Happy Innovation

This article was originally published by Canay Atalay on  on the Human Works website.

This is article #1 in the Happy Innovation Series

Chicken, Egg and The Farm

Does happiness cause innovation? Or is it the other way round: does innovation cause happiness? Or is there a third variable that causes both happiness and innovation?

In the past, I’ve written about measures of innovation and why human emotions and values should be considered for meaningful innovation across industries and technologies (Learning, FinanceLeadership & Culture and Sports). Digital Age magazine invited me to write about ‘Happy Innovation’, and as soon as I started I was on fire. Soon my piece turned out to be a series. We’ll look at the evidence that happiness and innovation are correlated in this first one. In the next ones, I’ll highlight types of happy innovations and provide practical tips to apply ‘Happy Innovation’ in your businesses, lives and communities. Enjoy the ride!

Innovation is the simultaneous movement towards new and better, it requires us to unlock our creativity and understand what is valuable. Being in constant connection with our valuable guides – our emotions -helps us discover new ways to construct our lives with more happiness. In this perspective, being able to make ourselves happy is a precondition to being able to empathize with others and provide what is valuable to them.

For instance, in business life, if we are out of touch with ourselves, how can we meet or even understand what our clients/employees need? If we want to craft products, services or experiences for other people that will make them happy enough that they will invest their focus, time, energy, money and keep coming back to you for those offerings, we first need to follow our inner happiness compass.

Our Natural Medicine: Happiness

Happiness is vital when thinking of creative and innovative ideas. Happiness affects the parts of our body that are essential when we create:

1-Ticking Brain: Your brain becomes stimulated when you feel happy. A few things you may experience when you are happy include: improved mood, a deep urge to continue being happy, greater desire to be healthy, more attentive, easier time focusing on tasks at hand, better awareness of your environment. Happiness improves your cognitive ability, you will become more productive while creating or carrying out innovative ideas and more open to collaboration.

2-Healthy Heart: Your level of happiness also has direct benefits for your heart. One study found that happy individuals were 22% less likely to develop heart disease than individuals who experience significant negative or depressive emotions. Happy people prioritize their health and wellbeing more. Happy people also understand how to better handle stress, which helps relieve pressure on the heart.

3-Stronger Immune System: Illnesses might cost you a lot, from laying in bed all day to not being able to think because of a foggy mind, lack of healthy breathing and inconsistent sleep schedule. When you are happy and more positive about life, those positive emotions will work for your good. You’ll get less sick and if you do, your body will work harder and faster to heal.

4-Longer Life: Studies have found that happy, positive individuals are more likely to live longer than those who have a negative outlook on life. As stated in the book of Shawn Achor “Happiness Advantage”, one study found that happy individuals can live almost 10 years longer than those who don’t live happy, abundant lives. This means 10 more years to innovate and create!

Natural medicine for the most epidemic diseases of our age, when ‘fear of change’, ‘stress’ and eventually ‘burn out syndrome’ is within us.

Happily Innovative Countries

Let’s move from our micro-bodies to macro bodies: society. While researching the correlation of happiness and innovation for societies, I took into consideration three major reports; here is a list and the metrics they use;

1-World Happiness Report (WHR) 2018: (1) GDP per capita, (2) social support, (3) healthy life expectancy at birth, (4) freedom to make life choices, (5) generosity, (6) perceptions of corruption, (7) positive affect (average of laughter and enjoyment) and (8) negative affect (average of worry, sadness, and anger).

2-Global Innovation Index (GII) 2017: Innovation input: (1) institutions, (2) human capital and research, (3) infrastructure, (4) market sophistication, and (5) business sophistication. Innovation output: (6) knowledge and technology outputs and (7) creative outputs.

3-Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) 2017: (1) economy, (2) education, (3) entrepreneurship & opportunity, (4) governance, (5) health, (6) personal freedom, (7) safety & security, (8) social capital and (9) natural environment.

