The Science of Happiness: Why Impact and Authenticity Are Key to Inspiring Your People

In part five of my series on The Science of Happiness, I’m exploring The Five Ways to Happiness at Work with my co-creator Dr. Jody Aked. Inspire is the fifth of The Five Ways and is key to staying motivated in our careers. In this interview with Friday Pulse, Jody and I discuss how leaders can inspire their people and help them find meaning in their work.

January 28, 2022 4 mins read

Friday Pulse:

When we talk about inspire, the word ‘vision’ often gets thrown into the mix. How would you distinguish inspiration from vision? 

Nic:

A vision is an idea. Inspiration is the desire to act on that. It’s a more active word that means to breathe life into something. 

Jody:

We can be inspired by an idea, but we can also be inspired by the way people behave, by things bigger than ourselves – like nature and the awe and wonder they create. We get inspired by people doing incredible things, which is why we love watching the Olympics and sports, or why we go to art galleries. Inspiration is bigger than just an idea.


Friday Pulse:

So, how do you inspire somebody, especially in a work context? 

Nic:

There must be authenticity but there also has to be a sense of contribution. It’s the feeling we get when we’re serving. Sometimes it’s someone simply showing us a pathway towards being better. Inspiring doesn’t have to be a huge thing. You can be inspired by the small things.

Jody:

In the Friday Pulse tool, we suggest people share their successes once a week and not to celebrate just when something of significance happens, but to look to keep each other inspired by sharing the small wins too.

People have to see the impact that they’re having, and that doesn’t mean saving the world. It just means they need to see the impact they’re having on customers or other teams within the organization. We need to know what we’re doing is contributing and making a difference. 


Friday Pulse:

Is being inspired about finding your own meaning in work?

Nic:

It’s your definition of meaning. There are general themes about what people find worthwhile. Yet, ultimately, it’s going to be individual. 

Jody:

Some studies have shown that working on a checkout in a supermarket can provide a lot of meaning because of the daily interaction with customers and witnessing the difference in a person’s day. But that doesn’t necessarily bring meaning to everyone. Some people are happier with the backend stuff —finance, legal, HR — so it really comes down to the different expectations people have for themselves and the meaning they will derive. 

Nic:

We’re extraordinarily social animals. In our evolutionary history, if you were on your own, you were dead because you were outside of the protection of the tribe. That’s where inspire and meaning fit —they’re things that connect us together. Whether it’s religion or a fandom, we naturally find those that have similar interests to us. 

Jody:

Investing in relationships is really important because we get inspired by the love and concern we feel for other people. And, because we care about someone, it changes what’s important to us and it changes what we do. I often emphasize this to workplaces. 

When team relationships get going, you can have different teams inspiring each other and different relational channels between people.

Nic:

Inspire is in the purpose. When organizations are obsessed with the dollar, people are unlikely to feel inspired about working there.

Jody:

It’s also time for organizations to get on the right side of history on several issues — climate change, Black Lives Matter, gender equality. People are seeking organizations that do because we’re instinctively proud of people when they behave well in the world and, increasingly, people are expecting their organizations to do good.


Friday Pulse:

It seems that there’s an element of challenging the status quo that is implicit in inspiration. Does that apply to work as well? 

Nic:

Stability is also good, and sometimes you don’t have to break things that are working. But there’s always room for betterment. It doesn’t have to challenge the status quo, but there are bits that need tearing down. If we look at things like thorny issues, like diversity in Black Lives Matter, or #MeToo movements, there’s absolutely cultures that need challenging and moving on. 


Friday Pulse:

How do you set up an inspiring environment in the office?

Nic:

Co-creating your company values is a good start. 

Jody:

Becoming a climate-positive team, investing locally – those sorts of things make a big difference.


Friday Pulse:

And investing in your people?

Nic:

As a leader, it’s not just seeing what a person does now, it’s seeing their potential and being open to them developing. It’s inspiring when people want you to be your best.

Jody:

It makes a different starting point when you go, “Let’s co-create our values and get to know each other’s strength. Let’s all have a role in it, so we see ourselves as part of it.” It’s a different form of leadership, but it then means you don’t do the hard work later of getting everyone on board. 

The mistake some organizations make is that they have a long list of values. So, we often say to teams, “Which ones are your core values? Which of the organizational values do you hold dear?” And so, you’re interpreting it and making it a little bit your own, and there’s still alignment. 


Friday Pulse:

How do you stay inspired when you’re exhausted with sprints and other projects? 

Nic:

Well, you can’t spend your life at the mountain top. You got to come down and dangle your feet in the water and feel un-pressured. It’s balance. It’s restoration. It’s renewal.

It’s important to gift yourself time to reflect before you head onto the next thing — helping to put things in perspective and keeping you motivated. 

Jody:

Getting out of the humanness of existence and reconnecting with something bigger really helps put things in perspective. It’s something we have encouraged more than ever since lockdown and no longer experiencing the chitchat at the water cooler or social coffee breaks.

Nic:

People underestimate the un-importance of practically everything. And that life, in a way, is identifying the vital few things that are precious, valuable and important. Inspiring is about that – it’s about helping to identify the vital, and the things that give you vitality.