about moral accountability; and—“once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable–the ventral striatum was activated, which is related to reward and pleasure… Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.”

Our brains are wired to reward us when we align the current view with our existing beliefs.  It is no wonder why we have such difficulty seeing other’s perspectives.

Is it possible to change your view?  Of course.

There are two ways that I have found useful.

The first involves others: recruit your best devil’s advocates and muster the willingness to really listen - really listen. This is sometimes the easiest method as it provides formal checks and balances.

But if you want to address your biases on your own, studies show that simply being aware of your biases, and having constant reminders of them, may be enough to reduce their impact (see my Best Practices Are Stupid book for more on this). But for this to work, you must be open to assuming that your current beliefs are not accurate.

However, given that the brain rewards us for “seeing what we believe” – confirming our biases –  it is not easy or pleasant to change.

Are Your Goals Negatively Impacting Your Relationships?

April 5, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

Last week I briefly touched upon my perspective on goal setting. While they have been universally considered a magic bullet for success both personally and professionally, goals are not without their downsides.

Interestingly, the way in which you frame your goals can have a significant impact on your relationships.

This, according to the authors of a paper published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science that focused on whether people are open and straightforward when working with others.

The study noted that people who establish goals to improve themselves (“self-improvement goals”), like getting better grades, increasing sales numbers or nailing a perfect “10”, tend to be more cooperative in nature.

Whereas people who set goals that will enable them to perform better than others (“performance goals”) such as becoming Valedictorian or completing a task more quickly than a fellow co-worker, have more of a tendency to be “deceitful and less likely to share information with coworkers. The reason for this is fairly obvious – when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

The study suggests that those with self-improvement goals on the other hand tend to be quite open. “If the ultimate goal is to improve yourself, one way to do it is to be very cooperative with other people…(however) they’re not really altruists, per se. They see the social exchange as a means toward the ends of self-improvement.”

Other research shows that those with self-improvement goals are also more open to hearing different perspectives, while those with performance goals “would rather just say, ‘I’m just right and you are wrong.’”

According to the authors, both types of goal setting can be effective. However, their findings suggest that helping individuals frame their goals to focus on self-improvement instead of performance may foster a better overall team environment.

From my perspective, performance goals can be extremely useful for creating a powerful team when the objective is to be better than external competition.

Regardless, a good balance of goals creates a high-performance environment that also fosters collaboration. The key, as I have discussed before, is to not hyper-focus on the goal to the point where you miss the bigger picture and bigger opportunities.

P.S. For more on my goal-setting perspective, read Goal-Free Living.

To Set Goals or Not Set Goals, That is the Question

March 29, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

My Monday Morning Movie discussed some concepts from my book, Goal-Free Living.

I have long questioned the practice of goal setting.  My book (published in 2006) challenged traditional thinking about goal setting and discusses how we can not only succeed in business (and life) but to do so while achieving great happiness and satisfaction.

Due to its prevalence in business, this goal-free concept is often met with resistance.  But apparently there are others that have challenged this conventional wisdom as well.

In a Harvard Business School working paper, the authors of Goals Gone Wild reviewed a number of studies that indicate that the ”beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored.”  They state that the side-effects that goal-setting can have include a “narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. “

One such study is highlighted in a recent New York Times article:

Three groups of participants were asked to create as many words as possible using random letters – similar to the game, Boggle.  Two groups were given a specific goal to formulate at least 9 words.  One of the two teams was offered a financial incentive for hitting this goal, the other was not.  The third group of participants was simply told to do their best.

At the completion, the participants turned in only the answer sheets stating how many words they had created and had disposed of their worksheets.  “But the academic researchers running the experiment had a code to match the worksheets with the answer sheets and discovered that both groups that had been given a goal of creating a certain number of words — whether or not money was involved — cheated 8 to 13 percent of the time. Those in the third group rarely did.”

To set goals or not to set goals.  The debate continues.

