Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. The Profession - The Study of Happiness/Courtesy of Happiness Studies Academy
One of the questions that interested me in a conversation with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in positive psychology and happiness science, founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, is whether money causes happiness.
"First of all, up to a certain level of income, money is very important," he says. "If, for example, I have difficulty supporting my family and suddenly a sum of money arrives and allows me to provide for myself with dignity, it will obviously affect my happiness. But beyond a certain level of income, money as money doesn't really matter to happiness levels. What matters is meaning.
For example, if I start a business or startup that is meaningful and important to me, then both the process and the potential end result will lead to more happiness. Or if I use my money to achieve meaning in another way, such as through donating, helping others, then in this way money can bring more happiness. But if there's 100,100 shekels or <> million shekels lying in my bank account, that's less than a year for happiness. The question is whether money is translated into what I call the determining currency, which is meaning and happiness."
The cover of the book "Happier No Matter What" / Matar Press (Design by Nurit Wind Kidron)
I admit it
Ben Shahar, 52, born in Ramat Gan, has lived in the United States for 20 years. He has written 14 books on happiness and leadership, many of which have been translated into over 35 languages. Ben-Shahar's new book, "Happier No Matter What" - Cultivating Hope, Resilience and Meaning in Difficult Times (translated from English by Yoav Katz, Matar Publishing), has just been published, which aims to enable the reader to use the tools of happiness science even in difficult times.
"In the book, I'm talking about five elements of happiness and tools that are relevant to each of those elements," he says. "One is the emotional element. The first step to happiness is acceptance of pain. Many people think that a good life is painless, difficult, or 'think good' – it will be good. But sometimes no matter what we do or think, it is still difficult. Suffering is an inseparable part of life.
Therefore, the first step is to accept it and understand that difficult experiences are an inseparable part of life, even a happy life. In addition to this, part of the emotional element is also learning to intensify our positive emotions, because there is always something to be grateful for. Studies show time and time again that when we seek the good, then even in difficult times, the very search and finding of the good helps us cope better with difficulties.
When I speak to a Jewish audience, I always ask what a Jew says in the morning: They answer me: 'I thank you.' The word confessor has meaning. For example, a study by Prof. Teresa Amabile shows that people who at the end of the workday are regularly grateful for one thing they have made progress in – whether it's small and trivial progress or big and significant progress – not only are they happier at work, but their performance increases in terms of productivity and creativity."
Another element of happiness, according to Ben-Shahar, is spiritual. "Of course it is possible to experience spirituality in a synagogue or through religion, but it is also possible to experience spirituality in the workplace or in the family, if we understand that spirituality has two faces. One of them is meaning," he says.
"Workplace studies show that employees who find meaning in their work – whether it's in their day-to-day life or the big idea of what their company does – not only are they better at work, but they also perform at a much better level and are also less likely to leave the workplace.
A sense of meaning keeps people in their workplace. Both the emotional and spiritual elements not only increase the level of happiness, but thanks to them we also forge ourselves and enhance our ability to cope with difficulties. That's actually the other idea in the new book, that the science of happiness can help us cope better with adversity."
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Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar: "A sense of meaning keeps people in their workplace"/Courtesy of Happiness Studies Academy
Body & Soul
Wait, that's not all. "There is also the physical, physical element," says Ben-Shahar. "Regular exercise, for example, not only adds to our health but also helps us to be mentally stronger. If I'm a company executive, one of the most important things I can do is exercise. This will also help me to be more resilient in my workplace and healthier and happier. I'll be even nicer to my colleagues and family."
What are the other elements of happiness?
"There is the intellectual element, such as curiosity. People who are curious, who ask questions, who learn all the time, who have the basic modesty to say 'I don't know, I need help' – in the long run they are both happier, more successful and more resilient. While the fifth most important element are relationships, be it relationships with friends, family or colleagues. Relationships, whether at home or at work, are the number one factor for happiness, health and resilience."
Ben-Shahar also debunks common myths, such as "success brings happiness." "Most people, certainly in the Western world and increasingly in the East, live either consciously or unconsciously according to the equation: 'To achieve happiness, you have to succeed.' When success means, economic, material success, success in obtaining public recognition. People think that such success will lead to happiness," he says.
"But what the studies show, and what anyone can understand if they just look at reality, is that success doesn't bring happiness, certainly not for long. Perhaps a temporary increase in happiness or positive experiences, but certainly not over time, unless additional factors are added to it.
