Bringing Happiness to Others, We Find Ours

I have recently been doing some research for a new course on the subject of happiness, and I was really surprised by some of the things that I discovered. But there were a few points in particular that related to customer care, and I would like a chance to share these with you.

Let me begin by going back to basics: What are the things in life that cause happiness? What makes our hearts sing, and makes us sleep better at night? Are we happier today than we were a couple of decades ago? And what are the things that we think make us happy, but don’t actually do so?

Let’s start off with money first. A good mate of mine, Nigel, always says: “Money doesn’t buy you happiness, but isn’t it strange that mostly rich people say that!” After all, look at all of the enchanting things that money can buy you: lots and lots of holidays, hiring people to take care of the drudgery of life, and all of those delightful toys and gizmos! Research shows, however, that once our basic needs are met, (and this is important, because a lack of money can certainly lead to a lot of misery,) additional income doesn’t do much to raise our sense of satisfaction with life. In fact, people all over the world today are twice as rich as their parents were – but not nearly as happy and content.

The logic of two economists, Richard Layard at London School of Economics, and Andrew Clark at PSE Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, goes something like this: As the world gets richer, you aren’t the only one who gets better off. All your neighbours get wealthier too. The reason is that the happiness that money is supposed to buy depends on our being richer than everyone else. Very obviously, few of us get to be in that position. In addition, as soon as we get something that we really wanted, we no longer value it. But what is important in many cases is that we are doing better than others around us: we tend to be ferociously competitive, and as long as we are beating the Jones’s, we are satisfied.

In areas where there is high unemployment, it is amazing how many people somehow get by, and it’s even more amazing how happy they are. So long as everyone around us is also out of work, it doesn’t make us less happy. Likewise, in areas where we all have a good job, that doesn’t make us happy either.

Okay, so if it isn’t money, what makes us happy? A good education, or a high IQ? Not necessarily, as Daniel Goleman concludes in his works on emotional intelligence. How about youth? After all, younger people have fewer commitments, and always seem to be partying, so they must be happier. Afraid not: it seems that older people in general are more consistently satisfied with their lives than the young, are more confident with who they are, and are less prone to sadness, depression and dark moods. (Obviously I’m hanging out with all the wrong people!)

How about more leisure time to do things like watching TV? Not at all. In fact, research tells us that people who watch more than three hours of TV every day – especially soapies – are more unhappy than those who spend much less time in front of the box. (So my wife is right – again!)

So what makes us happy? In this short article, we cannot cover everything, and there are indeed many things that do create a sense of joy.

However, here are the important points that relate to those of us who deal with customers. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, has identified around ten things that are important, but three will be our focus here: learn to forgive, develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships, and, most importantly, practice acts of kindness. Let’s examine each a little more.

First, learning to forgive. Why is it that we seem to find it so hard to let go of anger? Customers will be difficult, demanding and hurtful, but we have to protect ourselves. Let go of anger and resentment rather than collect it and store it. If a person has hurt or wronged you, write a letter forgiving them, even if you don’t send it. The inability to forgive keeps us focused on what happened, playing it back over and over again, eroding our self-esteem, dwelling obsessively on revenge, and making ourselves sick. Forgiveness bolsters positive feelings about our past, gives us peace of mind, and builds self-esteem.

Second, developing strategies for coping with stress and hardship. No-one will argue: we all experience hardships and difficulties at times, and we cannot avoid this. But we have to have something to cope with these times. Your religious faith is important, but there are also secular beliefs enshrined in sayings and proverbs like: “Nothing lasts forever,” “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and “This too shall pass.” Don’t take things that customers say so personally.

Finally, practice acts of kindness. I’ve left this for last because it is probably the most important. True happiness comes from being able to be kind to others, to care for them, to do something special for them. Not only does it inspire their gratitude, but it also has a myriad of positive effects on you: it makes you feel capable and generous, gives you a greater connection with other people, wins you smiles, approval and reciprocated kindness, and generally boosts happiness all around. Your kind acts may be random, done on the spur of the moment, or systematic. They can be done on friends and people you are familiar with, or on strangers. They can be tiny, (like letting someone in front of you in traffic,) or those in which you really go out of your way, and inconvenience yourself, to do something special.

I spend my life training and encouraging people to delight their customers for the beneficial consequences of customer loyalty to the company. Happy customers make companies more profitable and managers proud.

But what about employees? I’m asking you to do these things for yourself, because caring for people will benefit you in a big way. It is its own reward. In addition, when you contribute towards delighting your customers, they complain less, teamwork improves, finger-pointing and fire-fighting all but disappear, managers become more generous and kind, and the company’s future is more secure, (leading to your security.)

Bringing happiness to others, we find ours. It helps us to sleep better at night.

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