The Sum of the Parts is Not Always Greater When Working in Teams

March 22, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

I was recently at a seminar where the instructor asked a very straightforward question of the participants; one that everyone in the room should have been able to readily answer.  However, what followed was complete silence.  Crickets.

Why is it that once we are assembled into a group such as this, despite having an answer, we often choose not to respond?

In my book Best Practices Are Stupid, I talk about collaboration versus competition, and how each is useful for different reasons as part of your innovation strategy.  While collaboration is essential for success, if not managed properly, it can come with significant drawbacks. One of the reasons I discuss is something called social loafing.

Social loafing is a proven phenomenon where individuals within the group assume that someone else will pick up the slack therefore exerting less effort.  In the case of the silence at my seminar, each participant knew that if they waited long enough, someone else would eventually respond. Or was the case, the instructor would give the answer,

This phenomenon has been proven out scientifically.

In an experiment conducted in the early 1900s, Max Ringelmann showed that individuals exerted more effort when working alone than when they worked collectively.  When he asked a group of men to pull on a rope, they did not pull as hard as a group, as they did when each was pulling on their own. While one plausible explanation was lack of coordination, subsequent research shows that it is more a function of motivation.

A study in the Journal of Management demonstrated that “at the individual level, increases in task interdependence and decreases in task visibility and distributive justice were associated with greater occurrence of social loafing. At the group level, increased group size and decreased cohesiveness were related to increased levels of social loafing.”

Another study examines the sucker effect, which “stems from the perceptions that others in the group are withholding, or intend to withhold, effort. Individuals who hold this perception then withhold effort themselves to avoid being played for a “sucker”.

This, like other studies, gives us a glimpse into what it takes to create productive teams:

  • People feel that they can “get lost” in groups.  Have each member stand out by dividing the workload in such a way that individuals can be evaluated on their own output. The less an individual feels his contributions will be noticed, the more likely he will participate in social loafing.
  • The larger the group size, the more tendency for social loafing.  Keep groups size to a minimum.
  • Find activities that impact the intrinsic motivations of the individuals.  People tend to work harder when they are participating in something that they enjoy.

Both competition (individual work) and collaboration can be useful parts of any innovation strategy.

In March, You Can Have Your Pi and Eat Cheese Doodles Too

March 15, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

St. Patty’s Day is right around the corner.  It’s time to break out the corned beef and cabbage –  that is assuming that you are not too full from eating pie this past Thursday.  Wednesday, March 14th was Worldwide Pi Day.  And while we may celebrate this auspicious occasion by consuming our favorite home baked delights, this holiday has little to do with those edible creations.

In March of 2009, the House of Representatives designated March 14 (3/14) as worldwide “Pi Day” to encourage the study of Pi and highlight the importance of math and science education programs.

According to www.piday.org, “Pi (Greek letter “?”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.  Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.”

While 3/14 is a fitting day to celebrate this mathematical wonder, coincidentally it also falls on the birthday of the great physicists, Albert Einstein, who was born in 1879.

If Pi (or pie) is not your thing – don’t worry.  According to thenibble.com, in March alone, there are plenty of other nationally recognized holidays that can tempt your taste buds.

For meat lovers we have National “Cold Cut Day on the 3rd and National Meatball Day on the 9th.  For our vegetarian friends, we have Spinach Day on the 26th and National Artichoke Day on the 16th.   For the snackers amongst us, enjoy Popcorn Lovers Day or National Potato Chip Day (also on March 14th) or my personal favorite, Cheese Doodle Day on March 5th.

Real-World Know-It-Alls

March 8, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

We all have knowledge that has allowed us to excel in different areas of our life.  But as I had discussed in my Monday Morning Movie, sometimes this knowledge can be the very thing that gets in the way of our success.

