Servant Leadership and Happiness in Dallas

Some folks, on reading this title, will think I’ve just flown on a certain airline headquartered in Dallas, but I have actually been attending the 25th conference of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

I’ve learned a lot, and it’s amazingly inspiring to be with hundreds of people who have chosen to learn more about leading with a servant’s heart.

Today was the final day, and the keynote this morning was by Amy Blankson, Amy is the author of The Future of Happiness—and is interested in not just the science of happiness but also how technology aids and detracts from happiness.

She gave us three big truths about happiness, and I intend to try hard to incorporate the messages. First, HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE.

Most of us think that happiness is determined but our circumstances or our genetics, but research shows that where you live, your wealth, and your health account for 10% of happiness —90% is up to you. Carol Dweck introduced us to the idea of the Growth Mindset versus a Fixed Mindset, and the more we learn about neuroplasticity and our ability to learn at any age, the more we recognize how valuable a Growth Mindset is to our happiness.

Amy has not had a stress-free life. She tells the story of moving —a bit unhappily—to Biloxi, Mississippi, where her service-member husband was deployed.  She tried to make the best of it, and they bought their first home, got their first dog, and starting making friends in the community.  She was beginning to really like the community, but just three months later Hurricane Katrina hit and she lost her house, her dog, and her community. She attributes her ability to move through that to a choice—the daily practice of gratitude.

The second truth was this, HAPPINESS IS A HABIT. And, as Amy says, habits don’t magically happen. They require effort.

She suggests five habits that research has shown to have an outsized positive impact on your happiness. The first four require only two minutes a day each.

  1. Journaling. Every morning write down the most meaningful thing you experienced the previous day.
  2. Gratitude. Spend two minutes writing down what you are grateful for. Don’t just list obvious things like health and family – look for the small moments (a hug from a child, a beautiful flower) that bring you joy.
  3. Acts of kindness. Amy suggests making a list of people who have been meaningful in your life, and writing an email or note to one of them each day.
  4. Meditation. The easiest two-minute way to do that is to stop for two minutes each day and just focus on your breath.
  5. Exercise. This one takes more that two minutes, but starting with ten will rev up your happiness meter a bit.

Third, HAPPINESS IS CONTAGIOUS. I did not know until I experienced it in our exercise today that you cannot sit across from someone who is looking warmly into your eyes and smiling broadly without smiling yourself, no matter how hard you try!

The exercise was a funny and telling example of the fact that we are, as Amy says, “wirelessly connected to one another.” Our mirror neurons reflect the feelings of others—positively and negatively.

Amy is interested in the impact of technology on happiness—positively and negatively—and gave us some fun and occasionally depressing facts:

  • The average user unlocks his or her phone 150 times a day. If you spend a minute scanning each time, that’s 2.5 hours out of your day. Amy has begun using the RealizD app to help track the time she spends (or wastes) on her phone.
  • 54% of people think it’s okay to pick up the phone during dinner, 57% think it’s ok in the bathroom, and 33% approve of picking it up during sex. Amy did not explain.

Social support is the greatest predictor of long term happiness, and we all have a part to play in the culture of our families and our work places. Employees who provide social support are more likely to receive support in return. Amy closed my asking us, “What ripple effect will you have?

Our lunch speaker, Cheryl Hughey was actually from the airline Southwest, that most of us associate with Dallas and Servant Leadership. She reminded us of Southwest’s values, Warrior Spirit, Fun LUVing Attitude, and a Servant’s Heart, and spoke passionately about the ways those are lived at Southwest. More highlights in a few days from this amazing conference.

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