Episode 11: Mastering Happiness in Life and Leadership with Declan Edwards

In this episode of the Balanced Leader Podcast, guest Declan Edwards, a happiness researcher and founder of BU Happiness College, discusses the transformative power of positive psychology and its application in both personal development and the workplace. Declan shares his own journey from struggling with self-doubt and anxiety to becoming a prominent figure in the field of happiness research. 


He emphasizes that happiness is a skill that can be learned and perfected over time, advocating for the teaching of emotional intelligence, stress management, and resilience as part of earlier education. 


The discussion covers the impact of happiness on workplace productivity and the importance of cultivating a culture that values employee well-being. Declan provides practical advice on improving happiness and well-being through self-awareness, boundary setting, compassion, and self-care. 


This episode highlights the necessity of embracing happiness as a strategic advantage in both personal life and professional environments.


01:50  Declan’s Journey to Becoming ‘That Happiness Guy’

05:07  The Birth of BU Happiness College

08:25  The Importance of Teaching Happiness and Emotional Intelligence

10:52  A Life-Changing Experience on Mount Kilimanjaro

17:56  The Power of Introspection and Redefining Happiness

22.55  Designing a Happiness Strategy for Busy Leaders

25:45  Unlocking Happiness Through Gratitude

30:20  Happiness in the Workplace: A Strategic Advantage

33:56  Measuring and Cultivating Workplace Happiness

40:27  Addressing Stress, Burnout, and Overwhelm

47:22  Happiness is a Skill – it Can be Learned

Declan Edwards Happiness Researcher



This is the Balanced Leader Podcast. The podcast that helps leaders elevate their wellbeing and create healthier workplaces. My name is Rob Hills and I am your leadership and wellbeing coach.  


In this week’s episode, I got the chance to sit down with Happiness Researcher, Declan Edwards. Affectionately known as ‘that Happiness Guy’, Declan is on a mission to grow global happiness. He does this by Declan shares his own journey from struggling with self-doubt and anxiety to becoming a prominent figure in the field of happiness research. We talk about how he almost died on Mount Kilimanjaro, what happened when he tried to climb Mount Kilimanjaro a second time but his wife got sick 200 meters from the summit and how Declan believes happiness is an organisations strategic advantage.


I hope you are as excited as I am for my conversation with Declan Edwards, so lets jump right in. 

[00:01:25] Welcome Declan to the Balanced Leader Podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today. Mate, thank you. I’m excited for it. When we first connected on LinkedIn, you put out a post about the things that you talk about and said you’re available to come on podcasts. And I swear to you, I was like a kid in a candy store.

I’ve gone down the list and I’m gone. I want to talk about that one. I want to talk about that one. Oh, definitely that one. So we’ve got a really great starting point for today’s podcast. But before we jump into those questions, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became that happiness guy?

Yeah. Oh, I love that question. Um, yeah, so I’m, I’m a happiness researcher. My name is Declan Edwards for those who don’t know me yet, but, uh, and a lot of people ask, What in the world is a happiness researcher? Does that job even exist? And, um, I’m thrilled that it does. Basically my field of study and research is in a field called positive psychology.

So compared to clinical psychology, positive psychology tends to look. A little more at what’s [00:02:25] right with people, what’s right with humanity and how we cultivate that. It’s focused more on how we help individuals and organizations go, not just from minus 10 to neutral, but how we can go from neutral to plus 10 and actually being happy and fulfilled.

Now, when people learn about that, they go, Oh, so did you end up in that field of research? Because you know, you’re a naturally happy, go lucky kind of optimistic guy. Uh, which point I often chuckle and say, In some ways, the opposite, uh, I spent a lot of my teenage years riddled with self doubt and anxiety and stress and burnout and overwhelm.

And, you know, these big emotions that I really didn’t know how to handle. Um, and what that led me to is reaching out for some support and help. When I hit quite a big low point just after high school and in my first year of university, where I went, I don’t actually know how to handle my thoughts and feelings.

I, you know, at the time I was 18, 19 and I went, I’ve gone [00:03:25] through all this schooling and, you know, I know quite a bit about math and history and English. And, you know, I’m now at uni at the time studying health and I’m learning about the body and biology, but I don’t know much about my mind and my emotions.

I don’t know much about. Who I am and what makes me happy. And thankfully I was able to reach out to some great coaches and mentors at the time and get a bit of guidance in that and ended up falling in love with that sort of field of development and. Just kept asking them, Hey, how do you guys know all this?

It’s like, you guys have a bit of a toolkit for life that I wish I learned earlier, and they all mentioned positive psychology. Um, and so off I went and did a postgraduate degree in positive psychology and studying that and opened a BU happiness college, a social enterprise to help individuals and organizations learn those skills for themselves.

I like to joke where the Harvard of happiness, um, And as for how I became the happiness guy, I mean, after a few years of doing that work and that research and starting to be known for that [00:04:25] work and that research, um, I started showing up to events and the first time it happened, I laughed and kind of ignored it.

But it happened a few times in a row where someone went, I know you, aren’t you that happiness guy? You’re that guy who talks about happiness a lot online. And I went, Geez, people are remembering that, you know, more than my name, more than what we do as an organization, more than the field of research. I mean, cool.

I’m going to lean in wholeheartedly on what started as a bit of a, I’ll embrace this, you know, joke nickname of that happiness guy has really stuck. Yeah. And it’s, um, certainly how, when I’ve connected with you on LinkedIn, I’ve remembered that it’s that happiness guy. Uh, it’s the first thing that came to mind for me as well.

