Key Takeaways

  • Happiness and well-being at work are important, and leaders must take their own well-being seriously to create positive work environments.
  • Mindfulness and self-compassion are important for shifting negative mindsets, and leaders should practice mindfulness to be present at the moment.
  • Sleeping seven to eight hours per night is crucial for productivity and creativity, and spending time in nature can increase happiness.
  • Regular meditation can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression, and practicing mindfulness throughout the day can help you stay present and connected with others.
  • Creating a positive work environment can drive productivity, creativity, engagement, and loyalty, and leaders play a significant role in managing emotions and creating a healthy work culture.
  • Prioritizing relationships over results and spreading positive emotions can drive productivity, and identifying and utilizing strengths can lead to success at work.

Executive Summary

Ladies and gentlemen welcome back to another episode of the Leader Show with Lou Carter. Our guest today is
Tia Graham, who is the Certified Chief Happiness Officer and author of the book Be A Happy Leader

Tia talks about the importance of happiness at work and how leaders can create a positive environment for their employees. She also shares her insights on the benefits of mindfulness, self-compassion, and connecting with others, as well as the role of autonomy, trust, and collaboration in creating a happy workplace. 

Additionally, Tia identifies the importance of utilizing one’s strengths and the need for breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout. So, without any further delay, let’s jump right in!

Leaders Should Take Their Own Well-Being and Happiness Seriously To Create A Positive Work Environment

Lou starts the conversation by expressing his interest in understanding the effects of happiness at work and how leaders can cultivate a positive mindset. In response, Tia highlights the growing trend of happiness and work coming together and how leaders need to take their own well-being and happiness seriously in order to create positive work climates. 

According to her, it’s not about being positive all the time but rather being more positive than negative. Leaders can create a positive ripple effect on their teams by focusing on their own well-being and bringing that energy to the workplace.

A Leader Should Be Able To Be Present In The Moment By Mediating And Practicing Mindfulness 

When Lou asks her what leaders can do to shift their mindset when they have a bad day or encounter negative experiences, Tia suggests that the first step is to recognize the negative headspace and be present in the moment. She emphasizes the importance of choice and mindfulness in deciding how to show up as a leader. And then recommends quick activities such as meditation, exercise, or going outside for fresh air to improve one’s mood and be mindful. She also advises leaders to be intentional about the content they consume, such as listening to uplifting podcasts or music, rather than just consuming negative news. 

Seven To Eight Hours Of Sleep Is Crucial For Productivity And Creativity

Moving on, the speakers discuss the importance of sleep. Tia notes that many people in Western cultures are sleep-deprived and that getting a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep per night is crucial for productivity and creativity. 

Lou adds that there are four stages of sleep, and getting enough deep REM sleep is important for processing emotions. Tia agrees and mentions that humans tend to overestimate their cognitive ability when they are sleep deprived, but in reality, their performance is negatively affected.

After that, both speakers discuss the significant benefits of exercising and spending time in nature. Tia suggests that going outside allows us to decompress stress, which can lead to increased happiness. On that note, she encourages people to go outside at least once a day, even if it’s just for a short walk or to read a book.

People Should Practice Mindfulness Throughout The Day

Lou firmly believes that taking care of oneself and having a healthy relationship with others is important for putting one’s head in the right place.

Tia notes the benefits of regular meditation practice, such as decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression, and encourages spending 10 minutes in quiet reflection or using apps like Calm or Headspace. She also emphasizes the importance of mindfulness throughout the day to stay present and connected with others. 

A Leader Should Be Able To Create A Positive Environment To Drive Productivity

Moving on, Lou and Tia discuss the importance of creating a positive environment in the workplace and how it can drive productivity, creativity, engagement, and loyalty. They highlight the role of leaders in managing the emotions of their team members and creating a healthy work culture. 