The other factors are the ones that lead to happiness and they are actually the five elements I mentioned earlier. That's the circle. When people, for example, live their lives according to the equation that material success will lead to happiness, then ultimately this is what leads to a lack of happiness, or a great deal of pain. I'm not against ambition, I'm not against success, and I'm certainly not against hard work. You just have to understand what these things have to do with happiness and what are the really important things in life."
What causes happiness in the workplace? You'd be surprised, but not necessarily the professional successes/ShutterStock
If you ask Ben-Shahar, he says that social media does not contribute to our happiness. "Part of human nature is that we compare ourselves to others," he says. "When, for example, we see on social media that even during COVID-19 people experienced and are experiencing glamorous, glamorous, maybe even 'perfect' lives, it puts us in an inferior emotional state and, importantly, detached from reality.
Social media and the culture of likes do not give us a true picture of reality, in which we all experience pain, and we all suffer from time to time because it is an inseparable part of reality. Also, one of the problems today is that our Internet connections come at the expense of intimate face-to-face connections. Or sometimes even when we sit around the same table, the screen separates us. We pay a high price for that, because the number one factor of happiness is real, not virtual, relationships, whether it's at home or at work."
Ben-Shahar also advises, among other things, and lectures to executives in international corporations, in the public service and among at-risk populations. "One of the most important issues in organizations today is the whole issue of stress and stress," he says. "More and more workplace workers are paying the high price of stress that also leads to mental, physical and of course lower functioning problems."
What is your recommendation?
"First of all, it's important for managers and employees to understand that stress and stress on their own are not problematic, and the analogy I give is actually from the physiological place. When we lift weights in the gym, we put stress on us, pressure on our muscles. When we take a break between workouts, it's not problematic, because that's how we actually get stronger and stronger.
The problem begins when we lift weights and more weights and more weights without proper intervals, because then we get injured, the problems begin, and we don't get stronger. In other words, the problem is not stress because it can actually strengthen us. The problem is the lack of recovery, and that's the problem in today's workplace."
What do you mean?
"A lot of times we're expected to be high functioning or available all the time, and there's no recovery time. When there is no recovery, then we become weaker, both physically and mentally. When there is recovery, then because of stress we become stronger. There should be times during the day for recovery as well.
Managers need to set an example for their employees and encourage recovery, such as lunch with colleagues where we don't work but recover. Or every hour or two, a short break of a few minutes for coffee, meditation or just small talk for five minutes. This will not only increase employee happiness but also improve performance."
The demonstrations against the legal revolution. Does our sense of happiness have anything to do with politics?/Official website, Gilad First
Ben-Shahar is aware that the political situation in Israel undermines quite a few people's sense of security and happiness. "Happiness depends on both external and internal factors," he says.
"I live thousands of kilometers from Israel, and when I wake up to the news every day and see what's happening in Israel, it affects me, even more so those who live in Israel. However, happiness is not a binary concept, it is not 0 or 1. There is a continuum, and even if you are at a certain moment low on that continuum, you can still do things to rise and improve.
Even if it improves slightly, the mere feeling that we have some control over our situation - this already in itself can make us feel better and more resilient. For example, you can take a walk to feel better, or even find meaning by going to a demonstration. It all eventually comes back to the five elements of happiness."
We are approaching Yom Kippur. Many do some soul-searching, sometimes even regretting mistakes made.
"First of all, there is value in learning from mistakes. The best managers, the better spouses, are not the ones who don't make mistakes. They are the ones who make mistakes and learn from them.
For example, Yuval Kotz, my partner in the Academy of Happiness Studies and its CEO, as soon as we set up a project, he always says: 'Let's start making mistakes.' He also adds: 'It's important not to make the same mistake twice.' Also, in an atmosphere of atonement, I would like to point out that what is also very important for happiness is forgiveness. Whether it's forgiveness for ourselves or others. I'm not saying we can forgive every wrong done to us, but in most cases forgiving not only helps our relationship with the other, but also helps us who forgive."
Finally, are you happy yourself?
"That's a great question, but I can't answer it directly because happiness is not a binary concept. It's not 'I'm happy' or 'I'm not happy'. I can tell you that I am happier today than I was 30 years ago. I also very much hope that in five years or 20 years I will be happier than I am today. Happiness is a journey on a continuum and that journey ends when life ends."
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