Alexander Kjerulf: The Science of Happiness
Everybody wants to be happy and that is why so many people work hard sacrificing happiness today for potential happiness in the future. However, is this what we truly need to do to be happy? It is time to rethink what makes us happy.
Alexander Kjerulf: Chief Happiness Officer
Alexander is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Woohoo inc and one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work. Alex is the author of 4 books including the international bestseller Happy Hour is 9 to 5. He is also a speaker presenting and conducting workshops on happiness at work at businesses and conferences in over 30 countries. His clients include companies like Hilton, Microsoft, LEGO, IKEA, Shell, HP and IBM.
-----First of all, tell us more about you. What is the role of “Chief Happiness Officer” and what is “Woohoo inc.”?
I am the founder and CHO of Woohoo inc and we make people happy at work. We do workshops and keynotes for clients all over the world, to help them become happy workplaces.
-----What was the beginning of your work on happiness? Did you have a specific moment that you started to become concerned about happiness in your life?
I’ve always felt that whatever work I do, I want it to be something I enjoy. I flatly refuse to do work that I hate. So when I left IT consulting in 2002 I decided to focus on happiness at work. Our company vision is to create a world where happiness at work is the rule and not the exception.
-----What was your first step to sharing your ideas, working with corporations, and educating people to be happier? What kind of results did you have in the beginning?
My first step was to study the field and find a lot of relevant research. I also talked to a lot of people to collect practical experiences and attitudes.
I then designed my first happiness workshop and tested it on a group of volunteers, who seemed to really like it. And then it was time to start the company and begin selling this to clients.
-----I assume you had difficulties at the beginning, what is the hardest part for those who start something new. How did you overcome it?
The hardest part was obviously selling our services in the beginning. Many people and companies thought it was a strange idea, but slowly it started to gain acceptance and now we’re very well known in Denmark and around the world.
Our main tool for overcoming this challenge was to be ourselves and to be bold. To do things our way, and not become too corporate or too traditional. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but I feel very proud that we stayed true to our initial vision.
-----“Arbejdsglæde”, happiness at work, is a unique word, which exists only in Scandinavian countries. What makes this word part of Scandinavian culture? Is it because of the education, nature, or relationships with people?
It’s probably because Scandinavian societies are very egalitarian and focused on a good quality of life. Success in Scandinavia is not necessarily about becoming a millionaire, but more about having a good quality of life.
-----It seems that “work” is considered “exploitation” in the western cultures and “sacrifice” in the eastern cultures (totally opinion). Work does not make people happy with these conceptions. How can people be happier at work and how can they create an environment that makes people happy to work in.
It’s true that many people consider work punishment and expect work to be hard and unpleasant and that for many, work is something you do only because you have to.
But we’re trying to make people realise that it doesn’t have to be that way. Of course, we still need to work to make a living, but we can find work that we actually enjoy.
-----You make a clear difference between “satisfaction” and “happiness”. What should people know about the difference between these 2 words?
Satisfaction is what you think about your job. When you make a rational, logical evaluation of your work situation, are you satisfied overall? It’s an important concept, but it turns out that satisfaction doesn’t have much of an impact on us.
Happiness is what you feel about your job. When you are at work, do you experience mostly positive or negative emotions. And our emotions are so important because they have a huge effect on our health, our well-being and our job performance.
-----It is interesting that many people look for happiness externally such as material goods, bonuses, or social status. Yet they rarely look into themselves for happiness. Perhaps it is because they have been educated to think that way. How can this kind of people experience a paradigm shift in their way of thinking to be happier?
Yes. All of the factors you mention still matter, because they can make us unhappy, if perceive them as unfair. For instance, if you feel you’re being underpaid, that can absolutely make you unhappy. But none of those things can make us happy at work.
The salary makes it possible to go to work – it’s not what determines if we’re happy when we’re there.
-----What would be requirements for a world where the majority of people can feel “they are happy” ?
So if raises, bonuses, perks and promotions aren’t the key to a happy work life, then what is? This has been the subject of extensive research over the last few decades, and it seems it comes down to two things: Results and Relationships.
Results are about making a difference at work, knowing that your job is important, getting appreciation and doing work that you can be proud of. Relationships are about liking the people you work with, having a good manager and feeling like you belong. In short, we are happy at work when we do great work together with great people. That’s is where you need to focus. Instead of choosing the job with the fanciest office or the loftiest title, you need to choose a job where you can have great results and relationships. That will ultimately lead to a much better work life and home life.
And please note that this does not mean choosing between happiness and career success. Research shows that people who like their jobs, do a much better job. They’re more productive, more creative, more motivated and more likely to reach their goals.