On that note, Lou references the show “Ted Lasso” as an example of a positive environment created by a leader who is hyper-honest about his positivity, and they both express the hope that more shows like it will be produced.

Leaders Must Prioritize Relationships Over Results 

Next, Tia discusses the importance of connecting with others and self-love and how being present in our relationships can benefit our physical health. She also emphasizes the significance of relationships over results in leadership and the importance of spreading positive emotions to drive productivity. 

Tia also shares her experience studying in Denmark to become a Chief Happiness Officer and highlights the value of knowing and sharing strengths to succeed at work. Finally, she emphasizes the importance of breaks and collaboration for knowledge workers and encouraging connections and friendships in the workplace.

Tia and Lou discuss a lot more on this episode of The Leader Show. Share your thoughts with us at [email protected]

Thank you for listening.


Louis Carter : Hey, we're here today with Tia Graham. Well, this is gonna be fun because Tia is the Chief Happiness Officer. She is now, I've dubbed her this. She is the Happiness Guru. We have the Happiness Guru, Tia Graham, with us today. Talk about her book, The Happy Leader, which is out on Amazon. You check it out. And she’s gonna talk to us all about happiness and how we can become more happy, the importance of happiness at work.

Tia, welcome to the Newsweek Leader Show.

Tia Graham : Thank you. I'm very excited to be here with you.

LC : I really was, I was very excited about this in particular because I wanted to know the effects of happiness at work and being a happy leader. And, you know, what it takes not just to, you know, perhaps get in the role of happy, right? but also, you know, what leaders need to do to shift to that mindset. Tell me more.

Learning How To Be More Positive Than Negative [1:30]

TG : Yes. So, you know, for a very long time, work, and, still a lot of places like this, you don't necessarily think of work and happiness. You might think of happiness more when you're on vacation in Florida, where you live, or on the weekends, but there is a huge shift happening where work and happiness are coming together.

And so for leaders, what this means is really taking their, your own wellbeing and happiness seriously. Both while you're working and in your personal life, And what is incredible is that all of the research coming from neuroscience as well as positive psychology, organizational psychology, et cetera, we not know what makes us happy and what can help us to increase our wellbeing.

And so it's, you know, the first step is you have to start with you, and take care of yourself, whether it be your physical health, your relationships, your emotional wellbeing, you know, your intellectual wellbeing, learning and growing, and so on. And there's all of this research that supports it. And then it's about bringing that energy, you know?

And it's not about being positive all the time. No one is, and even happy leaders are not. But it's about being more positive than negative or pessimistic at work, right? It's about creating positive work climates, and there's so much that leaders can do to create a positive ripple effect to their employees, into their teams.

LC : Let's go there. Right? You know what they can do. That's cause a lot of people wanna know that. What can I do? You know? And the other thing, I believe I know is important to people is you had a bad day. You've gone to the, you know, shopping place market, and people are angry, upset at you. You didn't take the stop sign, right? You're getting, people are beeping at you, right? Or there's someone rude to you perhaps, and in customer service somewhere. And if things are just a terrible day, how do you shift? And we know it's important too. How do you do it?

Being Intentional About The Content We Consume [3:33]

TG : Yeah, so, right. Something could happen in the morning with your spouse, your kids, like you said, when you're driving to work and you all of a sudden are in a negative headspace that you're about to go be, you know, leading a team. So, the first step is to recognize that you're in that headspace, you know, of being present.

That's why having a mindfulness practice is so important to notice. Okay, I'm feeling really angry and frustrated right now. And to just honor that feeling. And then it's really about choice. So much of my messaging is about choosing, you know, how do you want to show up and how do you want to be as a leader?

And if you haven't left the house yet, because a lot of people ask me, "I wake up and I'm just in a bad mood. What do I do? I haven't even started work, and I haven't even started my day." There's a lot of quick activities you can do.