Declan, tell us a little bit more about BU happiness. Is it? Yeah, BU Happiness College. Yeah. So look, BU Happiness College, we’re a social enterprise, which means everything we do is dedicated towards our vision of growing global happiness, but we’re also very proud to support a lot of United Nations global goals through our work.[00:05:25]

So I think over the last few years, we’ve donated over 10, 000 days of clean drinking water to a community in need of a 5, 000 days of food to people in need. Everything we do at the organization is linked to some sort of social impact goal. But it started off the back of, you know, before this, whilst I was studying, I was, uh, in personal training.

I was in the fitness industry. I’d started a business in that, put a lot of my time and effort into growing a business. Like a lot of business owners would resonate with that idea of there’s a lot of work in that early stage and my fiancee at the time, now my wife. We spent six weeks in the US taking a bit of a break and I had this moment towards the end of that six weeks where I went, shoot, I don’t want to go back to the business that I’ve created.

I don’t want to go back to the job that I’ve spent years building and I remember feeling so guilty and shameful about that. But I was like, I’ve put in all this work and I’ve created something that I don’t actually. Believe in [00:06:25] anymore doesn’t resonate with me anymore. It’s not where I’m meant to be. And so I pulled my fiance aside and said, Hey, I’m thinking of closing the business when I get home.

And that was big news to her because she’d supported me through building it for three years. And she went, okay, what are you going to do? If not that? And I went, well, I’ve been thinking, you know, I’m studying all this positive psychology and mindfulness and, you know, uh, acceptance and commitment therapy.

Yeah. I think I want to focus a lot more on helping people manage their mind and emotions. Almost like a personal trainer for people’s brains rather than their bodies. And I said to her, I was like, I think I want to open like a college for happiness, like a space where people could learn the skills to live a happy life.

And so I want you to put yourself in my fiance’s shoes, you know, fiance’s just said, Hey, I want to close the business that’s finally profitable and I’m finally getting a salary from, and I want to open a happiness college, which wasn’t really heard of at the time. It’s even now, it’s still a developing industry.

And [00:07:25] credit to her, she said, look, I’m not going to say yes to this straight away. Give me the flight home from LA to think about it. And by the time we landed back in Australia, she went, you know what? I can see you serious about it. Let’s go for it. Give it a few years, see what happens. And that was now we’re coming up on our seventh year anniversary of being BU happiness college and how we landed on the name was that I kind of went.

What’s the end goal of helping people learn things like resilience, stress management, mindfulness, emotional intelligence. Well, it’s to help them be themselves wholeheartedly. And so the letters B U literally spell out, but I think is the greatest gift we can give the people around us to be ourselves authentically wholeheartedly be the happiest and best version of ourselves.

It makes us better leaders. It makes us better parents. It makes us better colleagues, friends, family members compared to when we’re stressed and burnt out and overwhelmed. And so the name landed BU happiness college. And here we are seven years later. Fantastic. And I love the name. [00:08:25] I’m wondering why we don’t teach these things more in school.

So this is not the first conversation I’ve ever had with a person who said, uh, I wish I’d known more about, you know, real life stuff, personal finances, um, happiness, how to make decisions. Why aren’t we focusing on these things earlier? Do you think? We’re starting to, which is really good. So I will say like, I’ve been doing some amazing work lately with schools and hearing a lot of stories about schools now building curriculums based on positive psychology.

I had a conversation literally two days ago with a school up in Queensland, uh, that I’m likely going to be working with this year and they’re like, yeah, we’ve been teaching all of our students the PERMA model, which is a positive psychology model for happiness and flourishing. Yeah. That’s really good. I went, man, I wish I learned that when I was 16, that would have been bloody great.

So we’re starting to now, I think the reason we didn’t before is because historically these were referred to as soft skills. Like we kind of diminished their value a [00:09:25] little bit and the education system, if you go back far enough. Wasn’t designed to make us capable, functional, flourishing human beings. It was designed to make us incredibly good employees in manufacturing.

Go back a hundred, 150, 200 years. The vast majority of the population is employed in manufacturing in work of the hand. And then we go through, you know, industrial revolution. We go through these big changes. We start to see a lot more of the population being employed in what I call work of the head. So instead of work of the hand, we start having knowledge workers, managerial positions.

You know, we start valuing people based on, you They know, uh, technically. And my prediction now is we’re entering the third wave, which is thanks to machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, all the developments happening there. Work of the head is actually going to become less and less needed.

What we now need is work of the heart, the stuff that makes us [00:10:25] uniquely human. We need empathy. We need emotionally intelligent leaders. We need people who are compassionate. We need people who know how to manage stress and burnout in themselves and in their team. And so more and more, I think the most employable people and the skills that organizations are begging for, we need those soft skills.

We need those skills that make better humans. And so now we’re seeing the demand for it. Yeah, absolutely. I know you’ve talked before about your happiness journey and how it nearly killed you on Mount Kilimanjaro. That sounds like an interesting story. Oh man. I still have flashbacks to this one. Look, I am a recovering.

Perfectionist, a recovering high achiever, and I like to say a recovering human chameleon. What I mean by that is I spent most of my life being really, really good, trying to be the person that I thought others wanted me to be. So I tried to live up to. [00:11:25] What I thought my dad wanted for me. Now I come from a long generation in direct lineage of my dad’s served 38 years in the military and his dad served his whole life in the police force and his dad was in the military his whole life.

