If you were given £20 by a stranger and asked to spend it on either yourself or on someone else, which do you think would make you happier? 

Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues (2008) set out to test this, predicting along with their subjects that spending on ourselves would predict greater degrees of happiness.    In fact, the opposite was the case – the researchers found that spending money on others makes you happier – regardless of the sum with $5 generating the same impact as $20.

The study has been repeated across different cultural settings even when $20 is a meaningful sum of money – the impact on happiness appears to be equivalent – we are happier when we spend money on others.

 Everyday kindness and compassion practice can also lead to positive outcomes in the workplace – both for individuals and in creating positive outcomes for your teams and your organisation as a whole.

 It goes without saying that the need for compassion as a result of many kinds of human suffering is salient – in the context of COVID-19 people are experiencing financial hardship, worries about their own health and the health of loved ones, bereavements, struggles with relationships and the prospect of insecure or lack of work.  

 There are a number of everyday practices we can take as leaders, as members of teams but actually more importantly, as fellow humans to develop our compassionate capabilities.    We recently revisited the work of Jacoba Lilius and colleagues (2011) who studied the everyday practices and skills that can lead to the outcome of a number of compassionate capabilities. 

 Drawing on this and other research on compassion at work here are five every day practices to try:

 1 Practice self-compassion – As Dr Kristin Neff suggests, self-compassion as really no different than having compassion for others.  Things will not always go the way we have planned, we will fail at things, we will experience frustration, we may fall short of our own self- ideals.  Consider the friend you would wish for were you to need a listening ear and try applying the same qualities to yourself – treat yourself kindly, notice the emotions you experience and experiment with accepting them as part of the human experience.

2 Slow down – practice the skill of deliberate thought – this may be in noticing the contributions of others taking the time to understand their perspectives and meet them where they are, noticing and expressing when you have observed someone use what you perceive to be their strengths or proactively looking out for issues in your team where support might be needed, and letting your teams know you have their back.   

3 If problems do arise, deal with them quickly – Lilius et al.’s research suggests practicing doing this in a straightforward way, try not to hold grudges, and dealing with conflict as close to in the moment as is possible, and of course, call out the behaviour not the person.

 4 Collaborate wherever possible – proactively ask for input and involve others in decision making in issues that affect them, including the social aspects of work.  One really nice example I observed recently was in regard to a hiring decision – involving the whole team in the selection process and on boarding of a new team member rather than just the hiring manager.

 5 Have fun!  Research demonstrates that appropriate distraction is a way of building connections.  That said, recognise and role model appropriate focus on work and boundary management between home and work times.  Introducing and practicing new rituals for celebrating milestones, birthdays and anniversaries can also be a way of demonstrating your interest and compassion in the things that are important to others. 

Acknowledgements

Lilius, J. M., Worline, M. C., Dutton, J. E., Kanov, J. M. and Maitlis, S.  ‘Understanding Compassion Capability’, 2011; Human Relations, pp. 1 – 27

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B. and Norton, M. (2008) ‘Spending money on others promotes happiness’ Science, 319(5870):1687-8.  doi: 10.1126/science.1150952.

Kristin Neff https://self-compassion.org/

https://www.ciphr.com/advice/fun-in-the-office/

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