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

I Before We

Putting yourself first to make work better for all of us.

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.

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

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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 – Alcohol

It was not my intention for this story to be the next public step of my wellbeing experiment, but I feel like it needs telling, so here we go.


A Creature of Habit

I like a drink. Occasionally I’ll have a drink every day during a week, though I usually go without for two or three days. Regularly, two bottles of red wine are on the weekly shopping list, and regularly they get emptied down my throat during the course of the week. Regularly. I’d guess this is a habit I’ve develop and persisted with for almost thirty years. It feels odd to write this and in so doing, look back over such a long trail of empty bottles.

I’ve never considered myself to be dependant on alcohol in any way, and yet clearly, I drink pretty often. Data published in The Guardian in 2013 indicates that men in my age group are putting away over 30 units of alcohol a week, and around 75% of men exceed the daily recommended amount. It’s always struck me as odd that something so intoxicating has a ‘recommended daily amount’ – we don’t apply such parameters to ecstasy, LSD or cannabis, despite them all apparently being much less harmful than alcohol. I know there’s the small matter of legal v illegal, but still…

Which Drugs Are Most Harmful

I digress. Back to the booze, and in particular, the habit. As part of my wellbeing experiment, I decided to do without alcohol for a while. We met friends for a belated Christmas get together in a country pub on January 3rd, Carole drove and I had a few drinks. After lunch had finished, so had my relationship with alcohol, for a few weeks at least. I decided to see if I could get to the end of January without having another drink. I was nervous about this part of my experiment – how would I, as a regular drinker, cope with no wine or beer?

On The Wagon

It feels a bit odd to write and tell you that I found the next four weeks easy. For some reason I worried that taking away something which had become such a frequent part of my life would be tough. It wasn’t and I am grateful for that. Aside from the ease with which I abstained – what else did I learn?

1 – I’m sleeping better – and there is an unsubstantiated rumour circulating this house that the frequency and volume of snoring has drastically reduced.

2 – I’m waking better – I still feel tired after a late night, but once I’ve woken up I’m sharper, ready to go.

3 – I don’t appear to have lost any weight – I can’t prove this because our scales are broken, but the mirror doesn’t lie and my current chubbiness persists.

4 – Social events often centre around alcohol. I decided I would not seek to avoid going out as part of this experiment, and when I did go out – I observed that almost everyone I was with was having a drink. At one event I went to – an enjoyable one I hasten to add, I was offered a beer on arrival, which I refused. Then wine – politely declined that too. Next came Fanta. Seriously? No thanks. Finally we got to water – yay! It came in the teensiest glass I’ve ever seen and I spent the rest of the time perfecting my pour, drink, pour, drink technique.

Back in the Saddle?

As night follows day, so February 1st follows January 31st – and in 2015, February 1st was SuperBowl Sunday. My team – the Seattle Seahawks were in the game as defending champions, competing against the New England Patriots. We lost the match in the dying seconds, I don’t want to talk about it. Prior to the game – I had convinced myself that beer would be a required accompaniment, and I had ordered in some Nanny State beer, brewed by Brewdog. This beer is marketed as alcohol free although it contains 0.5% alcohol by volume. Over the course of the three hour game, I think I drank four bottles. It tasted OK and it made me want to pee a lot!

The following night Carole and I went to Koko in London to see Prince play live at a secret charity gig. The gig was excellent, and I had a bottle of Heineken. One was enough, particularly at £5.50 ($8.40) a bottle. On Thursday I poured myself a glass of wine and I had two or three sips and threw the rest away – I wasn’t enjoying it. On Saturday night I had a bottle of beer.

What happens next? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned a lot from this period of absence and I’m really enjoying my current approach to drinking. If you’ve tried a similar experiment recently, I’d love to know how you found it/are finding it?