We have a very clear lineage of, uh, it’s military or police force. That’s where you got to end up. And so you can imagine. The emotional intelligence soft skills that I learned so that that pathway was right in very much that stereotypical masculine, you know, men don’t cry work, you know, you don’t work through your emotions.

You just push them down. You get through it. You’re strong. You’re tough. And so for a lot of my life, I kept getting stuck on this trap. They call it in, in happiness research, the hedonic treadmill. And it can be summarized into one sentence, which is I’ll be happy when, and insert whatever you want after it.

Now, for me, you know, I thought I’ll be happy when, you know, I do exceptionally well in school and get into a [00:12:25] good course at university and impress my father, right? I’ll be happy when I lose weight and I’m fitter and healthier. I’ll be happy when I’m in a good relationship. It was like I was chasing happiness around the next corner.

And at quite a young age, the insecure part of me, the part that was struggling with all of this, with the lack of self identity, with a lack of self worth and self confidence, went, what’s the biggest thing I could do that would make me a worthy person? And that would earn me love and respect. And therefore I might love and respect myself maybe.

And I went, I’m going to climb Mount Everest. I’m going to climb the highest mountain in the world. So I contacted a climbing organization said, I want to do this, right? I don’t want to be one of those people who just goes up with no experience and puts other people’s lives at risk. What do you need to see from me?

And they went, well, we need to see you climb some big mountains. We need you to prove that you can do this. And on that list was Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. [00:13:25] And now this is years later, like I was on this quest for five, six, seven years. By this point, BU Happiness College is open. We’ve got members, we’re growing.

And I went, let’s host our first ever international retreat. Let’s go to Africa and let’s climb the highest mountain there. Wow. And so off we went with my, my wife, with some family, some friends, and my business partner at the time, who since moved on from the organization, graduates, members of BDU, off we went to Africa to start climbing.

And the first few days weren’t too hard. They weren’t too bad. But the last day where we cross an area called the saddle and you’re getting buffeted by wind, you’re at high altitude, you’re struggling to breathe. The only thing keeping you going is the promise of like a hot lunch at base camp. And then I said, we’ll sleep.

We’ll, we’ll have a hot lunch, we’ll sleep, and then we’ll make our summit attempt. After hours, we finally get to base camp and we sit down, we’re having our lunch and our expedition [00:14:25] leader pulls me aside and goes, Hey, the weather’s not too good tonight. I don’t think we should make a nighttime summit attempt.

It’s going to be too dangerous, too risky for people. That’s okay, what, what do we do instead? Because we’d need to go now. Immediately after lunch, when we’re all already exhausted and wrecked. And so we made that decision, and off we went, and I just got hammered by attitude sickness. The worst I’ve ever been, and two years prior to this, I’ve done Everest Space Camp, I’ve done other large mountains.

But this was the hardest one I’ve ever been on, and I remember being on all fours, crawling through the dirt, and crying, and throwing up, and Just wanting to sleep. I was just adamant that I wanted to sleep. And I said to the guy, I said, I need to sleep here now. And he goes, if you sleep here, you’ll, you’ll die.

You can’t sleep here. You need to go down. Um, there’s no way you’re sleeping up here. And something in me just broke and gave up and I went, I don’t care anymore. Now, I’ve [00:15:25] never had struggles or challenges with suicidal ideation, anything in that sort of space, but there was a point where I was so ambivalent to my own life, to my own wellbeing mate, my own wife was there going, you need to get up and keep moving.

I was like, no, I’m done. Go on with it. I’m just gonna lie here. And then got off the mountain, thankfully, came down. And the next day as we’re hiking off the mountain, I had this clarity almost of like, man, you’re doing all this research, you’re running an organization, helping people learn how to live happier lives, and you’re here killing yourself over an arbitrary goal that you set when you were an insecure 17 year old.

You need to get your priorities back in check. And so it was I think a slap in the face that I needed to come back to basics and go, well, hang on, I’ve been using the same definition of a happy and successful life that I wrote when I was 17, and I need to update that. And I think that’s a big lesson about happiness is [00:16:25] often we chase other people’s definitions of happiness.

Eventually, hopefully we start chasing our own definition of happiness, but we don’t ever review it. We don’t go back and check. Is this still accurate? Is this even what I want anymore? And so that was now, geez, five years ago that occurred. And the amount of growth and development I’ve had since then as an individual, as a leader, um, is quite profound.

And I just, I’ve just come back from a, uh, four and a half months sabbatical in South America, where I started doing some high altitude mountaineering again for the first time in five years. And my relationship with it was so different. It was such a beautiful experience this time, uh, reaching higher than what Kilimanjaro is, and then turning away 200 meters from the summit on this one, because my wife was sick.

And she was on there with me. And I went, you know what, the mountain’s not worth it. We’re going down. And there was no hesitations about it. There was no qualms. There was no ego. There was no, I have to prove myself. I went, I’m happy with what we’ve done. [00:17:25] Goal now is to get my wife off this mountain, happy and healthy.

Yeah. Let’s move. It sounds like there’s a real change in priorities there from perhaps where you were when you were on Kilimanjaro, you know, summiting the first time to that latest attempt. And I imagine, as you said, a lot of growth in between the two. So how did you go from. Okay. I’m probably got my ladder up the wrong mountain here.

Yes. I would have said wall, but we’ll go with mountain. Literally. Exactly. Uh, and now I’ve, I want to change and I want to do, I want to have a different way of life. How did you make that change? So the first step for me was a lot of introspection. So inwards. Now, my favorite tools to do that, I love them because they’re all free and they take less than 10 minutes, right?