What struck me immediately was the relationship between the WHR, GII and the LPI ranking of national happiness, innovation and prosperity. Though GII and LPI use different methods, the results closely match the World Happiness Report. Indeed, the top 10 countries in the World Happiness Report are the same top 10 as LPI, only in a different order — with the exception of Iceland in WHR being replaced by the UK in the LPI.

World’s Happiest and Most Innovative Countries*

  1. Finland
  2. Norway
  3. Denmark
  4. Iceland (In GII, Iceland is replaced by the United Kingdom)
  5. Switzerland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Sweden
  10. Australia

* The ranking is according to World Happiness Report 2018

Also, 19 countries in the top 20 of the World Happiness Index score top 40 in each report. Many might think ‘Of course, these are all rich countries, of course they will rank top no matter what index we look at.’ Not exactly, let’s look at the exception: Costa Rica.

The Curious Case of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is ranked #13 among 156 countries in WHR and in top 30 in LPI. According to another study ‘The Happy Planet Index’, Costa Rica is the world’s happiest and greenest country! The Happy Planet Index measures what really matters: sustainable wellbeing for all. It tells us how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, sustainable lives.

It’s not a coincidence that Costa Rica topped the 2009 and 2012 editions of HPI too. But how can a country like Costa Rica – where GDP per capita is less than a quarter of many Western European and North American countries  – be (one of) the happiest countries?

1. People living in Costa Rica have higher wellbeing than the residents of many rich nations, including the USA and the UK, and live longer than people in the USA.

2. All of this is achieved with a per capita Ecological Footprint that’s just a third of the size of the USA’s.

3. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949 and has since reallocated army funds to be spent on education, health and pensions. In 2012, Costa Rica invested more in education and health as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product than the UK.

4. Professor Mariano Rojas, a Costa Rican economist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, attributes Costa Ricans’ high wellbeing to a culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods.

5. Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. The Costa Rican government uses taxes collected on the sale of fossil fuels to pay for the protection of forests. In 2015, the country was able to produce 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, and the government continues to invest in renewable energy generation in an effort to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

Costa Rica is a good benchmark for how innovation can be aimed at the wellbeing and sustainability of humans, our fellow Earthlings and the planet holistically. It’s time to revisit why we innovate and our metrics for measuring our progress towards that purpose.

Can you apply ‘Happy Innovation’?

Few of us are living in a small country with an abundance of natural resources, in peace with our neighbours (or competitive companies) like Costa Rica. Is it even possible to consider ‘Happy Innovation’ for your company, community, and country? The basic mindset we need to adopt is that we are responsible for our happiness and that innovation with/out technology is a great tool to achieve happier lives and businesses.

As Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen concluded in his latest book ‘The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for The World’s Happiest People’:

“Find out how you can have a positive impact on your world. On our world. We need more dreamers and doers. We need more creators of goodness, heroes and champions of change.

This is the outlook that each and every one of us needs and can feed into.

The way the world is going, some might call this false hope – but there has never anything false about hope.

And remember: there is no point being a pessimist – that shit never works anyway.”

It is long due to remove the price tag from our wellbeing and happiness. As conscious leaders, it is our responsibility to start designing according to a. new era of unlimited possibilities with technology, transparency and the increasing consciousness of humanity. As human works design, we help leaders to integrate human needs, values and business metrics with ‘Conscious Business Model Design and Innovation’, designing new value propositions, business and collaboration models which is the key to ‘Happy Innovation’. I’ll continue providing tips with case studies in our next issue.

Being innovative is in our human nature and since the first humans, we have been innovating. Our intrinsic goal while looking for new and better is to live happily and to pass on happiness to our children. Each one of us deserves happiness as a birthright. Innovate with happiness for more happiness and start with making yourself happy.

I salute all of you with the beautiful Rumi quote: “Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter. You are a mirror reflecting a noble face. This universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that.”

Please share your experiences, thoughts and questions, let’s learn together and make this a happy journey.

You can read the next article in the Happy Innovation series here.



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