The Purpose and Happiness Connection
“The two most important days in your life is the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
I was born and grew up in a small town outside Oslo, Norway. My dad was a doctor and my mom a nurse. One night my parents had friends over for dinner and someone asked me: “So, little Annicken. What do you want to be when you grow up?” “I want to be happy and have fun” I replied with a big smile. I can still remember the laughter and what they whispered as they walked away: “She’ll soon enough wake up to the harsh realities of life.” There and then I decided that one day I would prove the grown-ups wrong. I didn’t understand this until later, but at the tender age of six I had simply discovered my purpose: to be happy and have fun, in life and at work. The choices I’ve made later in life have to a large extent been shaped by this purpose and have, among other things, inspired me to establish Corporate Spring, with the mission to make the corporate world a happier place, and to write my book Fly, Butterfly, a personal and professional metamorphosis story. It also inspired my move to California, and to recently create the Happy Life Happy Work community.
Having a sense of purpose is a powerful thing. Studies from the field of neuroscience show that purpose is one of our strongest motivational forces. We humans are primarily intrinsically motivated; we want to do something that matters, not only to ourselves but also to others. A MIT study, here presented in a short animation from Daniel Pink’s TED talk The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us shows that people who do work based on intrinsic motivation; because they want to, largely outperform those who do work only motivated by external rewards. Humans are purpose-driven creatures, but most companies’ incentive- and performance management systems are built on the premise that we’re not. But thankfully things are about to change. The most forward-thinking organizations are now leaving the old paradigm behind and rethinking and redesigning the way they operate, incentivize, lead, and inspire their teams for performance. And within this new paradigm, also known as the new world of work, purpose is key.
The Power of Why
When my team and I are being asked to advise companies and teams in how to build high-performing team cultures, we always start with trying to understand why they exist; what they are doing and why they are doing it. Surprisingly many say they exist to make shareholders happy, which is, according to the late Jack Welch, “the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy.”
In his book “Start With Why” Simon Sinek writes “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause, or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”
In the HBR article “Why are we here?” the authors emphasize the importance of connecting business purpose to customers and strategy. What is your reason for existing? What value are you giving your customers? And why is your firm uniquely capable of providing it? These are all good questions that can help you articulate a meaningful purpose for your organization or team. Purpose is the first building block of the Corporate Spring Model which is a roadmap to build thriving and joyful high-performing organizations. You can read more about it here.
The Connection Between Purpose and Business Success
In PwC’s Putting Purpose to Work workplace study, 79% of the leaders surveyed said they believed their purpose was important to their business success. Yet only 34% said that their organization’s purpose was a guidepost for decision making in their leadership team. The PwC study also found that people want to work for companies with a purpose. People who find their company’s purpose meaningful are 5.3 times more likely to stay with the company.
Another study, from London Business School, found that employees who work for companies with a purpose are more engaged and perform better, and businesses that are driven by purpose outperform those who are only trying to maximize shareholder value.
The recently published Edelman Trust Barometer is dedicated to the “rise of the Belief-Driven Employee.” The report says that 1 out of 5 of the surveyed employees have recently quit their jobs or are planning to leave their jobs within the next 6 months. 76% of the employees say they have higher expectations to their employer now than they did three years ago, and 71% have “strong expectations” of finding a job with some kind of social impact.
According to Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, 44% of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs say they have recently made choices over the type of work they are prepared to do, and the organizations for which they are willing to work, based on their personal ethics. For many, the pandemic has been a big wakeup call. Millennials and Gen Zs say they are making different and more conscious choices after the pandemic, and this generation will make up 75% of the workforce in 2025.
The Connection Between Personal Purpose and Happiness
As humans, we want and need to feel that what we do matters, that how we spend our time has some kind of importance to something our someone outside ourselves. While my 6-year-old-self had “having fun and being happy” as her purpose, my grown-up self wants to help others be happy too, in work and in life. Spending our days doing something that feels meaningful to us, having a job that is aligned with our personal purpose is one of the keys to a happy life.
While many are finding themselves in jobs that has lost its meaning, except receiving the monthly paycheck, more and more people are looking for jobs that fulfils them and where they can contribute positively to other people, to the environment, and to the society at whole.
If you’re not there yet, where to begin? To ask yourself what feels meaningful, inspiring, and fulfilling to you, and to look for opportunities that align with that is a good start. Then, please also remember that purpose can be so many things, there’s no right or wrong, no better or worse. Your purpose, happiness and success are yours to define, only you know what truly makes your heart sing.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)