So journaling, actually getting my thoughts out of my head. Helped so much. And I see that so much with our members and graduates at the college. Often we try to solve our emotional and psychological challenges in the same bloody place that they [00:18:25] originated from, which is between our ears. And we ended up just running in circles in there.

I’m sure everyone listening has had at least one moment where they’re lying in bed at night, wrestling with their own thoughts. I’m like. You’re at a home court disadvantage here. Like you’re not playing on the home ground. You’re wrestling the thoughts in their home ground. You’re not going to do well, right?

Whereas when we get those thoughts out of our head, get them on paper, we can look at them a bit more clearly. We can have breathing room. We can challenge them. Yeah. So that was incredibly healthy for me. So that’s definitely the first one. The second tool I used for introspection was meditation. So learning how to.

Be present, slow our mind down a little bit. Meditation is not about having nothing going on in your mind. It’s just about slowing it down and being able to see it a bit more clearly. So it’s not so chaotic in there. Now I started with guided meditations and I was very much on the train of this is You know, absolute bull.

I’m not getting much out of this at all. And meditation is clearly not for me, regardless of what all the science [00:19:25] says and how good it is for everyone else. It’s just clearly not good for me. When in reality, it was just, I wasn’t good at meditation yet. It’s like picking up a guitar. You know, you’re not going to be Jimi Hendrix straight away.

You’ve got to practice for a while. You’re going to sound pretty terrible. It was the same in meditation. I sucked at it for years. But over time, I got better and better and better with practice, and those two practices consistently really helped me get a better understanding of myself. Really helped me get a better understanding of my thoughts and my feelings and be able to work through them more effectively.

So introspection is definitely the first one. The second big one that came as a result of the inspection was designing a much clearer blueprint for what a happy and successful life meant to me. So redefining my values as a person, rediscovering my unique character strengths and going, Oh, that’s what I’m actually uniquely good at redefining my priorities and what mattered to me, [00:20:25] basically being able to get down onto one piece of paper.

And I encourage everyone listening to do this, get a piece of paper and go, if I was to dot point a recipe for a happy and successful life, what are the core ingredients? What has to go into that recipe? There’s your starting point in your scaffold for designing your blueprint for a happy life. Yeah, that’s great.

And I think that’s a really great suggestion and I can see people sitting down with that bit of paper and doing that. Uh, and I imagine that everyone’s list will be different. Correct. So it’s going to take some self awareness for people to go, okay, perhaps what I’ve wanted in the past, or perhaps what.

Uh, social media wants for me isn’t exactly what I want. So there is going to require that level of introspection and self awareness. I imagine that’s going to be quite a tough bit of work for people if they’ve been listening to all these other influencers their whole life. Yeah, and introduction is tough.

It’s, it’s, it requires vulnerability and honesty with ourselves more than anything else. Um, it requires us to really look within and wrestle with some big [00:21:25] thoughts and feelings. I sometimes use the analogy of we all have a spare room in our mind where throughout our life, we come across things that we either didn’t have the emotional maturity to handle at the time.

Well, we didn’t have the skills and resources, or we didn’t have the support. Whatever it may be, our brain goes, I’m just going to pop that in the spare room. I’ll come back to that one day. And naturally life gets busy. There’s all these competing demands outside of ourselves. You know, we’ve got to be great family members, parents, leaders, colleagues, community members.

There’s all this other stuff demanding our attention. I mean, advertising and social media demanding our attention, right? And so there’s all this stuff drawing us to look outwards. And the spare room just gets more and more crowded and weighed down until eventually it’s like a spare room. That’s so full that we kind of close the door and lock it and hope no one ever looks behind it.

But all that does is lead us to be very emotionally reactive, particularly as leaders. It leads us to have a lot of boil over and emotional spills onto people that don’t deserve it. And it [00:22:25] also slows us down. It’s carrying a lot of mental weight. And so I’m not by any means saying introspection is easy.

I’m saying it’s necessary, but it’s tough and incredibly worth it. So if you were to design a happiness strategy for a busy person, someone who, you know, and this podcast is for leaders, so invariably very busy people, what would you have in that strategy? Is it something that you would? You know, maybe do five minutes in the morning, five minutes at lunch, five minutes in the evening, or is there bits and things or exercises that people can do throughout the day to try and be more proactive with maintaining and increasing their happiness?

Yes, sir. Yep. I’d go the big three. Now the big three are there’s three different connections we need to live a happy life. Firstly, we need connection with ourself. So I’d encourage everyone to look back on their day, look back on their week and go, when was my moment? Or what did I do that helped me connect back to myself?

Now, maybe it was journaling. Maybe it was meditation. Maybe [00:23:25] it was some self care and exercise. Maybe it was just going for a bit of a walk on your own and just your thoughts. And I find that very helpful and healthy for me. Whatever it is, like, look back on your day and we can go, did I have some moments just for me to feel connected back to me?

The second connection is connection to others. Now this means proper connection. Now we’re currently as a society living through a loneliness epidemic, uh, people now are actually, uh, less likely than ever to say that they have a best friend. They’re less likely than ever to say that they have a close community of people that can be open and honest with, and that they feel supported by, right.

As despite social media growing and us being more quote unquote connected than ever before through technology. We’re lacking depth of connection. And so the second of the big three is have I had a moment this week or today where I felt genuinely connected to someone else, your partner, your children, your team at work, a colleague, [00:24:25] even just someone in passing in society?