So, one could be, you know, a 5 or 10 minute meditation; you can do a quick, sometimes I just do a seven-minute workout. You know, I'm also a busy, you know, as we say, young kids and working very, very quick exercise. I tell leaders to get outside in the morning, just walk outside, even if it's for a few minutes.

And, you know, get that fresh air on your face. And then there is information and content coming at us because of our smartphones, because of just 24/7 news. So, I teach leaders to be very cognizant and intentional about the content they're consuming.

So, on your way to work, you could listen to news the whole way, or you might choose to listen to a uplifting, inspirational podcast about, you know, what an incredible business leader is doing. You might choose to read a little, you know, a chapter of a book, listen to music, etcetera. So, to be very intentional about the content that you're consuming as well.

LC : Do you mean read while you're driving?

TG : No, no audio. Okay. Of course, you can listen to be a happy leader.

LC : So yeah, I do that. Sometimes it's hard to see in front of you. So, anyhow, yeah, that's my good humor for the day. This, I'm glad there's no audience, cuz I really would wonder if this thing's on. So the thing is, I'm you know, you could also listen to music. There's musicology, right? Musicology is important. It's how we translate our into our emotions, you know, our favorite music. Is that a part of it? Is musicology a part of this?

The Importance Of Sleep And Its Effect On Productivity [5:49]

TG : Yeah, no,  absolutely. Music has, is there's a lot of great research behind music, especially music that you like that can shift your mood. And, you know, one thing that I fail to mention, which is extremely important, is sleep. You know, the majority of people today in western cultures are sleep-deprived. And we should be getting a minimum of seven hours more like eight a night.

And so, even though you feel too busy or you could just answer those few more emails, your brain operates very differently when you're positive than if you're feeling negative. And so that's a lot of what I teach is the science that connects the happiness in your productivity, creativity, etc.

LC : I having so many people say to me, they say, you know, I haven't had enough sleep. And I say, you realize you haven't gone through the four stages. You have to go through them. The fourth stages of sleep, there's four of them. You have to have at least two or three of those a night. Isn't that right? That seven hours or so means you need three.

TG : Yes. Yes. And you need to make sure, yeah, if you don't get enough sleep, then you don't get that REM deep sleep, which is where you process your emotions from the day. So yeah. It's really, really valuable.

LC : Yeah. And there's so much brain activity that happens in that third and fourth sleep level of REM that we don't realize that most of the day is being kind of washed, if you will. Properly compartmentalized in a way that we sometimes can't even do when reflect with ourselves or others.

TG : Yeah, absolutely. And the neuroscientists that I studied with in the sleep module, it was very interesting. She said that humans overestimate their cognitive ability when they're sleep deprived. So we think that we're operating more successfully than we actually are. But when you get, you know, tested in your sleep deprived you're actually not doing that well. So definitely sleep.

LC : It's true. We end up retraining ourselves to think that we're okay, but we're not. and you can't catch up on it. It's something you have to do frequently and consistently. So sleep is important. Exercise, that whole idea about getting outside, people think we have to. A lot of people say, as long as I exercise inside, I'm fine. Tell me more about the physiology around that. How, why, and going outside is so important.

Importance Of Exercise And Going Outside [8:07]

TG : Yes. So there is so much research on the benefits of nature, and I know a lot of your listeners live in big cities, and I've lived in big cities too, where it's not just outside your door, but whether you are going, you know, the difference of going for a run on a treadmill versus going for a run outside, the benefits to your wellbeing of going outside are significantly higher.

And especially when we have a lot of stress and we might be feeling overwhelmed, might be feeling burnt out, and just, you know, feeling like there's too much to do, taking 10 or 15 minutes and going outside, even if you're sitting to read a book, even if you're eating your lunch outside, or ideally if you can go for a walk, it instantly allows us to decompress and process similar to sleep, actually.

And there's so much research on spending time in nature and our happiness. And so yeah, there's just numerous benefits. So I encourage people to get outside at least once a day, you know, if you can play with your kid or just go outside on your own. But to really try and do that every day.

