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Can we learn to be happier?

07 August 2020

Many factors influence our happiness including our genetics, upbringing, and our current circumstances, but we also play an active part in how we feel. 

Science is showing that our habits and our behaviours, how we think and what we do, play a significant role in how happy we feel.

The good news is this is usually within our control. This matters for life in general but can be especially important dealing with the challenges of expat life and making the most of our time on assignment.

Let’s look at how happiness impacts our wellbeing and can influence our performance at work. 

As we have learned from what is happiness, happiness is not only fleeting moments of joy or a positive mood but also a sustained state of wellbeing that includes having a sense of purpose, fulfilment and feeling satisfied with how life is going. There are specific ways of thinking and acting that may influence how happy we feel. We’ll be exploring these in relation to expat life in a series of articles on the Allianz Care Happiness Hub in the coming weeks.

Psychological wellbeing is not the only benefit of feeling happy. In fact, neuroscience is showing developing happiness skills physically impacts our brain. 

Most of us know our brain continues to change throughout our life. As we gain more life experience, we learn new skills, change our minds about subjects and have different thoughts or opinions. What is relatively new is the amount science knows about the link between our behaviour and our brain. In the last two decades our knowledge of this area has increased significantly. 

For example, research shows taking part in activities that make us aware of the internal sensations in our body like meditation or mindfulness activates a part of our brain called the insula. The insula helps us track the internal state of our body and our feelings. With regular activation it begins to thicken. 

The result is, we become more in touch with ourselves, but we may also become more empathetic towards others. So, when we sense emotion or feelings in others, the same neural circuits in our brains light up as if we are experiencing those feelings ourselves.

We are learning that nurturing happiness habits not only impacts our own lives, but it may affect how we respond and interact with those around us. Indeed, management style is cited as one of the top causes of employee absence due to stress in the UK. Our own happiness may influence how we are perceived in the workplace, critical to expat success. 

Scientific studies also show our happiness has a significant effect on our work. For example, one study showed that happy employees are 12% more productive when compared to the norm and 22% more productive than their unhappy peers. So, if you are in a leadership position in your expat role, not only is investing in your own happiness important, but consider the rest of your department. If your business suffers with high levels of absenteeism, low retention rate or below par performance then the science of happiness can also provide insights and ideas for taking corrective action. By taking steps to improve happiness in your workplace you not only provide a work environment that feels good but also one that helps boost and sustain productivity and positively impacts the lives of your team beyond the workplace.

If you are interested in finding out more about how you can feel happier and help those around you to do the same, join Science of Happiness Expert Vanessa King, in the Allianz Care Happiness Hub.