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Happiness Can Equal Productivity

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A professor named Daniel Sgori published an article that outlines the connection between happiness and productivity. In short, the impact is enormous.

If you’ve got a knack for digging through academic language, the complete post is worth a read. Here’s a few words from some key paragraphs, with emphasis added:

One of the biggest growth areas in economics over the last few years has been “happiness economics”. A plethora of intriguing results, starting with Easterlin’s famous paradox breaking the link between well-being and income through to recent counterintuitive findings showing that “happier countries” produce more suicide cases, all show that we still do not have a clear mental grip on how mood links to economic variables such as income or economic growth.

Working with my colleagues Andrew Oswald and Eugenio Proto, I am seeking to better understand the micro-level links between happiness and economic behaviour. Crucially we turn the traditional causal relationship between production and happiness on its head – rather than investigate how economic variables, like income or growth affect happiness, we have instead studied how happiness affects economic variables. Thinking about which economic variable to examine first, we had only to consider Paul Krugman’s words, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

With this in mind, my colleagues and I address the question: does happiness make people more productive in a paid task? Using an experimental methodology, we find that it does. … Effort increases. Precision remains unaltered. In our first experiment, we induce short-run shocks to happiness and find a pronounced positive effect on productivity. In our second, we turn to the longer run when we ask whether subjects who have experienced recent “life shocks” perform significantly differently, and again, we find that they do.


© Flickr user Jesper Rønn-Jensen

How did they do it? In Experiment #1, subjects were paid to perform some math problems. Some of the participants were asked to watch a short video clip of a stand-up comedian before starting work. They were on average, 10% more productive than those who did not view the program. (Why economists call enjoying some comedy a “happiness shock” is in itself, rather comedic.) Here’s the actual data of participants who have been “treated” with some entertainment:

productivity growth graph

Daniel Sgroi and his colleagues are good researchers. They worked to ensure that there weren’t other factors effecting this outcome. They checked for differences in performance by gender and saw nothing significant. They compared between different sessions at different times of the day, and again, there were no meaningful differences. They looked at the work conducted in detail, and divided it into “effort” (number of attempts) and “precision” (percentage of correct answers), and saw that “precision” remained constant but “effort” increased after watching the video clip. They even tried varying the payment system and tried showing the control group a boring clip of “dull visual images.” None of these adjustments had any affect.

Does that mean you should start you day with a session on YouTube? Probably. Here, enjoy this and you’ll probably read the rest of this blog post even faster:

So what was Experiment #2? Instead of the “shock” of a comedy video, participants were asked to assess their own happiness. After finishing the tasks, those taking part in the study were provided with a questionnaire about recent negative life events. The survey included topics such as loss of a family member, parental divorce, or health factors.

Once again, people who were happier in general were more productive. Happiness leads to productivity. For more information about how you can work smarter and be more satisfied, contact our consultants at AccelaWork today!

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