Did I have a nice human interaction, a nice moment where I felt part of a team, part of a community, part of a family. And then our third one is connection to something greater than ourself. Now, for some people, this looks like spirituality. Uh, for some people, it’s a sense of meaning and purpose in their life.

I get a lot of this through our work at BU Happiness College. A lot of the way I feel connected to something bigger than me is through the work that we do at BU, um, and through those charitable, uh, contributions that I mentioned earlier. I go, you know, if it all burnt down today, I can still die a happy man going.

We made a difference. The work that we did over the last seven years mattered. Um, and that’s really important for my own mental health and my own happiness to feel like I’ve made a difference in what I do matters. I think everyone has that inherent desire. And so for a really. Rough structure starting point.

If you’re wanting to live a happier life, start by looking back on either your [00:25:25] week or your day. If you want to do this daily, you know, what was the moment where I felt connected to myself? What was the moment where I felt connected to someone else? What was the moment where I felt connected to something bigger than me?

And if too many weeks are going by where you’re like, I haven’t had those. There’s your wake up call, there’s your chance to do something about it. How important is gratitude to a happiness strategy? You talked before about people who say, I’ll be happy when, how important is it to say, I’m happy now because I’ve got this?

Yeah, gratitude is one of those amazing tools and resources. I put it up there with journaling and meditation to be honest, because it’s free, it’s accessible. It’s not necessarily easy. Um, it’s getting a lot of focus and in studies and research at the moment. And for good reason, it’s because it works. Um, there’s been a few studies that have shown insane results, like, you know, over a 13 week period.

So three months, people consistently practicing gratitude journaling each day, um, found that they felt 30 to 40 percent happier three months later. [00:26:25] Now, if there was a, A pill that said, Hey, you’re going to feel 30 to 40 percent happier in three months. If you take this daily, it’s going to be the most prescribed pill in the world.

Yeah, absolutely. Now the key, the key with gratitude practice is you’ve got to find a way to make it work for you. If you’re doing it as a tick box thing, and I’ve seen a lot of people make this mistake where they go up, so and so says I should practice gratitude, okay, I’m grateful for breakfast this morning, I’m grateful for my family, and they’re just doing it to say they’ve done it, you’re not really getting the benefit out of it, so I always say to people, we need to kind of simmer in gratitude a little bit, we need to marinate in gratitude, and the way I’ve found works best for that, Uh, is I look at three things as prompts to my gratitude.

I find looking at a blank page and saying, what am I grateful for? Quite difficult, um, especially if I’ve had a really tough day. So what I do is I use three prompts. One is what’s a small moment that went well today that I might not have noticed otherwise. So that’s encouraging me to look for the little moments.

The little moments are good in life that we often take for granted. Notice I don’t use the word gratitude. I just go, what’s a moment that went well. I find my [00:27:25] brain finds that easier to look for. My second one is who is someone I’m grateful for today. Again, coming back to that second connection of connection to others.

It can be someone that I spent a lot of time with, like my wife. It can be someone that I met in passing that I had a nice conversation with. And then the third one, Is what is, now this is the hardest, but the most beneficial. What is something about myself that I’m grateful for or proud of? What is something I like about myself?

Can be physical, can be a personality trait. Now, if you’ve struggled with self esteem and with your sense of self for a long time, like I did for many, many years, that’s a hard one to hit. I’m a lot better at it now because I’ve spent a lot of years practicing it. But give yourself some grace if you struggle with it a little bit.

Now, once you get those three down, the way we marinate in it is ask why you chose those answers out of everything you could have chosen. So if my little moment that I’m grateful for today actually had a really nice little moment earlier today, I went outside with my dog, he was lying in the sun and I just [00:28:25] sat down and patted him and I go, well, why did that moment come to mind out of everything else that’s happened in my day?

And I can elaborate on it. I go, Oh, actually, it was just really nice to be in fresh air away from the computer. It was nice to just sit in the sun and just slow down for a moment. And so now what I’m doing is marinating in gratitude. And that leads our brain to produce a lot more of those happy, you know, neurochemicals, those happy hormones that make a difference.

And then I might go, you know, who is someone I’m grateful for today? And I might go, well, actually, right, right now, right here. Right? I’m really grateful to yourself for inviting me on your show and for holding space for me to share what I’ve learned. And I go, well, why is that important to me? Why out of everyone I could have chosen, you know, do you come to mind?

And I go, well, again, so much of my purpose and mission is to grow global happiness. Fundamentally, I cannot do that alone. I can’t reach 8 billion people on the planet directly on my own. So to have opportunities like this, to share my story and my [00:29:25] research and what I’ve learned. If one person listens to this show and goes, I needed to hear that.

That’s tied directly into what I believe I’m here for. And so again, we get to marinate in it, right? And so, in answer to your question, gratitude is incredibly valuable if you let yourself sit in it for a little bit. And if you find a way to do it as more than just a tick box. Yeah. And I think that’s really important.

I think a lot of time when people talk about gratitude is listing the three things that, you know, first come to mind. And for a lot of people, they’re the same things day in, day out. So people just go through the motions, but actually sitting in it. And really allowing it to sink in. And by asking that extra layer of question, I think that is really a useful tool to help it sink in.

So I think that’s, that’s great advice. Thank you so much. For most people listening to this, they wouldn’t necessarily associate happiness and the workplace together. But you say it’s the ultimate strategic [00:30:25] advantage. Yes, sir. Why is that? Yes. And look, for most people listening who go, I can’t put happiness and work together, you’re not alone.

