Consider these scenarios, each from a different organization, and the unfortunate, but logical, conclusions that can be drawn from each one:
- A lowest-level manager is disparaged by the other managers in her group because her enthusiastic demeanor suggests to them that she’s on the “wrong” side of an interoffice political hatchet-fest. Unfortunate conclusion: All the “good” people are resentful and angry, so a happy person must be wrong and therefore “bad.”
- A senior exec tells a mid-level exec the equivalent of: “You’re not supposed to walk around feeling good when I’m telling you that things are not good.” Unfortunate conclusion: It’s not safe to be happier than your boss.
- An upbeat senior executive is chivvied unceasingly by other executives who believe that the current economic conditions dictate doom, whether it’s of the slow or quick variety; the optimist’s refusal to accept a forecast of eventual doom is taken as a possible sign of incompetence and a definite sign of unreality. Unfortunate conclusion: If you’re happy when things are bad, you’re a hopeless romantic. Or you’re a fool. Or you’re possibly both, but the smart money is always on the side of failure. When the going gets tough, the tough give up. Only cockeyed optimists persist.
- A pleasant and cheerful frontline worker is treated as a “rate-buster” by his peers because they are fearful that management will read his apparent happiness as a signal that pay increases are unnecessary. Unfortunate conclusion: Happy people don’t understand the “facts” of work life. Or they’re too selfish to tone themselves down for the sake of others.
And here’s my own anecdotal data: On Monday mornings, when I take the elevator in my office building, in addition to my usual habit of greeting everyone I meet, I’m often humming or extra smiley, because I love to go to work. But people who don’t know me (and even some who do) shake their heads in disbelief — they’re dragging themselves in to work. It’s true that I’m my own boss, which counts for a lot. But it’s still sad to think that so many people wish, so often and so publicly, that they didn’t have to go to work.
Given how much Americans are supposed to believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not to mention the profit motive, it seems irrational that there isn’t a more general acceptance of the idea that work and happiness naturally go together. And even more irrational is the fact that when work and happiness don’t go together, people perceive conditions as normal — instead of the other way around.
Are you happy to go to work, to be at work, and to do the majority of your work? If not, why not? Wouldn’t you like to be? Do you think it’s a realistic possibility?
[Thanks to Susan Alt for suggesting that some people don’t recognize the potential connection between happiness and profitable business. Thanks also to Julie Gross Gelfand of HLDPR for confirming the value of writing about this topic (in one of those interesting ladies’ room conversations).]
Onward and upward,
More from this series:
- Can You Be Happy at Work? Part II: All Your Feelings Come with You
- Can You Be Happy at Work? Part III: When You’re in Charge
- Can You Be Happy at Work? Part IV: When You’re Not in Charge
- Can You Be Happy at Work? Part V: Things Going Well Is the Pancake; Happiness Is the Syrup
- Can You Be Happy at Work? Part VI: When You Need Extra Support