Action for Happiness – Part 1

Hello PPMA members and friends


Our guest blogger this week is Lisa Sibley, Employee Engagement Manager from Essex County Council and this is the first in a series of posts from her on finding happiness – we hope that you find them inspirational!

“Hi everyone, and thanks to Richard for inviting me to share some happiness with you!  I’ve been lucky enough to be selected for the Action for Happiness pilot 8 week course. Course sessions are every Monday evening in Bethnal Green and they kicked off  on 29 July so I’m now two weeks in. I have been a keen supporter of the Action for Happiness movement since it started and am pleased as punch – h a p p y – to be selected for this pilot and to help shape onward courses that the movement intends to roll out across the country.  The purpose of this course is to support Action for Happiness in creating a mass movement, to have conversations that matter with like-minded people and provide a platform for onward conversations that we (the lucky guinea pigs) can run in our own community – an exploration of how to lead a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.  My plan is to share insights with you week by week through these blog posts.

Week 1: What really matters in life? Lots of things are important in life. But how should we decide what really matters to us? And what should we prioritise as a society?  Our society has made great progress in material terms over the last fifty years. Yet modern life remains full of problems. As individuals, many of us are struggling with anxiety, depression and difficult relationships. And as a society, we have seen falling levels of trust and a weakening of family and community ties.  This session looked at our fundamental human aspiration for happiness and we explored whether happiness can be thought of as the ultimate good for society. We reflected on what really matters in our lives and explored whether a greater focus on happiness and wellbeing might be better for all of us.

So, what a great start to the course………….about 30 of us in the conference room at the Young Foundation offices in Bethnal Green (a real trip down memory lane for me as I lived in that area as a child and in fact the venue is just behind the Museum of Childhood). I love the start of something new and the anticipation that goes with that, meeting new faces and it’s true to say I came away with a really good feeling about the course which was reinforced in Week 2. Led by Mark Williamson who is the CEO of Action for Happiness, the sessions are a mix of lecture, interaction, meditation and thinking…..plenty of food for thought in fact. We listened to Lord Richard Layard (Head of Wellbeing Programme at London School of Economics) who provided the session’s Expert View explaining why he believes Happiness matters most – for each of us as individuals, but also as the defining feature of a good society and the starting point for a happier society is to care about the happiness of others and a society, place of work where you feel that people are on your side. As the evening evolved, other questions we considered as individuals and then discussed in pairs or as a group: What advice would your future self give you about what really matters? What good things have happened for you this week? What do you think matters most in life? On that latter one, my view is friendship, relationships, a sense of belonging to society and able to contribute, having a purpose. We talked about perceptions of others about us as delegates on this course and the embarrassment that some people felt about admitting they were doing a course on happiness and the interesting responses we’ve had from some – an example of which was a friend saying to me ‘oh, off to mix with the do gooders are you’. Sigh. I personally don’t feel embarassed but would be interested in your view about such a course and a movement for happiness?  Each week I will share with you a Happiness related quote, here it is: ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony’ Gandhi.

Week 2: What actually makes us happy? So, another insightful week, returned as eagerly as I started last week, with half an hour to spare before the session started I took a trip down memory lane and wandered to my primary school (I lived in Bethnal Green aged between 8 – 12) and it was still there. Mowlem Primary School, I have such happy memories particularly of my headteacher, Mr Waggit, a brilliant guy and as I recall, always happy – and one of those people I would put in my top 5 of people who have had a real positive influence on my life, as I stood peering through the school gates I pondered on how lucky I was at such a young age and how important our teachers are. Back to the course, we kicked off with One Moment Meditation – for those of you who don’t meditate or who have tried but struggle with it, I really recommend this video – I find the technique really calming.
This week’s expert view was from happiness guru Ed Diener, professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, he has spent over 25 years studying human happiness – what a job! Key points I noted from his speech based on all of his extensive research included:-
– Main keys to happiness are having social relationships, having work/activities that you love, staying active
– People who like learning new things are generally happier, they see the world as an interesting place – they tend to be more creative or pondering on this I would say not necessarily creative but at least curious
– People who have more green space around them tend to be happier
– Those who have a long commute to work find that this does not increase happiness, the commute detracts from the things that really matter in life
– Happiness is not a life without problems but generally people who are happiest know that problems don’t define you, you learn how to move forward
Ed also shared with us the countries that are most happy – he said Denmark and the reason for this is the high level of trust and care that the Danes have for each other. Closely followed by Latin American countries, again the culture is one where people are very supportive of each other and they really enjoy life through loads of celebrations. Ed’s final point was that universally, spirituality is key to happiness and caring about things (goals, values) that are bigger than yourself.  So, what is your calling?