I was looking at a study recently, a 2022 one done in Australia. So not that long ago, and it found 78 percent of people felt unhappy at work. Wow. So you’re part of the vast majority. If you go, I can’t put work and happiness together. Yeah. Right. Yeah. The reason I say it’s the ultimate strategic advantage for an organization.

If we get back to the core of what do people want in life, You can go around and ask people all around the world, different cultures, languages, backgrounds. What do you wish most for your kids? The vast majority of them will say, I want them to be happy. And you go, well, what, what do you want for yourself and your life?

And the vast majority of people eventually, and they might say, you know, I want the new house. I want a car. I want a holiday right now. But you go, why do you want those things? And eventually you ask them enough. And eventually they go, I think it’ll make me happier. Okay. So what you actually want is happiness.

Now we spend what, [00:31:25] 40, some people, 50, 60 hours a week working. That’s a massive chunk of our time. And so as an organization, as a leader, as a workplace, if you can find a way to meet that core need of going, Hey, we’re not just. providing a paycheck here. We’re not just providing skill development and growth.

We’re contributing to the happiness of our employees. Oh, if you want to talk about a way to skyrocket engagement loyalty, you want to talk about a way to skyrocket performance and productivity. You want to talk about a way to reduce burnout and unnecessary turnover. That’s the core problem we need to solve.

And this is what my master’s thesis in positive psychology was on. I found Organizations were measuring what I call second tier KPIs. Things like well being, engagement, culture. Now, these things are all dramatically important, but what’s the purpose of them? Is our team happier? Aren’t they? That’s the core question, right?

And sometimes we see organizations, I’ll give the [00:32:25] example of, um, not for profits and social enterprise. We see this a lot in education industry to remarkably high engagement, very, very clear on why they do what they do. Very passionate about their work, very low in wellbeing. Now they’re going to have a different challenge than a different industry and a different organization that has high wellbeing, low engagement.

But if you’re not measuring. All of that, how are you going to know? Right? And so the reason I say happiness is such a strategic advantage when you stand out in your field as a happy workplace and you have evidence because everyone says we’re a great place to work, but you have independent data and proof.

That your team, uh, on the whole now happy doesn’t mean they show up to work every day with sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. It means that they feel valued. They feel a sense of purpose in their work, their wellbeing, engagement, culture, leadership, and resiliency. Those five factors are all relatively high.

When you can show that, I promise you, you’re going to attract, [00:33:25] retain, develop, elevate the best talent in your field, especially in this era where there’s so much more demand and expectation being placed on leaders and workplaces. People are being held to a higher standard now, and I think that’s challenging to adapt to, but it’s also remarkably exciting.

Yeah, definitely. And I imagine there’s some leaders listening to this thinking, I really want to increase the happiness of the people that I work with, because I want to be happy and I want this to be a happy place of work. So what are the steps? What’s the first steps people can take as leaders to try and cultivate that with, with their teams?

Yeah. So the first step is to measure it. And the reason I say that is comes back to that classic principle, what we measure, we can manage. And when you measure something, it also proves and demonstrates that you care about it, that you value it. You know, it’s one thing for an organization to say, we care about employee experience.

We care about our people. So, okay, show me. Prove [00:34:25] it. Right. And a lot of organizations can’t do that. So measure happiness as a core core function of your people and culture. The second step would then be to go to those tier two ones, because if you just measure happiness, you’re going to lose some of that nuance on, okay, well, why are we scoring well or not scoring well?

So then we’d start looking at things like how do we measure and assess and monitor wellbeing in the workplace? So there’s five pillars. This is what came out of my master’s research was what are the things that underpin a happy workplace. And the five were well being. Engagement, culture, leadership, and resiliency.

Resiliency specifically relating to the ability to change in times of challenge without burning out from the challenge. So when we see so much burnout now, a lot of that’s a resiliency gap. And once we have those five, what we can do as a leader, if we start getting data back and evidence now, whether you do that through employee surveys, whether it’s done third party internally, I’ve got many opinions on how [00:35:25] to do it well and right.

But. If you’re at least measuring, you’re already 10 steps ahead than most organizations. But once you get that back, you can start going, okay, wow, we’re actually doing pretty well on well being and culture. We’ve got a bit of a leadership development gap. Our new leaders, our people stepping into management leadership, they’re not that confident in what they’re doing there.

So let’s develop a program or let’s bring someone in to do a three month onboarding thing that when someone steps into a management leadership position, we train them on the skills of being a good humanistic leader. Or we go, Hey, we’ve actually got a resilience gap. Okay, well, we need to look more at the workload we’re putting on people.

We need to look at how we’re leading people through change and through challenge and how we’re telling the story around change and inviting them to be part of the change with us, not just thrusting it upon them because you can have the happiest, healthiest team. And if they feel like change and challenge is thrust on their plate every day.

I promise you resiliency is gonna wear low eventually, right? So the first and most important step is measure this stuff. Get the data, get the [00:36:25] clarity. ’cause that’s gonna mean that you’ll be able to develop strategies that are evidence-based, they’re data informed, they’re not just guesswork. And you’ll be able to assess whether the strategies work, ’cause you should remeasure about a year later to see what’s changed.

Now, I’m thinking of, um, smaller teams and obviously for an organization, this is going to be easier because staff surveys, there will be a team that can do that for them, but for a leader of a small team, four or five people, whatever it is, is there a couple of questions or is there something on the internet they can go to and just highlight some of these key points to ask those questions so they can start with a baseline so that they can do their own measurement for their own team?

