Even though I don’t always agree with him, I’m a big fan of Dennis Prager.
For those who aren’t familiar with his work, Prager is a conservative radio talk show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He’s also an observant Jew, and his faith is the cornerstone — intellectually and spiritually — for nearly every idea he holds.
One of Prager’s core concepts has had a huge influence over my own life philosophy, especially as I’ve gotten older. His view is that happiness is a moral obligation rather than a selfish pursuit. While I resisted the idea at first, today I deeply embrace it. Here is an excerpt from one of his many columns that explains the thought:
“Happiness — or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one’s unhappiness on others — is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait. …
“Consider the effects of an unhappy parent on a child. Ask people raised by an unhappy parent if that unhappiness hurt them. Consider the effects of an unhappy spouse on a marriage. Consider the effects of unhappy children on their parents, …[or] the effects of a brooding co-worker on your and your fellow workers’ morale — not to mention the huge difference between working for a happy or a moody employer.
“We should regard bad moods as we do offensive body odor. Just as we shower each day so as not to inflict our body odors on others, so we should monitor our bad moods so as not to inflict them on others. …
“The flip side of the damage unhappy people do when they subject others to their unhappiness is the good that people do when they are, or at least act, happy. Just think of how much more you want to help people when you are in a particularly happy mood and you realize how much more good the happy are likely to do. …
“The pursuit of happiness is noble. It benefits everyone around the individual pursuing it, and it benefits humanity. And that is why happiness is a moral obligation.”
Nowhere do I think this idea is more important than in business. We spend more time at work than we do with our own families, and acting unhappy creates a culture of dissatisfaction that spreads to every employee. It can be a huge challenge to remain upbeat in the face of lost sales, incompetent colleagues or unethical competitors, but doing so gives hope and optimism to those around us. In addition, there’s a lot to be said for “behaving as if.” I have found that if I’m in a bad mood and force myself to act happy, in a little while I actually start to feel better. Conversely, once I start complaining, it’s almost impossible to stop, and expressing that negativity rarely ever makes me feel any better.
At the end of the day, the best solution to a morale problem at the workplace may not lie in complicated employee surveys or expensive consultants. It may be as simple as a smile.