Alexander Kjerulf, the self-styled Chief Happiness Officer, has set himself on a mission: To make the world of work a happier place. Why should work be hard, stressful and unpleasant when it can just as easily be fun, inspiring and meaningful? Not only is being happy at work nicer, it also makes people and businesses more productive, innovative and successful.
“It’s impossible to go through life without expectations, but we should become aware of out expectations and also learn to appreciate the things that happen that do NOT conform to our expectations.”
Alexander blogs about happiness at work at positivesharing.com and has just written his first book about the topic called Happy Hour is 9 to 5 which you can buy on paper or pdf or read free on line at his blog.
Q. How did you get into the profession of helping people be happier?
I have always had the sense that work should above all be fun and inspiring. And yet, my first couple of jobs out of University were not very happy experiences.
In 1997 I co-founded an IT company, and we decided from the very beginning that our company would above all be a great place to work. And it was! We had a great time, did great work and made a lot of money.
In 2002 we sold the company and I decided to leave at that time to do something else – without having slightest idea what. And suddenly the answer came to me. I would work with Happiness at work. My next thought was, of course, “Yeah, great. Happiness at work. So what, what am I going to about that?…?. The answer to that question was a little longer in the making.
For the last four years that’s how I’ve made a living – speaking, consulting and writing on happiness at work.
Is there a single career area (e.g. finance, education) that you find has generally higher rates of happy workers?
Nope. Happy people are found everywhere and anywhere. There are happy and unhappy bankers, carpenters, social workers, cops and teachers. Some people think that you can’t be happy in blue collar jobs or in low-paying jobs, but it just ain’t so.
What has been your largest challenge staying happy with work?
For me personally, my challenge is that I get impatient. If I’m not getting huge, impressive, stellar results on a daily basis I can get discouraged (I’m exaggerating a little here). Also, when I do get fantastic results, I tend to take them for granted, rather than celebrate and enjoy them.
You live in Denmark. A recent University of Leicester study shows Danes to be the happiest people in the world. But then the University of Southern Denmark did some research and concluded that this is because Danes have lower expectations. While this is funny (to me anyway), there is actually something really complex about this happiness/expectations relationship, no?
There is – but not in the way that study claimed. What a lot of people missed about the original story is, that it was actually humorous, not serious.
The thing about expectations is, that if you expect things to go a certain way – say you expect a raise or a promotion – one of two things can happen:
1) It doesn’t happen – in which case you’re unhappy because you expected it to.
2) It does happen – in which case you’re happy, but not REALLY happy because you already expected it to happen.
It’s impossible to go through life without expectations, but we should become aware of out expectations and also learn to appreciate the things that happen that do NOT conform to our expectations.
Who do you think would benefit most from your book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5?
Anyone who has a job.
Actually, there is one group of people I’m trying hard to reach: The people who don’t hate their jobs, but don’t particularly like them either. The ones who go “well… I guess work is OK. I don’t mind it too much.” These people are missing out on the energy, creativity, productivity and plain old fun you have when you LOVE your job, but they don’t have much impetus to change because they don’t hate work.
And this is the majority – around 10%-15% hate their jobs and around 20% love it. The rest are in the middle group, and I’d like each and every one of them to say “No! No more being OK about work – I want to love my job!”
Is there a point at which the best way to be happy at work is just to do different work?
Absolutely. I call it “the quitting point”. Many people stay in jobs they don’t like waaay too long!
Interestingly, I have never ever heard a single person say “I quit my job last year and I really wish I’d stayed another year”. I’ve heard many people say “I quit my job last year, and I only wish I’d done it sooner!”
If there is one pragmatic piece of advice everyone should know about being happy at and with work, what would it be?
It’s this: The small stuff really counts! The day-to-day interactions you have with your co-workers. Stuff like saying a cheerful good morning, like praising people for the good work they do, like random acts of workplace kindness.
Bring someone a cup of coffee without him asking, and see how happy that makes him!
The Blackberry. Your thoughts?
Ehhmmm.. I’ve never had one and they’re very rare here in Denmark. The few people I do know who have’em seem to have an intense love/hate relationship with them. They’re not crazy about’em, but if you suggest they get rid of it, they protest vehemently. It has all the signs of an addiction, actually…