Yeah, I’m glad you asked. This is actually quite serendipitous. Uh, we’ve developed a tool that’s free for that. And it’s specifically for small teams. Um, there you go. We couldn’t have queued that up any better. Perfect. Right. Yeah. The, yeah, the result of my master’s thesis was finding all this research and then building an evidence based tool to help more medium to large organizations.

So we’re looking at 20 staff minimum and above accurately [00:37:25] measure. We call it the workplace happiness diagnostic report, but we had these great leaders who care about their people and these great organizations reaching out, going. Hey, I’d love to do this. I don’t have 20 staff. I’ve got four or five, six, seven people who work for me, but I still care about them.

I want to know how we’re going. And I went, yeah, that’s a good point. It’s not fair that we haven’t built something for you. And so what we built was something called the workplace happiness self diagnostic. And so it’s free to use literally. If you go to our website, you search BU happiness college.

Workplace happiness, self diagnostic, or you go under the free resources tab on the website. Um, it’s cool. It takes like five to seven minutes to do this. 35 questions in it that you as a leader can be prompted to self reflect on and what that will then spit out at the end. Is it’s not a perfect gauge, but it’s a good indicator of how you would score across those five factors.

So I’ll say this is where you’re probably sitting in wellbeing. This way you’d be sitting roughly in engagement, culture, leadership, resilience. And so that way you can go, well, there’s my lowest one. That’s what we’re going to focus on for [00:38:25] the next six months. Or there’s my highest one. I’m going to tell the team, Hey, we’re actually doing really well here.

I’d love to know more from you guys. Why is that? Like what’s working well, let’s elevate that. So that’s a free tool that you can just go jump on straight away. That’s great. And we’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. So people can easily find it. And I think that’s a great. Conversation starter as well.

Yes. So great for, for metrics. Absolutely. But also I think sometimes leaders find it difficult to, for an entry point to ask the conversation, how are you doing, you know, apart from are you okay date, which we shouldn’t be asking once a year, but you know, we should be asking this more often. And I think this is a great entry point that people could actually use to have those conversations.

Yeah, I’ve heard fantastic stories of leaders filling out the self diagnostic themselves and going, I’m not actually quite sure how to answer that question. I need to talk to the team about that. And so they’ll be like, Hey, I was doing this, you know, free tool to figure out how healthy our workplace is and how happy we might feel at work and whether we’re meeting the right things to, [00:39:25] to be an employer of choice.

I think we’re doing pretty well here, here and here, but man, we got to this section. I didn’t know how to answer whether you feel a sense of meaning and purpose in your job. Have you been feeling that lately? Maybe you haven’t been like, I’m curious. And if we can, for everyone who’s listened, who watches Ted Lasso or has watched Ted Lasso, A, you’re a person up to my own heart.

It’s one of my favorite shows of all time, but that principle that he shares would be curious, not judgmental. I think when it comes to measuring these things, sometimes as late as. We get too harsh on ourselves, we judge ourselves too harshly, we judge the team too harshly. Why aren’t we scoring way higher?

Whereas if we use it more as exactly as you said, as a prompt to have curious conversations. I think that leads to a lot of really beautiful growth and, and some really strategic moves for teams to make. Yeah, that’s great. You say stress, burnout, and overwhelm are the killers of happiness. So I imagine [00:40:25] as we’ve talked about before, you know, there’s a bit of an epidemic mental health in, in the workplace.

Why is it, why are those three in particular, the killers of happiness and what can we do to mitigate it? So I think the reason we’ve ended up here, a lot of people ask me why Are we seeing such a struggle in mental health, not just in the workplace, but in society as a whole? And there’s two reasons, I think.

The first reason is historically we’ve been going through an era for about 20 ish years now of mental health awareness. Very important. You can’t change something you’re not aware of. So we’re having more conversations about it. Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s a less stigmatized than it was before. Very useful, very valuable.

But there’s a certain point where awareness is no longer enough. We need to enter an era of mental health advocacy, of mental health action, of mental health support and accessibility. It’s one thing to do RUOKDHU, it’s one thing to talk about mental [00:41:25] health at home in the workplace, but if people aren’t equipped with the support networks and the tools and the resources and the knowledge to actually change their mental health, we’re just pointing to something that’s struggling and going, Good luck fixing it on your own.

Yeah, right. And so we, I think I don’t take away from the great work of these organizations of RUOK, of Beyond Blue, of all the great work we’ve done over the last 20 years. It’s needed. It is a chapter that we needed to have to build awareness, but awareness is no longer enough. It’s that simple. We’ve got to go to the next chapter of what we do with mental health.

So that’s reason number one, why we’re here. The second reason is because all of the skills that are most closely correlated with managing stress well, with preempting, preventing, and recovering from burnout with managing our mind and emotions are the skills that we use to call soft skills. Like we’re talking about at the start of this conversation, a lot of people have never learned them.

You know, we have people enrolled at the college who were in their, [00:42:25] Late 30s, 40s, 50s. Our eldest graduate. I love her. She was in her late 60s in which she came to a live talk I did and she went, I’ve been alive for over six decades and I’ve never learned about how to manage my mind or emotions healthfully.

And I don’t think it’s too late to learn that. And I went, wow. And so she, she basically went back to school. She enrolled in our college. She worked with one of our coaches. She spent two years at the college learning those skills and then passed it onto her daughter and made a bit of a family ripple effect from it.

But I think there’s something beautiful about going. I may not have learned these skills earlier in life, and that may not be my fault, but it is 100 percent my responsibility. To learn them now, especially if I’m a leader. Definitely. You also talk about the three P’s of unhappiness, and I’ve heard you mention you a bit of a perfectionist before.

