Eight small steps to a happier world

- Worker Happiness

by Jennifer Riggins

Does “Every little bit counts” really count? Or is the devil in the details? When the world is just becoming frightening with hatred, can small acts of kindness really improve our lives? Improve the world?

We all do small acts of kindness every day, because we hope they make others happy which in turn usually makes us happy. I tend to coo over strange babies and dogs all day long anyway, but, if I see a less attractive of either, my cooing becomes intense so the parent can feel proud. Maybe that makes them feel happy or maybe they can see through my barely veiled ruse, but I’m trying to put positive energy out there so it must be worth something, right?

In my favorite book Tuesdays with Morrie, instead of giving the finger, when Morrie gets cut off he loves to just smile brightly and wave. Why? Well, that nefarious digit isn’t going to help mollify any traffic problems, but even faking a smile is scientifically proven to give yourself a boost. (Even biting on a pencil to form the physical shape of a smile can help.)

So that’s the idea with this piece, to answer the following question: What are some small steps to improve the world? I’m going to offer a handful of suggestions I’ve come across along the way but then would just love for you to comment below, adding to the movement of positivity we are working here at Happy Melly!

Honesty = happiness?

Like most of my Happy Melly blogs start out–and, truthfully, most of my days–this all started with a National Public Radio talk. The idea is that the less we lie, the happier we will be, which makes sense, right? Francesco Gino, professor at Harvard Business School, found a simple way to get more truth out there. Basically we are signing forms all wrong, facilitating more lies than would come otherwise. Instead of signing at the bottom of the form, we should be signing at the top. And with email signature technology, there’s really no need to go old-school on the very last page. If we sign at the top, we are much less likely to lie. In a survey of 13,000 car insurance contracts, people were less likely to lie about how many miles they drive if they signed at the top. It’s just like swearing in a witness in court–it’s a reminder to tell the truth that we listen to.

Egalitarian Lines?

Some of these are simpler fixes than others. Another Harvard operations research professor said that we have an added stress in the market whenever we try to figure out the secret “best line” to get into, while at the bank, there’s just one line with many tellers. If–like at least Carrefour supermarkets and Decathlon sporting goods stores here in Spain are doing–we combine the lines, we take away that tiny stresser that always makes us feel a bit more competitive and focused on scoping out other people’s grass. Bonus, wait time will be just a little shorter for everyone.

Assume positive intent, then clarify.

“Nobody wakes up thinking ‘Who can I piss off today? How can I make my colleagues more unhappy?’,” said Vanessa Shaw, founder of the Human Side of Tech. “He’s not doing it to annoy me. His intentions are good.” She shared with Happy Melly the story of how a colleague constantly asks the same question, although he should know the repeated answer already. “It’s like, ‘Don’t you already know this?’ It feels like he loses track of me as a person, and my preferences as just another person he meets with and can’t remember how our relationship is.”

When someone bugs you, you can let it linger or you can do something about it like Vanessa did. “The last time we spoke while on the call I said ‘Thank you for checking in with me on the technology I want to use. Let’s just assume Zoom unless stated otherwise. If it’s not good for me, I’ll be sure to request it’.” She said that she chose to deal with this on a call because “Conflict should not be resolved over asynchronous technology–tools that have a time-delay like chat or email.” She said real-time synchronous communication is important to make sure that both sides were present. She also stresses that you have to come with the approach to recognize that both sides are coming from a kind place before moving on to clarifying.

Gratitude is the best attitude.

Founder of Collaboration Superpowers Lisette Sutherland said, “I think that showing appreciation–both to others, and for what we have–is very important for happiness.” Focusing first on the second part, Lisette practices gratitude by keeping an online photo journal, which started out as a way to keep in touch with her grandma while living abroad, but has since been a simple reminder of how what she’s got is good. Similarly, I’ve had other friends create a list every day of five things they are thankful for.

And how do you show your gratitude to others? Well, you can start by looking them in the eye and saying “Thank you!” You can also write them a kudo or kudo box gratitude. And don’t forget the art of the letter where you simply send someone a note, not because it’s their birthday, wedding or someone they know died, but to just say thanks for being you!  There’s no better intrinsic motivation than feeling accepted and appreciated. Plus, expressing thanks is a great way to boost your mood too!

Betting against yourself is a win-win.

Megan McArdle, author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, not surprisingly contends that a bet against yourself is a bet on your own happiness. Are you obsessed with a sports team that their loss will affect your Monday morning? Put money down on your competitor–if they win, you win, and if you lost money, you’ll be too busy cheering for your favorite team to notice. McArdle also gave the example that if someone is ready to propose marriage, he or she should bet a good friend a fancy dinner that the S.O. will say no. If you get a Yes, you’d be happy to take a friend out to celebrate and if you get a No, at least you’ll be drowning your sorrows over filet mignon and lobster.

Caffeine it forward.

I love what I’m calling the Cafe It Forward movement. A Group of people will come into a cafe and order a round of coffees for themselves and then another round to cover the cost of people who can’t afford a coffee.

Similarly, I personally never give money to people asking for it outside–I’d rather give to Hoboken homeless shelter–but I am delighted to buy a sandwich or a coffee always. Especially if I can afford a Starbucks, I can certainly afford to buy something more. And feel free to ask what they’d like, especially if outside the grocery store, as they may have different diet requirements. Shaking hands, asking them how they are, and wishing a nice day are important points of human contact for both of you (and often their dogs, too!)


OK, this does not make for a better world and maybe a teeny bit bad for the environment, but my coworker Louise Brace got me hooked on this rapidly expanding trend for real-life grown-ups. Think about it, nothing is a truer sensory memory experience from childhood than opening a Crayola 96 pack or twisting a colored pencil through a sharpener, then gliding across paper, being fully in charge of the colors you want that elephant, Disney princess or car to be.  In GrownUpLand, we can gain the same sensation, but with the bonus of it being part of the greater trend of mindfulness where we can calm our mind, occupy our hands, and be focused on the present.

Change yourself

Kind of paraphrasing Gandhi, lean change agent and certified scrum trainer Markus Gaertner argues that if you want to change the world, you gotta change yourself first. “If I want to impact the environment, maybe I should start by myself by turning off the lights where I don’t need them. The same goes with other changes. Like if I want to change the world of work, I should probably also start with how I do my own work in first place, then expand from there, help my team find a new way to work, expand to the larger organization.” Markus says that as you organize community work and spread the word, you can then have “an impact on the larger world in the long run, which will be more sustaining.”

Now, what do you have to add? What’s another trick for a slightly happier world?

Photo: Hybrid (Unsplash)

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