LC : And you had talked about some of the elements around relationship with yourself, and, you know, people may say, "Oh, it's so fluffy; it's not actually, it's putting your head in the right place. [Laughs] You know, it's not fluffy at all. And so, let's go there. So it's the relationship with yourself and in a lot of it you said is meditation. What is it, what would it be like what would someone need to do? What does a meditation look like for oneself to become well, happy?

Meditating And Taking Care Of Yourself To Be Happy [9:43]

TG : Yeah. So I'll answer both questions. So, in terms of meditation, again, there is so much research on, if you have a regular meditation practice, it actually decreases the gray matter in our brain, you know, which, and it decreases stress, anxiety, depression, you name it. So, ideally what I encourage my clients to do is when they wake up to spend 10 minutes meditating, and you could do it just by sitting quietly, or you can use an app like Calm or Headspace, Inside Timer, etcetera, and just getting quiet and noticing your thoughts.

And there's all different types, whether it be breathing meditation or body scan or, and so on. But the more that we do that, the more that we notice our thoughts and when our brain is distracted throughout our day. And there's also informal mindfulness where, you know, you might be sitting down to eat dinner with your family and you're noticing that your brain is thinking about the meeting that you have tomorrow, yet your child is talking at the dinner table.

So with having a mindfulness practice, you're gonna tune in and go, "Oh, I'm actually thinking about the meeting. I'm gonna tune back into what's happening at my family dinner table. So you're more present, and the more present we are, the happier we are. So really, really valuable.

And then the second part about having a healthy relationship with yourself. So the number one predictor of happiness, and there's a great Harvard study about this and many others, but the number one predictor of happiness is having healthy, connected relationships. So whether that be your spouse, friends and family, you know, coworkers, but connected relationships are, you know, cross culture, cross demographics, the number one predictor of happiness.

And so the number one relationship that we have is the relationship we have with ourselves. So taking care of your mind, taking care of your body, practicing things like self-compassion as an example, are proven to increase your wellbeing and then also benefit the relationships you have outside of yourself. But everything is interconnected. So, I always tell people, you need to start there.

LC : There's so much information you gave us that is amazing in terms of, you know, I said the two big things that popped out for me is connection with others, is how I reflect on, it is actually a meditative practice. And in order to have those really good connections, you have to have that self-love verse, if you may, if you'll get better at those connections.

So, tell me about the connection first. It actually helps our health to be mindful and present with others.

Understanding How To Make Your Relationships Richer [12:23]

TG : Yes, absolutely. So I learned, I studied with Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, who taught positive psychology at Harvard for many years before leaving. And I learned from him how pervasive our dualistic mindset is in the West, where, you know, if we're having chronic lower back pain, we will go maybe see a chiropractor. And if we're feeling or you know, you might do other things to try and go help your physical back.

And if we are feeling really anxious or depressed, we might seek therapy. Yet, you know, really everything is interconnected. Nothing is separate. And so when we are present in the question that you asked, when we're present with our friends and with our family, the physiology benefits too; you know, our, you'll have more oxytocin, you'll have a decrease in cortisol, your heart will be healthier.

And people who are optimistic and who have healthy relationships, the research shows that they're not only healthier but they live longer as well. And so it's in our, I really think, you know, and in our modern life with these all the time with technology all the time, it is more difficult to be present and to just focus.

But you know, I tell people, put your phones in another room. You know, if you're doing that board game with your kid or if you're having a meeting with one of your direct reports, you know, don't have your email open. Just try and be there with that other human being so that you can be present, and then their relationship will be richer, whether it's personal or on your team.

LC : Because you're talking about self-compassion there too. Because if you truly have compassion for yourself and you truly respect yourself, you're going to respect your time.

TG : Yes, yes.

LC : And your time with others, right?

TG : Yes absolutely.

