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’.

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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

People and Places : Senses and Spaces

Some initial thoughts on the recently announced collaboration between BIFM and CIPD

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us. Winston Churchill

This week I learned of a collaboration between BIFM and the CIPD. Although in its very early days, the potential in this match up interests me. The plan is for the two organisations to collaborate on ‘a number of research and insight projects that will investigate how both communities of professionals are evolving and adapting to the changing workplace.’ So long as that work feeds quickly through into action and doesn’t become just another talking shop (lest we forget I still wear the scars of being heavily involved in Engage for Success, I know how underwhelming these well meaning get togethers can be), then I look forward to being of some use to this initiative. Here are a couple of interactions I was involved with on Twitter as the news emerged.

BIFM CIPD Collaboration Tweets Two BIFM CIPD Collaboration Tweets One

Good architecture is often invisible, but it allows whatever is happening in that space to be the best experience possible. Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Peter Cheese said he’d like my thoughts on this matter, so I’d like to follow up on his tweeted observation about making good practice common practice, by sharing a few examples of where I believe these connections are already being made. I’d also be really interested to learn of other examples you’ve seen too, please? Feel free to drop me a line via the comments on the blog.

Neil Usher

Neil is for me, a great example of people and place personified. I don’t mean he looks like an office block, but he gets this important connection. I first met Neil at ConnectingHR a few years ago and he is regularly blogging, thinking and working at the crossroads between people and places : senses and spaces. Neil twists the two marshmallow strands of people and place together into an almost perfectly formed Flump. Here’s a recent, excellent post of his about how to help people and places work better.

Social Capital in the Workplace

In january 2014 I was fortunate to be asked by Mark Catchlove (another great example of someone who ‘gets’ this and is doing good work in the people and places space) of Herman Miller, to facilitate a consultation on Social Capital in the Workplace at St George’s House within the walls of Windsor Castle. This was a fascinating conversation among a mix of people across a wide range of industries and disciplines. We talked about people and places, senses and spaces. A detailed report of the conversation has been published here. The same group is reconvening again very soon to share our experiences since the initial conversation in January. What have we learned, what have we done? Doubtless more to follow.

In a city the atmosphere is all around you and is ever changing. New things will become old things…Time is a great architect. Alvaro Siza

People Property and CSR

I previously worked with a client in a financial services firm. She was the Director of People, Property and CSR and did a great job of coordinating these important, related activities. This person would always consider the people aspects of property moves and changes, and vice versa. Breaking down silos was a hobby of hers, and walls would regularly be knocked down and moved as attempts were made to foster a more collaborative way of working. And she would regularly invite contributions and criticism from colleagues around the business related to planned work. Why wouldn’t she – after all, getting this stuff right was the responsibility of her and her team!

Sensing Spaces

In February I wrote a blog post titled Mood Lighting. It was about a trip I took with Mervyn Dinnen to visit the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy. After our visit, as we spoke about the exhibition, Mervyn told me that one of the biggest impacts he observed while walking around, was how the mood of our conversation altered depending on the space we occupied. This exhibition was an enjoyable and interesting look at the impact space has on your senses. If the art world can explore the possibilities, then why can’t more of us in business do likewise?

Allowing room for the visitor’s imagination is essential if a space is to become a satisfying physical experience. Li Xiaodong

I’d like to wish good luck to the bridge builders at BIFM and CIPD. I have a slight reservation about building bridges, and that is that when we do this, the bridges typically connect one place to another. For this collaboration to work, I expect it will need to connect many people to many people, and many spaces to many spaces. For me, these connections already exist. They may not yet be strong enough, and there may not be enough of them, but they are out there.

People and Places : Sensing Spaces.

Here’s a related post about next steps, just published by Simon Heath.