By Bright Dickson

“The best way you can achieve success and happiness is to wake up every day focusing on how to make life better for those you touch.” — Kelly S. King

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Last year, BB&T Chairman and CEO Kelly King spent the bulk of his annual addresses to associates talking about the science and skill of happiness. Why would the CEO of one of the largest banks in the country care so much about happiness? Numerous studies show happier employees are more productive employees, and optimistic thinkers are happier, healthier and higher performers than pessimistic thinkers. So we know optimism and happiness are good for business. Since we can’t just tell people to be happier right now, how does happiness work?

Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness

Although philosophers, scholars and leaders have been thinking and talking about happiness for millennia, it was only in the past 20 years that psychologists created a field of study around happiness and well-being – positive psychology. Positive psychology is the study of what makes life worth living – strong relationships, goal achievement, resilience, peak experiences, gratitude, character strengths, engaging and fulfilling work, and on and on. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., a researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied human behavior for more than 50 years and is known as the “father of positive psychology”.

PERMA is Seligman’s five-element model of human flourishing, happiness and well-being. According to the PERMA model, people need five core elements to develop and maintain happiness and well-being over the course of a lifetime. Each of these elements is pursued for its own sake and can be measured independently of the other elements. Each element is teachable and learnable through a variety of positive interventions – targeted, measurable practices that aim to increase happiness and well-being.

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Positive Emotion
Positive emotions include joy, cheerfulness, calmness, serenity, love, awe, gratitude and more. Research shows cheerfulness is 50 percent heritable, so it is helpful to know that positive emotion is more than just a happy mood. Optimism generally falls under the umbrella of positive emotion but also impacts and is impacted by the other four elements.

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Engagement is the experience of being completely absorbed by an activity – also known as flow. Flow is most likely to occur when one’s ability perfectly meets the given challenge. People are more likely to experience flow when actively using their strengths.

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Chris Peterson, Ph.D., a founding researcher within positive psychology, once described positive psychology very simply – “other people matter.” Human beings are hive creatures like ants and bees – we are happiest and most productive when we have strong relationships with others.

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Meaning is generally described as a defined sense of purpose and a general feeling of being a part of something bigger than oneself. Meaning is particularly positively impacted by service to others.

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Accomplishment includes the achievement of set goals, skill mastery and the long-term pursuit of desired outcomes.

Happiness! at BB&T

BB&T is dedicated to inspiring, developing and supporting the happiest associates in the world. Under the executive sponsorship of Dontá Wilson, chief client experience officer, a team of thought leaders and subject matter experts has spent much of 2017 investigating and evaluating happiness at BB&T.

The result of that work is Happiness! at BB&T, an enterprise-wide effort to bring the science and skills of positive psychology to every BB&T associate, giving them new and effective tools to pursue happiness in their personal and professional lives. Pilots begin in the fall, and content for organizations, teams and individual associates will roll out over the course of 2018 and beyond.

To aid our team in understanding the commonalities and nuances of the associate experience, we enlisted a Happiness Council – a group of trusted, high-performing, social-emotion leaders from throughout the enterprise. Members of the Happiness Council will serve as advisors on associate happiness as well as ambassadors for the mission of Happiness! at BB&T in their own workplaces.

We plan to offer positive psychology programming to our clients soon. So, stay tuned to The BB&T Leadership Institute for more information on inspiring, developing and supporting happiness in your organization.

So why would a bank care so much about happiness? Maybe the better question is – why not?

About the Author

Bright Dickson, MAPP

Bright Dickson, MAPP

Assistant Vice President Consultant

As a consultant with The BB&T Leadership Institute, Bright Dickson facilitates leadership and organizational development programs. Dickson earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University and a master’s of applied positive psychology degree from The University of Pennsylvania.