LC : You have all these people texting you and taking up your time, and kind of invading you, right? And what's the use? You can't give time to that social connection. Emotional connection that actually gives you all these wonderful chemicals after you've slept, taken a walk outside, meditated to be able to enable yourself really to become happier.

Preferring Relationships To Results [14:37]

TG : Yes, absolutely. And you know, of course, there's been this huge reset over the past two and a half years, and people are looking at work differently and looking at what they wanna do differently. And the number one strategy, philosophy that leaders need to have is relationships over results. Like, if you are investing in relationships with people truly getting to know them, investing in their professional growth, the results will follow. The numbers will follow. And so taking that time to really be present for people will definitely pay dividends, you know, on the business side as well.

LC : And then, you know, there is strategy, right? I mean, we could connect to the strategy; we're better able to connect to the strategy when we're happier, when we enable happiness inside insider companies. And it's showtime, right? It's showtime; it's not really acceptable not to be ready. You have to always be ready, and, you know, you have the meditation, yet you get on that stage, or you're in even a meeting, a Zoom meeting, or you're with someone. It's showtime; you're on; you're a leader. You have to keep this thing going.

Spreading Positive Emotions To Drive Productivity [15:51]

TG : Yes, and you have to motivate and inspire people. There's a lot of options out there for people. And so, you know, over the phone, over text, over Zoom, Microsoft teams in person, the leaders' emotions are contagious. Just like a virus, actually. Like, you don't come into that, the pandemic, how you feel; you know, we have mirror neurons in our brain, and it's transferred person to person.

And so people wanna work for people that make them feel good. You know, I teach people how to increase those positive emotions while they're working because that's what drives productivity and creativity and engagement and loyalty, etc. You know, emotions are what drive behavior. And so I tell leaders whether you like it or not, you're in charge of people's emotions at work in a lot of ways.

LC : Like, who's in charge here? It's you. You're in charge. You create this environment that, well, if you want a really horrid environment, you can act that way. Ted, I don’t know if you know Ted Lasso. Do you know Ted Lasso?

TG : Oh my gosh, yes. Of course.

LC : So I love Ted Lasso because he creates that wonderful environment, right?

TG : Huge fan. Yes. Everyone should watch that show.

LC : So what Ted has is Tasso Led. So Tasso Led is his antithesis. And he brings him out when he wants others to basically come together toward a common goal, right? And to see the dual duality, like you said, of what happens when you're not happy and you're angry. And you're yelling at people, and they recede and they get upset. Right. And so it brings people together, yet they want that Ted back, right? They yearn for that Ted, and they see the difference between Ted Lasso and Led Tasso. Yes. And so there's a tremendous amount of difference between those two. And Ted creates this awesome environment where people feel understood, and he's hyper honest about his positivity.

TG : Mm-Hmm. Yeah. There's so much, you know, negative information if you're watching the news all the time. And he, it's such a feel good. I hope the streaming channels make more shows like that because, yeah. It's a great show just about that positive human spirit and what it could do to a team. Absolutely.

LC : Yes, stay curious, as he said, because you never know what somebody is capable of doing. You've no idea. You look at people as one thing, and in reality they could be doing incredible things, or they could have an amazing set of competencies and you may not see it at all.

Sharing Happiness And Strengths To Succeed And Grow [18:35]

TG : Yeah. Oh, I'm so glad you brought that up. There's tremendous research around strength space leadership. So, of course, there's very famous book, like Clifton Strengths or Discover Your Strengths via Character Strengths. There's all these tools out there, but when people know their strengths at work and when the leader knows everyone's strengths, and then everyone gets to use what they're really good at.

I mean, the talk about the results [laughs] just you know, grow tremendously. So for anyone listening that doesn't know everyone's strengths, I would definitely do that right away.

LC : To add to that, know your strengths and share to them. People may not know it unless you're playing darts with somebody and [Laughs], and you don't want that other person how good you are at darts, and then you share it only in the end when they know, when you know, when the bets are high. This is more about sharing who you are so you can succeed at work for yourself and others.

