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Happiness and Conflict at Work

Often when we are faced with a conflict, happiness is not what we feel. We may feel angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, upset, furious, or other negative emotions, or some combination of many negative emotions. Perhaps the “best” emotion we experience in the midst of an argument is something along the lines of,

“Hah! I’m winning!”

…Well, that’s a kind of satisfaction, but it is probably not the same happy, contented feeling you get when you are laughing with loved ones, for example, or even while collaborating in a positive, team atmosphere at work, school, or while volunteering.

Yet conflict and happiness are not necessarily polar opposites.

Scientists have spent decades studying what happiness is, the effects of happiness and pro-social emotions and actions, and how we can have happier lives. According to researchers Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner, what happiness looks like at work will include moments of laughter and joy, and it is also about being able to “gracefully handle setbacks; connecting amicably with colleagues, coworkers, clients, and customers; and knowing that your work matters to yourself, your organization, and beyond.”

The truth is, when a dispute between coworkers arises, if the people involved are generally happy in their lives, including at work, they will more quickly come to a resolution on their own.

Keys to a Happy Workplace

Some keys to a happy workplace place include civility and kindness, employees feeling a sense of control and engagement with their work and their work environment, and a culture that includes a shared purpose beyond profit. Simon-Thomas and Keltner have an acronym to capture the keys to creating a happy workplace. PERK stands for Purpose, Engagement, Resilience, and Kindness.

I think one of the most important takeaways whenever we think about workplace culture is that it is never only top-down. Yes, leadership always sets a tone for employees, and of course most companies do not do company-wide surveys to determine or define core values or a mission (though some do!). At the same time, culture is also what we live and breath every day - and express through all of our actions. So if you’re the person who walks in with a smile on your face every day, greets coworkers kindly, and takes time to connect and share jokes or talk about important outside-of-work experiences - Congratulations! You are doing your part to make your workplace happier.


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