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The Pursuit of Happiness

Unlike Gabriele Muccino's great film “The pursuit of Happyness” the following is about real, genuine happiness, the one correctly spelled with an “i” and not like the film title spelled with a “y”.

Remember, in the true story about John Gardner this typo in the so focal word of his film title has been “implanted”, because it was intended to express the ambiguous meaning of happiness to various people. And indeed, while this great American movie saw wealth and business success as the main driver of “happyness”, today, the intriguing results of recent scientific research reveals what - and what not - happiness really is. Let me get straight to the point: “Money does not buy happiness!”

I recently had the privilege to join a new business networking group in Zurich, the Efficiency Club. My first attendance coincided with the visit of Stefan Klein, a German biophysicist turned science writer who inspired many of the attendees with his 60 minute keynote speech on the topic of one of his books “the science of happiness”. It is true, scientific research has been done for decades on anger, fear or depression. Likely because our pharma industry takes advantage of the negative emotions our brain is able to produce. However, we all agree that happiness too exists. Since this day I know that, neurobiologically speaking, happiness can be measured in our brain just like the many negative emotions. While genuine happiness is triggered differently in each person, such trigger takes place at the very same interacting neural micro spots of the human brain. Be that an Eskimo or an Aboriginal, be that you or me.

Without wanting to be too spiritual, but isn't genuine happiness the ultimate goal of human life? As per Klein the scientific research revealed that thanks to our brains ability to continuously make new neuronal connections it keeps changing, call it learning or evolution. When we are in the state of happiness neuro hormones, the so called beta-endorphins, are released. Those have the same effect than morphines, making our brain a natural mini drug lab as long as we are on the pursuit of happiness. In other words, we ARE able to influence our level of happiness. Happiness CAN be trained, than this neurobiological process is the same in all human beings. What is different is the cause, which greatly depends on the culture, the personal history and the individual’s character. But effectively, we all perceive happiness in the very same way, it is a state of brain and organism and we often define it as well-being and contentment.

So far so good, but how can we now influence our brain and trigger genuine happiness? Fact is and science proofed that a) hunger keeps us going to feed our organism, b) sexual desire keeps us multiplying and therefore ensures the survival of our species and c) happiness is triggered by and therefore ensures our continuous contribution to the wellbeing of others, by positive social interactions and autonomy! Yes, scientists are telling us it makes us humans happy to be in control, to help each other, to be socially involved and accepted. We, indeed, seem to have a gene for altruism.

With this knowledge it does not surprise anymore why many Latin American countries are scoring high in the world happiness report in spite of a low economical base and why a small country like Bhutan is making headlines with seemingly the happiest people on earth having successfully replaced the GDP by the GNH index, the Gross National Happiness index.

When Appius Claudius Caecus more than two thousand years ago said those famous words “quisque faber suae fortunae” (“Every man is the architect of his own fortune”/ “Jeder ist seines eigenen Glückes Schmied”) he most certainly thought about financial prosperity.

Today, we are convinced that happiness is completely unrelated to material things and as the real John Gardner already once said: “Money is the least significant aspect of wealth.” Nonetheless, the proverb continues to be true and today we even know that we best find happiness in social services, activities and interactions. And this is the great news for the hospitality industry. We are scientifically proven to be working in the field of making people happy!

Watch out for this: Don't mix happiness with satisfaction! Satisfaction purely depends on the expectations. Once expectations are met, humans are satisfied. Moreover, expectations keep changing, yet essentially growing and satisfaction alone does not instil repetitive action. In other words a satisfied customer is not necessarily a returning customer, but a happy customer may well be.

And this is what it means for our hospitality industry:

  1. We are blessed to be able to work in an industry where the main objective is to make people happy.

  2. With guest satisfaction and employee satisfaction we are measuring the wrong KPI. We want to measure genuine guest and team member happiness instead.

  3. In order to make guests really happy it is not enough to satisfy them or meet their expectations. This is what they pay for anyway and take for granted.

  4. Satisfaction is reached after a good night’s sleep or a great breakfast. Happiness is achieved thanks to satisfaction on top of memorable human interactions.

  5. Satisfied guests may or may not return. Happy guests will return and also recommend us.

  6. A fair salary, development opportunities and a pleasant working environment results in employee satisfaction, but for employee happiness we must add inspiring leadership, a great team spirit, empowerment and personal recognition.

  7. Satisfied employees will continue to do a decent job, but sooner or later leave us in the hope to find greener gras. Happy employees will wow our guests, foster teamwork, act beyond their call of duty and be an ambassador of the company.

  8. Making people happy makes us happier!

Let us re-write our quality standards and surveys, re-think our HR strategies and re-evaluate our mission statements. Every minute and every dollar spent on human relations and social services and activities is certainly well spent. Let's not drive anymore for simple guest and employee satisfaction, but for genuine guest and team member happiness.

In that sense, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

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