As with last week, the pattern of each session is the Expert View followed by discussion, groupwork, reflection with a few more factoids….. here’s one for you:-

…Latest research is showing that people can and do become lastingly happier (or unhappier) during their adult lives. People who tend to pursue outward-looking (eg family or altruistic) life goals experience larger increases in happiness than those who tend to just pursue their own interest (eg career advancement or material gains). The best way to think about our happiness levels is that we have a ‘set range’, determined by our genetics and early life experiences. But that range is fairly broad, and the events, and actions we take, in our adult lives can have a significant impact on where in the range we are. Psychologists have estimated that 40% of the differences in happiness between people are actually down to our intentional activities – and therefore potentially within our control.
In one of the discussions I had we talked about the importance of self discipline (especially in relation to social media and detaching from the mobile device, email to actually be in the moment), gratitude – appreciation of what we have right here right now.  A good friend I went for a walk with last week was telling me about the FOMO phenomenon, have you heard of it? Fear of Missing Out …………. this is something I have seen my daughter experiencing fuelled by avidly reading Facebook….

So, finally, my gift of this week’s quote said in my naff NY accent but has to be done given who said it: ‘The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have’ Woody Allen

Enough already for this guest blog, sorry I’ve gone on but really, can you ever have enough happiness? Thanks for reading. Lisa”

We’d love to hear your thoughts, drop us a comment with your views on happiness.

Lisa Sibley, Employee Enagagement Manager, Essex County Council



By | 2017-07-30T12:23:18+01:00 August 7th, 2013|Categories: Guest Blogger, Lisa Sibley|4 Comments


  1. richard crouch 8th August 2013 at 9:36 am - Reply

    There are some powerful messages here and also ones which are much needed in this doom and gloom era we seem to be in. In somerset, we are taking happiness seriously and ensuring it becomes part of the ‘psychological contract’to help raise productivity. It will form part of the DNA than runs through our new people strategy linking to the engagement strand that our Leader has developed as part of the Council Vision. This piece of Lisa’s also links to what I inappropriately said in PM a few weeks ago when I used the farming analogy of ‘happy cows being productive cows’ to demonstrate how important employee wellbeing is to all of us who wish to drive up the economy. Cant wait for the next episode! Thanks Lisa

  2. Martin Rayson 8th August 2013 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post Lisa. John Lennon said “When I was 5 years old my mother told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy”. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
    We probably focus too much on defining what we want to achieve in life by the prestige, the accolades and the salary and think not enough about those things that actually make us happy.

  3. Joanna Ruffle 12th August 2013 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Brilliant way to start my Monday morning by reading this blog – thank you Lisa!

    All too often happiness in the workplace is associated with slightly unhinged folk ( normally in OD!) who dont really understand the seriousness of work and who are not good at delivering outcomes – TOTAL RUBBISH!
    Anyone who has read Jeanette Winterson’s auto biography – ‘Why be happy when you can be normal’ will recognise some of the behaviours and terrible consequences that this point of view can lead to.

    I am proud to be recognised in my own organisation as a ‘happy’ individual and if some think I am slightly unhinged then I can live with that!
    What I will not tolerate is any suggestion that my happiness means that I dont or cant deliver.

    We are all responsible for our own happiness – we can choose whether we allow others to make us unhappy. We can also choose to contribute to others happiness and as with most things in life, it is the little things that matter. Remembering someone’s birthday or special anniversary, remembering to ask about the kids exams results – these things matter and they dont cost anything!
    Try it today and see what difference you can make!

  4. Lisa Sibley 14th August 2013 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Thank you for all your comments, I really appreciate them. And so true, the best things in life are free. I’m a sucker for programmes like Undercover Boss, don’t know if you saw the recent one on Southwark Council and their CEO, Eleanor Kelly – had me welling up – totally reinforced the vital role public sector employees have in making vital differences to people’s lives through the human connections we make, reaching out to people – and also the vital role that leaders have in recognising the great work people do,making time to notice AND say thank you makes a difference.

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