A Guide To Happiness For Leaders


Happiness is not created equal. Despite achieving financial success and career milestones, many leaders find themselves craving more happiness or seeking ways to help their teams achieve it. But what is happiness, really?

In the realm of positive psychology, Martin Seligman’s PERMA framework offers a comprehensive definition, including positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement as elements of happiness. However, the concept of happiness takes on various forms in popular culture, from stock photos of joyful moments to TED talks and celebrity insights on where happiness truly comes from.

Given the global decline (or stagnation at best, according to the World Happiness Report) in happiness over the last decade, coupled with firsthand anecdotal evidence about anxiety and depression climbing to crippling levels in our organizations, growth-seeking leaders have to pay attention to happiness. Specifically, we must intentionally invest in the version of happiness that genuinely enhances well-being for us as individuals, groups, and societies.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Integrating the many perspectives and research about happiness reveals a two-by-two framework to recognize what moves the needle for our wellbeing. And thus, the form of happiness that we should invest in, for ourselves and those we care about.

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First, we can pursue happiness through externally validated activities. We might go after the yoga pose on the top of the mountain, a plastered-on emoji smile, or the love that the Rolling Stones suggest will make us happy more than candy, cocktails, or Lear jets. But if we hate yoga, have less of an exuberant personality, or aren’t interested in an intimate relationship, would these things really increase our true happiness?

At the other end of the spectrum lie the behaviors and activities that are pleasing to us. We may find that being outside, competing in recreational games, studying foreign languages, or weaving baskets really makes our heart sing. Identifying and pursuing these internally validated activities that resonate with us as individuals…



Nell Derick Debevoise, Inspiring Cowgirl Queen

I wrangle people, ideas, and horses to make work healthier, fairer, and more inspiring for all. CEO, 3D Performance, Partner, PurposeFused. Author, Going First.