TG : Yes. Yes. Absolutely. And you know, I went over and studied in Denmark to become a Chief Happiness Officer, and I specifically wanted to go to Scandinavia because they are significantly happier while working than people in North America. If I wanted to go over and go, "Okay, what are these CEOs doing? What's happening in Scandinavia?" And it really showed me what's possible.

You know, 50% of Danes say that they're really happy while they're working. And you know, yes, there's cultural differences. It's a smaller country, you know, there are differences in half the country's run, of course. But a lot of it is just the culture of work. And, you know, a couple examples are they give a lot of autonomy.

You know, I always say fast-tracked unhappiness at work is micromanagement. There's a lot of autonomy, there's a lot of trust. And several of the CEOs said, when we're gonna go make a big decision, we actually go to the frontline.

We go to the people. They don't really look at it as, you know, bottom of the organization, but the people interacting with guests, the people, that's who we go talk to whenever we're thinking of making a big change as opposed to this, you know, "Well, here's the change and it gets communicated down," which I thought was really, really cool. And they just try to have flattened structures where it's less of a, you know, less of this tall triangle that goes down. And they also really, really encourage time with friends and family after work. So, you know, they're saying, you know, it's very cold. They're for the most of years, so Right. Are you gonna go ice skating?

Are you gonna go? And the leaders are doing that too, where it's not just on weekends; you socialize, people are socializing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday after work too, which is another just great idea that I try to tell people.

LC : What better advice than to go to the people who actually do the work? <Laugh> Are you gonna ask about and improve things go to the front lines? How are you gonna help people to see each other more, find out when they go out? Yeah. You know, all these incredible answers are within if we just ask the right questions.

Understanding How Having Fun While Working Can Help People Flourish [21:32]

TG : Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. And two, I think just the belief that while you're working, whether you're working from home or you're working in an office or you're working, you know, in a hotel, wherever you're working, is that work can be a place where you are having or feeling joy, excitement, connectedness, you're having fun, you know, there's amusement. And yes, you also, there might be stress, there might be frustration, there might be anger sometimes when you know someone does something.

But just believing that work can be a really, really great environment where people can flourish. And that this one Chief Wellbeing Officer said it really beautifully is that when people are finished working, they feel as energized as they did when they started their day. They're not depleted in like giving their crumbs to their family or, you know, to themself that they actually have a lot of energy at the end of the day too, which I thought was a really really great concept.

LC : What do they say about how that recursive effect happens that affect her to the end? How does that happen? How are they Yeah, characters.

TG : So they, people need to be able to, need to have breaks during the day. So if you're sitting in meetings, which, you know, one of my friends is a VP of HR in New York City, and she showed me your meeting schedule, and I was like, You know, she's depleted at the end of the day because it's just meeting, meeting, meeting. So you need to have white space throughout the day.

People need to be able to actually have a lunch break where you're not sitting and just eating 5 minutes where you actually stop to nourish your body, maybe go outside, or, you know, again, going back to that white space and breaks, there needs to be time where you are collaborating and working with people. But, then, there also needs to be time where you are working alone as well.

I'm talking about knowledge workers, right? People that are in meetings and the latest research shows that the hybrid work model is the most productive and where people are the happiest, where they have a few days in the office and then they have some days at home to be able to execute. And ideally, there's some, at least one meetingless day. And for people that are not knowledge workers that are more, you know, frontline working with guests or working with each other, again, encouraging that time for break space and also time where people can connect and hang out and talk with colleagues, with people they work with.

And they're not necessarily talking about work, they're actually getting to know each other, building friendships, etcetera. So it's not this nonstop productivity go, go, go, go, go, go, go. That actually when there's space in between that's when people can give their best work.

LC : I love it, Tia. Tia Graham, the world's number one happiness guru. Thank you so much for being here today, Tia.

TG : Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.