Happiness is no laughing matter
How can happiness help your business? Read Dr. Timothy Sharp's unexpected passion for business saw him turn his training as a clinical psychologist into a unique Australian business, The Happiness Institute. Tim’s Happiness Journey
Dr Timothy Sharp was born into a family that placed a high value on education and learning, and after many years at university seemed destined for a life in academia. But an unexpected passion for business saw him turn his training as a clinical psychologist into a unique Australian business, The Happiness Institute.
Tim’s tertiary education began with an undergraduate degree in science with honours and then he obtained a Masters Degree in psychology. Clinical psychologists learn to identify and treat people with a range of conditions including depression, anxiety, marital problems and insomnia, and Tim worked as a clinical psychologist for many years whilst studying for a PhD.
Once he decided to turn his back on academia, Tim knew he didn’t want to go down the path many practitioners follow, which was staying small. He discovered a natural aptitude for not just owning a business, but building one. He enjoyed developing teams, liked being in control of his own destiny and felt empowered by not being answerable to others. Furthermore, his organised, methodical mind made it easy to for Tim to create effective systems and procedures. In the early days he read voraciously and cites The E-Myth as the book that allowed him to create a clinical practice that could operate without his day-to-day involvement.
For many small business owners, this is the Holy Grail and Tim admits that in the beginning all his patients wanted to be treated by him. He turned this around by:
- Only hiring people he had 100% confidence in. He would reassure patients that he had full confidence in his colleagues’ abilities and he would supervise their cases.
- Sticking to his guns. It took time for him to withdraw from the business.
- Accepting that the business would take a financial hit for a period of time.
Over time Tim built the largest clinical practice in Sydney, but this still didn’t seem enough. Clinical psychologists treat people in distress and Tim understood that there would always be a huge need to help these people. But there were movements appearing outside the clinical setting that looked at psychology in a different and interesting new way. The first was “popular psychology” which doesn’t focus on people who are suffering, but rather it assists people who are functioning well to get more out of life. The second movement was life coaching, which has similar outcomes.
Tim decided to tap into these two movements through the creation of The Happiness Institute, an organisation dedicated to helping people get the most out of life. The Happiness Institute runs a number of proven online and face-to-face programs and offers a range of products, all aimed at helping individuals and organisations be happier.
If this sounds a little glib, Tim is quick to point out that happiness is not some blissful state where life’s problems cease to exist. Rather he believes that happiness means getting as much fulfilment out of life as possible, despite its natural ups and downs.
Tim saw The Happiness Institute as a way to extend his reach because the principles the Institute teaches apply to everyone. The Institute also provided a vehicle for Tim to spread the word on happiness through public speaking and media events. Today Tim spends a half a day a week on the clinical practice and the rest growing the Institute.
Happy Employees, Better Bottom Line
So why should small business owners care about the happiness of its workforce? Tim says that happy employees are productive employees, and productive employees means a healthier bottom line.
In days of low unemployment like those we are currently enjoying, attracting and retaining good staff is a challenge for small business owners. The good news is that whilst remuneration is important to workers, studies show that people value a harmonious work environment and good working conditions above salaries. So to become an employer of choice, small business owners need to create a happy space and good work conditions.
When asked to quantify how happiness improves the bottom line, Tim points to the following:
- Happy employees are more likely to stay with the company
- Happy employees take less sick leave
- Happy employees recover from illness quicker
- Happy employees interact better with colleagues
- Happy employees interact better with clients
And it is these factors that lead Tim to the belief that contributing to the happiness of the staff should be viewed by a business as an investment rather than a cost. Research shows that happy employees are 4-5 times more productive than unhappy ones.
As employers, we have a legal obligation to look after both the physical and mental wellbeing of our employees and yet the focus is normally on issues such as OH& S, with little attention given to mental wellbeing.
Tim says that an example would be making sure that employees are not inappropriately exposed to major stressors. He is quick to point out that helping employees is a win/win situation, as it is in both the employer and employees’ best interest. Keys to Being Happy
Tim passionately believes that everyone has the capacity to be happy and can be so, although he points out that just as there are average athletes to gold medal athletes, there will a range on the happiness scale. Tim’s belief that you can both teach and re-ignite happiness is backed up by extensive research. The keys, he says, is to teach people to think differently and interact more positively.
People can get better at identifying thoughts and become more insightful into their thinking processes. They can learn to assess which thought patterns are helpful and which negative thoughts are like bad habits that need to be broken. He points to life coaching as one way of attaining the self-awareness and discipline to achieve this. For example, coaching can help people focus on their strengths and to understand their weaknesses.
Optimism is another part of happiness and Cognitive Psychology provides insight, which then allows people to be more optimistic. But Tim emphasises that if you are overly optimistic, you set yourself up for failure. Optimism needs to be realistic.
Resilience is being able to work through life’s hard times and this is another component of happiness. It is being able to deal with what is important and control your thoughts. With resilience, the quality of relationships comes into play. To be resilient, you need a good network you can reach out to in the bad times. And resilient people know how to use resources appropriately.
Living in the moment also contributes to happiness. This is not about ignoring the past or future because you can learn from what has happened and you must plan for the future. But you need to know what is the most important thing to do now. Understanding this allow us to be with a person or situation.
Finally, Tim says that putting all his happiness strategies are not always easy, but the rewards are enormous. A Helpful Acronym to remember as you start your happiness journey is - CHOOSE
- Healthy living (diet, exercise, sleep)
- Optimistic thinking
- Others (relationship)
- Strengths (core talents) – ask others
- Enjoy the moment - Appreciate and be grateful
Tim's 10 Tips for Happiness
1. Set happy goals, plant optimistic thoughts, weed out unhelpful ones
2. Set tasks from which you will gain satisfaction
3. Play, be curious and have fun
4. Learn to like and love yourself
5. Know your strengths & weaknesses and utilize your strengths
6. Be grateful and appreciate what you have
7. Live a healthy life
8. Control what you can control
9. Invest time and energy in your key relationships
10. Socialise and interact with others