But if managed properly, intelligence can be leverage to catapult some pretty astounding careers.  Here are some interesting facts regarding some well-known individuals who have IQs that exceed that of genius level.  According to Business Insider and Listverse:

  • Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, allegedly obtained a perfect 1600 on the pre-1995 SAT, surpassing Bill Gates by 10 points.  And he supposedly has an IQ of 160.
  • Actor, James Woods, who attended MIT on a full scholarship, achieved a perfect 800 on the verbal and 779 on the math portions of the pre-1995 SAT. He opted to leave MIT early to pursue his acting career.
  • Actress and model, Sharon Stone has been reported as having an IQ of 154. As an ironic side note, she described herself as “a nerdy, ugly duckling,” in her online biography at Penn State University Library.
  • Asia Carrerra, who has starred in over 250 hardcore adult movies, has an IQ of 156 and played piano at Carnegy Hall at age 13.
  • Director, Qunetin Tarantino has been tested as having a 160 IQ and actor Steve Martin, 142.
  • Jodie Foster graduated valedictorian of her high school and Magna Cum Laude from Yale.  She  reportedly boasts an impressive 132 IQ.
  • Lesser known, but not any less impressive, is 13 year old Jake Barnett.  At age 3 he visited a planetarium with his parents and responded correctly to a question about the gravitational pull of Mars upon its moons. He has a verified IQ of 170.
  • While never having obtained fame, one of the highest IQs ever recorded, was that of psychiatrist William James Sidis. He started his studies at Harvard University at the age of 11, and was fluent in more than 40 languages by the time he graduated. His IQ has been reported at the astounding level of 275.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

March 1, 2013

In my Monday Morning Movie, I talked about the Power of Positive Constraints and how implementing structure can help us become more creative.

Shortly after posting the video, a friend of mine, Brad Kolar, offered up a perfect example of an innovation derived from the Power of Positive Constraints:  The teleportation machine used in the Star Trek series, which led to the now famous line, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

According to StarTrek.com, a transporter is a “device that converts objects or persons to energy, sends that energy to the destination, and reconstitutes the objects/persons back into matter.”

While this seems perfectly fitting as a Sci-Fi invention, in actuality, the concept itself was devised out of a constraint for both money and time.

According to a report in the Huffington Post, “the original series’ creators devised this shimmery special effect because they didn’t have the budget to show a spaceship landing on various planets.”  This would have required unfeasible and unaffordable sets and model filming.

In howtogeek, they illustrate the more cost/time effective method used for transporting the crew off the ship.  All that was required was a slow-motion camera inverted, backlighting, and some aluminum power (effects that can now be easily done with computer animation).

The constraints of time and money had this TV crew generate a piece of TV history that not only addressed their concerns, but will long outlive the great Captain Kirk himself.

As a side note: As famous as the catchphrase, “Beam me up, Scotty” was, sources indicate that the phrase was never uttered by anyone in the original series.

Four Heads Are Better Than One

February 22, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

A machinist, clockmaker, glass blower and mathematician were all walking in Menlo Park….

Despite how this reads, it isn’t the beginning of a joke.  It was actually the start of a new era.

I am talking of Charles Batcheldor (machinist), John Kruesi (clockmaker), Ludwig Boehm (Glass blower) and Francis Upton (Mathematician); who were all associates to Thomas Edison during the time the incandescent light bulb was invented. Collectively, this group was a dominant influence on some of history’s most radical inventions in the areas of telegraphy, telephony, the phonograph, and electric lighting.

Or did you hear the one about the inventor, botanist, essayist, and tire maker?  The alliance of these seemingly mismatched men, Thomas Edison John Burroughs, Luther Burbank and Harvey Firestone, reportedly enabled Henry Ford to become one of the wealthiest men of his time, raising him up from “the handicap of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance.”

In my Monday Morning Movie, I discussed the benefits of developing a mastermind group. This is not a new concept and was formulated back in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, advisor to two presidents and the author of Think and Grow Rich.  Hill defined a Mastermind “as a mind that is developed through the harmonious cooperation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.”

It is the simple logic behind the theory two heads are better than one. And on Monday, I  shared my own personal experience that you want those heads to  contain divergent views, beliefs and backgrounds; not unlike a machinist, clockmaker, glass blower and mathematician.  By tapping into the collective brilliance of individuals with opposing viewpoints, perhaps you too will begin to see the light.

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