Picture credit: freepik.com
Why do we do what we do? I intend to answer this question with one perspective by the end of this paragraph. In school, why are we often told to study hard? So that we can do well in our exams. Why do we need to do well in our exams? So that we can get into a good college. Why do we have to do well in college? So that we can get placed in a good company. Why do we have to do well at our jobs? So that we can get a promotion. A promotion means more money. More money means we get to buy more stuff and do more stuff, which we hope, directly or indirectly will make us happy! If you’re a foodie you’ll probably spend that extra money on delicious food. If you’re a shopaholic, you’ll probably spend that extra money on retail therapy. If you like traveling, you’ll probably spend that extra money touring the world. Whatever your passion may be, the point is, we do what we do to be happy!
Author of the best seller “Start With Why” and TEDx speaker Simon Sinek believes that this kind of
Happiness is temporary. He says whether it be getting a promotion, or finding forgotten change in our pockets before putting our clothes in the washing machine, it’s the same chemical reaction that takes place in our bodies. Dopamine, known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, is released by the brain. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, and attention or to put it simply, it makes us Happy! This got me thinking about how we perceive happiness. The famous saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life” somehow, doesn’t seem to resonate well with the HR profession. When the role requires you to terminate people, deny promotions, ensure appraisals and performance ratings are given judiciously, strictly monitor hikes and bonuses, adhere and enforce policies whether we agree to them or not, this role doesn’t really provide too much scope for being happy. I’m not intending to sound pessimistic but it is what it is. So I decided to prod further and that’s when I discovered the interesting concept called Hedonic Adaptation which is the tendency of us mere humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major recent positive or negative events or life changes. This means that even after we HR professionals terminate employees who are potentially on the verge of a mid-life crisis and quite possibly the sole breadwinners, we feel sad and empathize with them, but not for long. We soon get back to our usual state of buzzing with happiness at our water coolers, chatting about weekend plans and a whole lot more. Some might call this ‘heartless’ but I would like to refer to it as the Hedonic adaptation. It’s not our fault, its science!
Now being a student of science, I decided to delve deeper and verify if the HR state of Happiness goes beyond this. In one of my conversations with Krish Shankar, a veteran in the HR fraternity, he explained to me some interesting research on the subject done by Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California who authored a book of strategies backed by scientific research that can be used to increase happiness. This bestseller is titled The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. In this book, her research explains that 50 percent of our happiness is determined by our genes, 10 percent is related to our life circumstances, such as where we live, how much money we have, our marital status, and how we look. The remaining 40 percent, she says, is left for the ‘intentional activities’ that we can choose to engage in – the things that we do and think every day of our lives. Scientists know that happy people practice, among other things, more acts of kindness, are able to lose themselves in whatever they enjoy doing, and avoid dwelling on their problems.
Similarly, Simon Sinek, distinguishes happiness from fulfillment. He believes that Fulfillment isn’t another word for happiness. Fulfillment is deeper. Fulfillment lasts. He says Happiness comes from ‘What’ we do but fulfilment comes from ‘Why’ we do it. According to Sinek, the only way to find fulfilment is when we do something for someone other than ourselves, without expecting anything in return from them, that’s when we feel a true sense of fulfilment!
Krish Shankar too acknowledges that in our line of work, whether we realize it or not, a major part of our role lies in helping people. He says “HR remains at the heart of business and at the heart of the people who run this business”. This got me thinking, right from when the employee sets foot into our organizations, HR departments curate customized onboarding experiences to usher in and help these new employees adapt and assimilate well with the organization. Most organizations have a dedicated HR Business Partner, who besides strategizing with leaders, is also expected to carve out time and help employees in growing and developing their careers, availing benefits that the organization offers and sometimes even extending help and support to the employee’s family members when the need arises. When I interview B-School students for HR roles, 8 out of 10 times when asked why they chose HR, their answer is: “because I’m a people-person”. I’ve never really approved of this answer or liked it very much. But now in retrospect, maybe they were implying that they like helping people; and at the core, isn’t that exactly what our role is all about? Helping leaders strategize; Helping managers handle their teams and projects; Helping employees align their individual goals with the organizational goals; and not just the HR Business partner role; Talent Acquisition helps managers find the right fit for their teams; HR Operations work behind the scenes to help businesses flourish seamlessly; Learning and Development teams work hard to help employees grow from strength to strength in their careers; I could go on and on and yes I’m fully aware that this is not some kind of CSR that we do on a daily basis, because we get paid for what we do. But as Sinek says, what we do doesn’t matter as much as why we do it! Happiness is defined by what we do and that what we’re paid for. Fulfillment is defined by why we do what we do, and for that we may not get paid, but that’s a reward most of cherish. After a long day at the office, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it – “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded!”