Esade Careers

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Is my life fulfilling enough? Could I have made different choices for a happier life? Our daily choices definitely impact our levels of happiness. But are we in control of what happens to us in life? In this episode of Career Beats we talked to Jordi Quoidbach, Professor of People Management & Organization at Esade and an authority on the relationship between decision making and happiness. 

Quoidbach was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University for several years before joining Esade. His research focuses on the bidirectional relationship between choice and happiness: how people’s current happiness shapes their decisions and how people’s everyday decisions profoundly shape their happiness. 

What’s happiness?  

That’s a big question that philosophers have been trying to solve for thousands of years. But now there is a consensus in the scientific community that by happiness people mean two different things. There’s hedonic happiness, which is the feeling that your life is on the right track and on a daily basis you’re experiencing lots of positive emotions and not so many unpleasant negative emotions. And then you have eudaimonic happiness, which is about experiencing meaning and purpose.  

Two important factors in achieving happiness are social relationships and experiencing meaning

How can I become happier? Is there any shortcut?  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any shortcuts to give you; it requires a little bit of work. What’s really interesting is that research shows that life circumstances—how much money you’re making, where you were born, how many sunny days you experience... They are surprisingly not that related to our happiness. It turns out that all of these factors matter, but way less than what we think. What rather matters is how we spend our time.  

And how can we spend our time to be happier?  

The number one factor predicting happiness is the quantity and quality of social relationships. If I had to give you the secret of happiness, I would say it lies in other people. Another important factor is the time we spend at work and whether we experience meaning, a sense of growth, and whether we’re interacting with colleagues. 



Choosing a job that makes us happy

A job that pays very well is probably not the secret to happiness. If you’re struggling, income and material aspects matter, but as soon as you’re relatively comfortable, you have to look for other factors:

  • Meaning

    Are you engaged in a job that feels purposeful to you? Are you contributing to the well-being of others? Are you connecting to important values? Are you helping with the environment? Is your job meaningful in any way?  
  • Growth and learning

    The feeling of getting better at what you do is extremely important. Did you learn something new today at work? Did you overcome a challenge you were stuck on? Or on the contrary, are you in a job where you are bored and doing always the same thing? Or are you in a job where you are overly stressed because the demands do not match your resources?  
  • Autonomy

    The ammount of autonomy that people enjoy in their job is very important. Nobody likes to be told what to do. If you observe happy workers, they tend to have very clear objectives. They know what is expected of them, but they enjoy freedom in how to reach these objectives. If you’re going to be in a job where they micromanage every single aspect of your daily routine, this is going to make you miserable. 
  • Friendship and fun

    The most satisfied employees will tell you that they have good friends at work. We’re a social species; if we’re happy to see our colleagues for coffee or for lunch, that motivates us to get up and go to work.

How can we manage our emotions to be happier? 

The first advice I would give is to learn that negative feelings are part of life and useful information for you. Next time you feel angry, anxious or jealous about something, ask yourself: What is this feeling telling me about what’s important for me? And then make a plan. If you realize that your anger is telling you that you don’t feel respected at work, what could you do in a constructive manner that will increase the level of respect you enjoy every day? 

My second advice is that we need to savor happiness a little bit more. The human brain is designed to take for granted whatever we know is in front of us now. So I would recommend taking a break and trying to consciously savor pleasant experiences. If you typically like your coffee at 11 everyday, once in a while try to explore the sensation with all your senses. I would also recommend scheduling positive things in your day, since it’s very easy to get caught up in our daily routine. 

The last advice is that, often, the problem with having access to all kinds of good things in life is that we fail to really notice them. Paradoxically, to reset our pleasure level we can refrain from consuming or engaging in our favorite things for a little while. You can take breaks from your favorite activity and the next time you go, you will truly enjoy it.  

People interacting with friends, family and also strangers are happier than those interacting only with friends or family

What’s your daily happiness routine? 

Before going to bed I do a 4-3-2-1 routine.  

4 is for deep breaths. I connect with the present moment by taking four deep breaths.  

3 stands for three positive things for which I’m grateful in my life. These can be small things, like a good conversation with a friend, or big things, like the fact that I’m relatively healthy and I get to do a job that I love, for example.  

2 stands for two positive things that I look forward to experiencing tomorrow. This come from one of the first scientific papers I published over 15 years ago where I asked people every time before going to bed to practice their ability to project themselves into positive futures and to really imagine the things that they would do tomorrow that would bring them pleasure. I found that people who did this for two weeks were significantly happier and less stressed than our control group, where people imagined neutral routines.  

1 is for one core guiding principle for me that I want to embrace and exemplify tomorrow. If it’s about being caring towards other people, tomorrow I’m going to embrace this care for others and all of my interactions are going to be hopefully guided by that value. 

What’s your top advice to improve social interactions? 

I’m going to give you two. The first one: people with diverse social portfolios are happier than people with concentrated portfolios. People interacting with friends, family, but also strangers, coworkers or acquaintances tend to be happier than people who only report being with friends or family. So try to interact and meet with all kinds of people.  

The second advice is about how we interact with others. Often we’re thinking about what we’re going to reply, we’re waiting to speak rather than trying to fully understand and be there for the other person. My advice would be to listen more and show that you’re listening to the other person by using reflection techniques, by repeating some of the words they say, by summarizing what you’ve heard in your own words and asking if you got it right. These are things that will really improve the quality of your interaction because people will feel heard and as a return they will like you a lot more. 

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