The Happy Baby Theory of Productivity

Having read hundreds of studies related to what makes people productive, two main themes come up over and over again: happiness autonomy.

When I read research about productivity or how people work, I try to step back and ask myself what is the big picture? What’s really driving someone to be more productive? 

Time and again, it’s happiness and autonomy.

It always makes me think of “happy baby.” Happy baby is a yoga pose named for what babies often do when they’re happy and left to their own devices without being swaddled or held down. They lay on their backs, swing their bent legs up into the air, and grab their feet or toes.

Let me share some examples of how I might boil down the findings from a study to happiness or autonomy of being the keys that unlock our productivity potential.

We know that having a nice office environment increases productivity. People are more productive with natural lighting rather than all artificial lighting. They’re more productivity when ambient noise isn’t bothering them. They’re productive when they don’t feel too cold or too warm. They’re even more productive they have “proximity to nature,” which can mean having a view of trees out a window or putting a few indoor plants nearby. What’s at the heart of all that? It’s about being in a pleasant space, which I’d argue boils down to contentment or happiness.

Having agency is a big deal, too. When people have a say in how they use their time off and whether and when they can work from home, they’re more productive. 

There are more straightforward studies, too. For example, studies show that having increased autonomy makes people more productive. We also know that priming people to feel happy leads them to work harder and more diligently on tasks that they’re given. And of course getting time off of work ultimately makes us more productive, but when you unpack why that’s true, we find out it has to do with having control over our free time and using it in enjoyable ways. Again, happiness and autonomy.

So if you stuck with your productivity, just ask yourself what would a happy baby do? The more you can find things that make you happy and help you feel autonomous, the more likely you are to be your most productive self.

Image by Teresa Shishim, CC.


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