Editor’s Note: Thought leader Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consultancy, celebrating its 20th anniversary serving clients.  Grace writes a regular column for WRAL TechWire on Happiness & Leadership. Savvy’s core offerings are conducting strategic business reviews for companies at a critical juncture and coaching CEOs and their leadership teams. 


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – What a gift it was to be invited to the inaugural Leadership & Happiness Symposium hosted by author and Harvard Business School Professor Arthur Brooks.  We were treated to conversations with the very top research leaders in the science of happiness including Marty Seligman, Robert Waldinger, Laurie Santos, and Sonya Lyubomirsky.

Professor Arthur Brooks teaching at inaugural symposium (Photo credit: Harvard Kennedy School)

 A Happiness Lab in a Public Policy School

Brooks hosted us at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, where he holds a joint appointment with the business school and leads The Leadership and Happiness Laboratory. You may be thinking, why is a happiness laboratory housed in a public policy school?

He stated their Value Proposition: Leaders in all walks of life will be more effective if they see themselves as “happiness teachers.”

 To that end, the Laboratory’s mission is to share the science of happiness with leaders in academia, government, and business, and empower them to embed this knowledge in their work.

Grace Ueng

The Inaugural Pilgrimage

I was thrilled to have a seat at the table for the start of this journey.

Dr. Laurie Santos, who teaches the most popular course in Yale’s history, on Happiness, and creator of Coursera’s The Science of Well-Being, with over 4 million enrollees, made one of my favorite statements of the symposium.  She said that since many people think of happiness mistakenly as a feeling, and discount its study as a field of science, we should rename the subject. Instead of Happiness, say instead, Human Performance!

Yale Professor Laurie Santos (Photo credit: Grace Ueng)

Why is that? Not many people would argue that declining levels of happiness and mental well-being on college campuses resulting in higher suicides is troubling.

  • 56% of college students say they feel that things are hopeless
  • 66% of college students say they experience “overwhelming anxiety”
  • 66% of college students report feeling very lonely
  • 87% of college students feel “overwhelmed” by all they have to do
  • 13% of college students have seriously considered suicide in the last year

Source: National College Health Assessment (2019 – pre COVID)

Happiness or Human Performance?

Then why is investing in well-being and human flourishing viewed as fluffy in the workplace, that people should just be tough and iron fisted? Positive psychologists have been sharing research data over the years to prove otherwise.

Shawn Achor shares in The Happiness Advantage, our brains are hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or neutral, but when they are positive:

  • Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile barrier and showed what was humanly possible. Once others’ brains believed what was once thought impossible, it broke open the floodgates for others to follow.
  • Doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnosis 19% faster.
  • Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%.
  • Coors Brewing reported a $6.15 return in profitability for every $1 spent on its corporate fitness program.
  • Toyota saw an instant jump in productivity at its North American Parts Center when it instituted strength-based training for employees.
  • On the other hand, unhappy employees take more sick days, an average 1.25 more days/month of 15 extra sick days a year.

Hard Data: Wellbeing drives Profitability

Marty Seligman, now 80 years old, is recognized as the father and co-founder of the field of positive psychology, so we were all in awe of his presence at the symposium.  He could hardly contain his excitement in sharing research out of Oxford just three weeks earlier. This longitudinal study following 1600 American companies proved that higher levels of well-being predicted higher levels of profitability, ROA, company valuations, and stock performance.

Employees reacted to these phrases which make up the “Work Wellbeing Score” (1) I am happy at work most of the time. (2) My work has a clear sense of purpose. (3) Overall, I am completely satisfied with my job. (4) I feel stressed at work most of the time.

These latest findings shed strong light on organizational research’s age old question regarding the relationship between wellbeing and performance. Company leaders aiming for financial success in today’s world of work would be wise to take note.

PRISM | Results from Resilience

Seligman along with Gabriella Rosen Kellerman MD, recently published Tomorrowmind, which showcases PRISM as the 5 meta skills for leaders in the 21st century: Prospection, Resilience, Innovation, Social Connection, and Mattering.  Kellerman shared compelling data on the importance of Resilience which is driven by emotional regulation, optimism, cognitive agility, self-compassion, and self-efficacy.  Her data show”

Resilient individuals:

  • 22% more creative
  • 16% more time spent on innovation
  • 20% more novelty in their ideas
  • 18% higher team creativity

Resilient team leaders:

  • 52% lower direct report burnout
  • 31% higher team productivity
  • 78% higher direct report commitment

Resilient Organizations:

  • 42% higher annual ROA
  • 2x higher YoY revenue growth
  • 7x higher annual ROE

What makes a good life… at work?

What a pleasure to be with Robert Waldinger live. It was a joy to discover that his calm demeanor and kind personality are entirely real. His Ted talk, “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”  has been viewed by a whopping 45 million people.   After reading his book The Good Life, I have shared his findings from the 75 year old Harvard Study of Adult Development in all of my HappinessWorks programs:

“Human connection is our superpower.  Good relationships help us get through life’s inevitable challenges, and they keep us happier and healthier.”

 How does this translate to the workplace?  He shared Gallup data showing the importance of developing relationships at work:

I have also written Do you have a best friend at work? on the importance of having a friend you can trust in the workplace.

7 Essential Symposium Take-Aways

Bryce Fuemmeler and Reece Brown, the talented team working closely with Brooks, captured seven themes beautifully:

  1. Hope matters.
  2. Your grandma was right.
  3. Study the science, see the results.
  4. Your job serves others – no matter what you do.
  5. Behind profitable firms are happy employees.
  6. Happiness is love.
  7. We’re on a pilgrimage. Join us.

I highly encourage you to take a read of their explanations behind each take-away.

When I spoke to Arthur about my journey and his last year (see interview), he said he would be convening teachers of happiness on the campus of Harvard to help them learn best practices of teaching well-being.

I am grateful to Arthur, Bryce, Reece for including me, and for the kindness and infinite wisdom of all the happiness researchers presenting. And to my fellow happiness journeyers on this pilgrimage with me, who made this inaugural symposium all the more  informative and inspiring.

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003. Specialties are strategic reviews for companies wanting to reach the next level and  conducting 360s for leaders to uncover their blind spots. A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain, then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School. Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact-focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity. Contact us if you are facing a challenge and would like a thinking partner to work alongside you to discover new possibilities.


HappinessWorks™ is one of their key workshops, to promote employee well-being and engagement. The next HappinessWorks cohort will begin this fall.  Join our Happiness and Leadership community to be notified of the workshop dates and registration details.