Category Archives: Wellbeing

Experiments in Wellbeing – Happiness Is…?

What is Wellbeing?

A group of us met recently at Herman Miller‘s London showroom to discuss and explore The Art and Science of Wellbeing. I’m aware from many previous conversations and blog posts that wellbeing is a broad subject so prior to the event, I sketched ‘what is wellbeing?’

Wellbeing Sketch

This sketch isn’t intended to be the answer – far from it, and it may be useful for you to start a conversation on the subject of what is wellbeing. Soon after sharing this picture, I received a helpful observation from Inji Duducu which she kindly said I could include in this post.

Inji Duducu Wellbeing tweet


Our session at Herman Miller was quite short – so we agree to invest our time on a brief exploration of happiness. Mark Catchlove started us off by sharing some interesting resources connecting design and behaviours to trust and happiness, including:

Paul Zak’s Ted talk – Trust, Morality and Oxytocin and this paper titled: The Neuroscience of TrustMark also referenced this Herman Miller paper –  The Neurophysiology of Office Design Study: The Objective Findings

We found this article referencing Paul Dolan who gave a talk on happiness at this year’s Hay Festival. In the talk, he offers five things we can do to make ourselves happier right now:

  1. Listening to a favourite piece of music
  2. Spending five more minutes with someone you like
  3. Going outdoors
  4. Helping someone else
  5. Having a new experience


I often find happiness quite fleeting, and to some extent, the harder I try and focus on it, the harder it becomes to find and to hold onto, so I take the idea of making yourself happier with a pinch of salt. That said – Paul Dolan’s suggestions are easy enough to experiment with – so we invited people to integrate a few of them into the rest of the session, along with a handful of creative principles, as we undertook an artistic exploration of our ‘happy place’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is some excellent work in this gallery. Snapshots of some of the artwork people made together as they talked and explored wellbeing in general, and the idea of a happy place in particular.

After we had painted for a while, people were invited to tell the story of their pictures. Lots of people were willing to do this, including some who admitted they really struggle with public speaking. I think their willingness to overcome this says a lot about the encouraging atmosphere and environment we were able to cocreate for this session.

We spent time with people we like, we helped each other, and we tried something new. As people were leaving, many expressed a wish that the session could have been longer. It’s interesting how time flies when we take the time to get to know each other better, explore different ways to work and think, and encourage and support one other.

Thanks to all our guests for their willingness, and thanks to Mark Catchlove and all the lovely people at Herman Miller for kindly sponsoring this session. If you’d like to explore how Art for Work’s Sake can help you make your work better – get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

Art for Work's Sake

I Before We

Over the weekend my attention was drawn to a list. Not one of those top 100 most boring people in HR lists which cause so much angst and hand wringing, but a simple list of thoughts and ideas to live by. It was written by Stephen Waddington on the occasion of his 45th birthday, and is made up of a thought or idea for each of those 45 years. I really enjoyed flicking through it, here are a few of my personal favourites, and I encourage you to check the whole thing out too.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 08.34.03 Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 08.34.20 Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 08.34.33 Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 08.35.18 Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 08.36.11

I find myself agreeing with a lot of Stephen’s thinking, and not all of it. One idea in particular is causing me discomfort.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 08.33.36

Banish personal pronouns, we not me, and us not I. At first glance this feels like it makes perfect sense. When I worked in big organisations I spent a lot of time thinking about how I and the people I worked with could be a great team. For example, when I led a sales team I insisted that our targets were aligned so that if any member of my team failed, I failed too. They could cross the finish line separately as individuals, and as their manager, I needed them all to succeed in order for me to, too. This method of setting targets was not the done thing at the time, and I had to work far too hard to make it happen, and happen it did, and succeed we did. All of us.

Since setting up my own business, I have continued to work mostly in large organisations, helping people make work better, together. We not me, and us not I. As time passes, and I think more intentionally about well being, and more deeply about the craft that is my work, It becomes increasingly clear that this aspiration, this hope of making work better together, cannot be achieved until first and foremost, I am in the best place to be of use to you. As my customer, you pay me to facilitate and consult with you – you have every right to expect me to be fully present, at my best, and I believe I should expect the same of each of you. To that extent, for us to do something great together, I, indeed every I in the room and on the project, has to come before we.

Experiments in Wellbeing – 100 Happy Days

In November 2014, I started a journey which only 29% of people who begin it will complete. In January I reached the half way mark, and over the weekend, I became one of the 29%.

My #100HappyDays journey is over, which means I managed to find something to photograph which helped me feel happy in each and every day for 100 days straight. Those who know me well might be struggling to believe I managed this small achievement, and yet I have the photographs to prove it! Here are a few pictures from the latter stages of my journey.


I’ve really enjoyed finding something genuinely positive in each day that comes along. Each individual find might be quite small in itself, though the approach behind it enlarges how it feels to me, and the journey as a whole is fun and useful too. In addition to the reflections I observed in my previous posts about this experiment, I now have a much firmer hold on the notion of small things making big differences. Small repeated actions matter on their own, and can definitely accumulate into something significant.

I am printing the 100 photos into a book so I can reflect on the experiment from time to time and continue to learn from it. I’m also aware that now, when I hit a bump in the road, I am consciously, and yet gently looking for a positive way to move forward. Things still make me feel angry, fearful, jealous and all the other emotions we’re less likely to acknowledge, I simply feel better equipped to deal with them now.

As the journey neared its completion, Keira asked me two questions. ‘Are you going to carry on for another 100 days?’ followed by ‘Will you try a 100 miserable days?’ The second question received a resounding no – primarily because I’m convinced such an experiment would have a powerfully negative affect on me. Keira’s first question is much more interesting. Right now, my #100HappyDays experiment has finished, and I realise that making some visual prompts to trigger useful, productive thoughts and actions, is enjoyable. So I will continue the idea in my own way…somehow. My friend Callum Saunders sent me a quote by Anna White when I was over 80 days into this, which I think will be helpful as I ponder how to develop the experiment further.

“Maybe it’s not about having a beautiful day, but about finding beautiful moments. Maybe a whole day is just too much to ask. I could choose to believe that in every day, in all things, no matter how dark and ugly, there are shards of beauty if I look for them.”

If you fancy giving 100 Happy Days a try, you can sign up for it here, or just do it yourself. You don’t receive any reminders, so the experiment continues (or doesn’t) based purely on your own motivation. I found that self prompting to be really helpful and satisfying. I hope that sharing my experience has proved useful for some of you, and if anyone has any questions – feel free to ask.