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3 Reasons Leaders Should Listen to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’

smiley fruitUnless you’ve been stranded on a desert island, you’ve heard the Pharrell Williams pop hit, “Happy.” With its infectious, bouncy Motown 60s beat, it’s had everyone dancing, from Meryl Streep at the Oscars to Civil Rights activist Rep John Lewis, D-Ga. You can even go into a sort of happiness stupor watching a 24-hour “Happy” music video version or clap along to a canine version.

So what does a perky ditty have to do with leading wellbeing?

1. Never ignore something that seems to capture the spirit of the times.
We’ve all read about millennials who would choose joy over paycheck, but they aren’t alone in the desire for happiness and balance. It’s almost the zeitgeist of the decade, with surveys showing that 62% of respondents consider maintaining a balanced sense of wellbeing as a status symbol, outranking professional accomplishment (47%) and a healthy relationship (48%). In fact, with 64% of global respondents reporting that their stress levels have increased, 39% would give up alcohol and almost a quarter of global respondents and nearly half of U.S. respondents would give up sex to improve their overall wellbeing.

The rise in the importance of “happiness” speaks directly to the growing need for wellbeing at work. As insights from the research of management professors Spreitzer and Porath show: “Happy employees produce more than unhappy ones over the long term. They routinely show up at work, they’re less likely to quit, they go above and beyond the call of duty, and they attract people who are just as committed to the job. Moreover, they’re not sprinters; they’re more like marathon runners, in it for the long haul.” Happy employees are an essential for sustained high performance and a culture of optimism, collaboration, and wellbeing.

How happy are you and your colleagues? Take the Pemberton Happiness Index to find out>

2. “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof”
People want the freedom to bring their authentic and best selves to a job—and a life—where they can truly contribute. Pharrell’s lyric, “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof” resonates with those desires. Pharrell has said that the line is “metaphorical for one’s space without limit.”

Wellbeing leaders would be wise to figure out how to give employees “space without limit” in a way that serves both the company and the individual. One senior executive we work with speaks to the heart of that kind of freedom: “People’s biggest motivations are not monetary or power-based. I think it’s their ability to do something and to be given enough autonomy to do it in the way they find best, and to be able to achieve results. That’s relevant to the pursuit of wellbeing too.”

3. Happiness is even driving public policy
When policy makers start talking about happiness being more important that gross domestic product (GDP, which is the monetary value of the goods and services we produce), it behooves wellbeing leaders to sit up and take notice. (And pat themselves on the back for believing this all along.) At the same time, in a report created by the Legatum Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy organization, wellbeing is suggested as the overall measure of prosperity of a country’s citizens.

This larger, widespread, and very public conversation about happiness and wellbeing is paralleled in business life, too. Wellbeing leaders already realize that financial wealth, innovation, market share, and the like are useful but impoverished measures to use when determining true success. These leaders are charging ahead to radically redefine the current yardstick of business performance to account for advancements in wellbeing. It’s a work in progress for sure, but it’s also gaining traction, showing up in diverse ways, such as Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive, (by the way, she says it’s time to abandon the dangerous assumption that overwork and burnout are the only path to success) and Wisdom 2.0 Business events, where Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has said that topics such as “mindfulness in business and society are some of the most critical of our time.”

I guess Pharrell is right when he sings: “Happiness is the truth.”

• Building a Culture of Wellbeing? 7 Must-Know Leadership Roles
• Are You Walking the Wellbeing Talk?
Why the Way We’re Thinking About Wellbeing May be All Wrong

 Photo Credit: Libraryman, January 2003

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Alexander Caillet says:


    Loved your article. My partners and I are publishing some extensive research on the impact of state of mind on leadership. May I ask you where you obtained your data under point #1 above. I would like to include it in the page I am writing up on you.

    Alexander Caillet

  • Alexander Caillet says:

    Also 🙂

    From which industry does the Senior Executive hail under point #2 above? Title? Function?

    And …

    Which policy makers under point #3 above?