Yes. People pleasing and procrastination. [00:43:25] How common are these three P’s amongst the general population? And again, if an individual is putting their hand up right now, and I’m also putting my hand up as well for at least two of those, no, three of them, all three, um, what can we do about it? Yeah, so it’s, it’s funny, these behavioral expressions that we see, um, these personality traits almost of perfectionism, people pleasing, procrastination.

The way that came to be is actually whilst I was on sabbatical, I was having a conversation about what I do for a living and what my area of research is, and someone said, Hey, do you notice certain types of people tend to wrestle with their mind and emotions a little bit more than others? And And as a result, struggle with happiness a little bit more.

And I said, that’s an interesting question. Let me think about it. I looked back at all the different members and graduates we’d had throughout the years of the college and in five different countries. And I was like, what are the common themes here? Cause we’ve had people of different ages, backgrounds, employment experiences.

Like what’s, what’s happening here. That’s [00:44:25] attracting these people to work on these skills. And I went, they’re always falling into one of these three. They’ve either got perfectionistic tendencies where they’re really harsh on themselves, really loud internal critic, very all or nothing approach to life.

They’re stuck in people pleasing where they put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own to the point of burnout and they don’t know how to stop it. They’re normally, their greatest strength is they’re so caring and kind and giving. Their greatest weakness is they don’t know how to give some of that back to themselves.

Or they’re this visionary who has these big ideas and this big talk and goes, I know what I want out of life, but I keep pushing it back. I keep delaying on it. So they’re in the procrastination, um, bubble. And I went, well, that’s quite peculiar that that seems to be the common three. And so I dove more into it.

I was like, let’s go back and look at it some more. And what I found is the way to address them and solve them, thankfully, Is very much the same as the skills required to live a happy and fulfilling life. Overall, we need to start with awareness. Are we aware of our own thoughts and feelings? Are we aware of who we are?[00:45:25]

Are we even aware that we’re doing these patterns of people pleasing perfectionism and procrastination? Can we catch them early before we’re stuck in them? The second big skill. So there’s four, I call them the four skills, the ABCs of addressing people, pleasing, perfectionism, procrastination, awareness, being first awareness of self and our emotions.

The B in the ABCs is boundaries. Do we know how to communicate, set, uphold healthy boundaries with ourself, with others, with our work, with our commitments so that we don’t burn ourselves out in the process? And a lot of people don’t know how to recognize their boundaries, let alone communicate them well.

Um, and uphold them when they’re challenged, right? And then our C is Compassion, which is are we able to give ourselves permission to stuff up, to make mistakes, to be fallible, to not be great all the time, and to meet that with understanding and care, not with self judgment. If we can learn to be a little bit more [00:46:25] compassionate towards ourselves, a little bit more understanding, we tend to bounce back from setback a lot quicker.

And then the S in our ABCs, A, B, C, S for plurals is, uh, is self care, which is, are we able to consistently Do things that fill up our cup, that help us feel like we’re not running on empty, that look after ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, and allow us to pour into those around us. You know, I don’t think self care is selfish.

I think self care is the least selfish thing we can do because it grants the people around us the chance to know the best version of us. I once saw a great quote that said self care allows us to give the world the best of us rather than what’s left of us. And I think it’s such a selfish thing to do to not take care of ourselves and rob our loved ones, our team, our customers and clients, our community.

of the chance to know us as our best selves. I love that. Declan, we’ve covered a lot of ground in our chat [00:47:25] today. What’s one question that I didn’t ask you that you’d maybe hope that I did ask? And if I had asked it, how would you have answered? Oh, that’s a really good question. If you had asked me, after everything we spoke about, all these different concepts, theories, tools, techniques, strategies, advice, personal lived experience, and stories, what’s one sentence that would make the world a happier place if people knew it and embraced it?

My answer would be, happiness is a skill. Which means you can learn it, develop it, and grow it over time. And like any other skill, it’s going to take effort, it’s going to take work, you’re going to stuff it up and drop the ball sometimes. But please don’t think that happiness is just something reserved for the lucky few of life.

Please don’t think that you’re either born happy or not happy. It is in your power and your opportunity [00:48:25] to develop it and learn and grow it over time. So I would say if there was one sentence that I wish I could click my fingers and everyone in the world grasped. It’s the fact that happiness is a skill.

Yeah, that’s awesome. And that’s such a positive way of looking at as well. And I think that’ll give people hope who probably don’t feel like they necessarily have the happiness baseline that others have, that it is a skill and it is something that you can learn. Definitely. Yeah. That’s great. Declan, thank you so much for being with us today.

This has been such a wonderful conversation. So many great takeaways for people. So thank you so much. If people want to find more about you and BU University, where can they go? Yep. So either LinkedIn, if you search Declan Edwards on LinkedIn, I’m pretty active on there, or go to buhappinesscollege. com. Uh, that’s where you’ll find out if you click on the individual or personal happiness tab, you’ll find out all about the college and enrolling to learn those skills and working with a happiness coach.

If you click on the workplace happiness tab, you’ll learn all about the workplace happiness consulting and [00:49:25] the workplace happiness diagnostic report and all that fun stuff we spoke about today. And there’s also a tab there to help people get started just called free resources, which has a bunch of quizzes, scorecards, materials on demand web classes.

Um, it’s a really good starting point to explore this further, um, including that, that, uh, self diagnostic tool we discussed today. That’s awesome. Thanks so much, Declan. Really appreciate it. You’re so welcome. Thanks for having me.