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

Tuning In

Yesterday was a special privilege for me.

I spent time teaching science with the year 3 children at Stanley Park Junior School.

The children eagerly participated as we talked about different things that make sound and then about vibration, the thing that all sounds have in common. The children told me how vibration works – and I showed them how to see sound, courtesy of a tuning fork and a cup of water. In case you are interested, a middle C tuning fork makes water splash a lot better than a fork tuned to A. This great idea was shown to me by the very creative Julia Benbow. Thanks Julia. We also made lentils jump about, we learned how different materials conduct sound, and we twanged and thumped a few instruments and finished with a short song I wrote about sound, vibration, playgrounds and the enthusiasm of the school kids. We all enjoyed our time together and the children appreciated the song very much.

I have never taught at school before and though I had prepared, I was nervous. I needn’t have been. The kids were enthusiastic, innocent, friendly and frank. It was a pleasure spending time in their company and a useful reminder of some great qualities. I’m sure I learned more than they did.

My time teaching and learning yesterday also reminded me of another very powerful learning experience involving children which I participated in recently. I recently wrote about this experience for Michael Carty at XpertHR who kindly published it today.

On that occasion I learned the importance of being straightforward. Of being confident that the kids would handle and respond well to open questions. They responded brilliantly. Just as kids show frankness, they really seem to appreciate, and thrive on it in return.

It’s a shame but too often in the world of work we forget these simple and powerful qualities that children seem to display so effortlessly. I intend to go back to school more often to learn and relearn these things.

Children are great teachers.