Can Leaders Actually Create a Happier and More Productive New Year?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

Randy Wolken 2015It’s the Holiday Season and we are constantly wishing and hearing others wish us a “Happy Holiday.”  As we enter a New Year, we will tell colleagues, friends, and family to have a “Happy New Year.”  But, how much does that smiling and wishing truly impact the lives of others?  Recent research tells us that leaders, their attitudes, and their actions have quite a lot of influence on those around us.

Scientific research into the role of social networks and how they shape our behavior shows that how we act is literally contagious and will spread through a web of connections around us. In fact, our behaviors infect the people beyond our direct interactions – to colleagues, friends, and their families. By one estimate, a single person influences up to 1,000 people. This means that we as leaders can positively change the lives of thousands of people by the way we act and encourage others to act.

How is this possible? Our brains have mirror neurons which are specialized brain cells that can actually sense and then mimic the feelings, actions, and physical sensations of another person.  Just try not smiling when a child – or a colleague – smiles at you.  Pretty hard not too – isn’t it?  Even more remarkable is that our mirror neurons are often right next to our motor neurons in our brain so that we will go beyond mirroring feelings to mirroring actions. This accounts for why positive actions become contagious – just like positive feelings.  And, how fast does all this happen?  Our amygdala can read an emotion on the face of another within 33 milliseconds – priming us to feel the same way. As you can see, our ability to not only wish someone a “Happy New Year” but to help them actually have a happy new year lies within our ability.  Our attitudes and behaviors are transmitted in the blink of an eye and ripple through the lives of those around us – and to the lives of those around them – each and every day.

Luckily for us, positive emotions are a powerful tool in our effort to create high performance organizations.  We can start positive emotions with our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions – and encourage them in our teams and families – which people subconsciously mimic.  Just the trick of our own smiling can get our brain to become happy by starting the production of neurochemicals that actually do make us happier.

So, start the Happy New Year now!  Smile!  Genuinely wish someone a Happy and Blessed New Year.  Send a ripple effect through your team and family.  What better gift can we give our teams – and ourselves – during this festive time of the year?  And, given what we now know about the effect it has on others, throughout the year!  Have a Happy New Year!

Note:  For more information on how happiness precedes success and the science behind it, read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.