This article stems from the question: “What do we need to be happy - and what can we do to become happy?”.
Although I do not have an exhaustive answer to this question, I would like to share some thoughts on the link between happiness, work, objectives, governance and... banks.
If you’re curious, please read on!
Goals and happiness: what do we need to be truly happy?
The first step on the path to happiness is to focus on goals, and to ask ourselves: what is it that can really bring us closer to what we understand as happiness?
This is not a simple task, but it answers a universal question; you will have no difficulty in finding hundreds of manuals and gurus trying to simplify the task with different kinds of suggestions.
Personally, I found the methodology described by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors at Stanford, in their book Designing Your Life - how to build a well-lived joyful life” very interesting (I highly recommend it).
The authors set out from a couple of facts:
- Only 27% of graduates in the United States (but I don’t expect there would be significant differences in Europe) undertake a career related to their university studies.
- Success does not automatically mean happiness: many people who have achieved success according to “classical” parameters (study path, career progression, economic stability, etc.) do not turn out in reality to either be happy or satisfied, not even as a result of the work they have done.
- 31 million Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 are looking for a new career and looking for one with precise characteristics: they want something that has personal significance, ensures a steady income and has a social impact.
These preliminary observations immediately suggest that happiness, mistakenly identified with elements that have to do with stability, is actually something much broader - involving not only the economic/work sphere but also and above all the personal sphere. Something that, moreover, is not static but constantly evolving together with the person him or herself.
The authors therefore propose a method for “designing one’s own life” aimed at everyone: those who have just entered the world of study or work, but also those who - at whatever age - have realised they have to start over.
Particularly stimulating is the approach proposed, i.e. design thinking applied to one’s own self. This translates, in practice, into striving to take on certain attitudes (or “mindsets”) that are clearly marked as constructive, for example:
- Being curious and ready to experiment, trying to do things concretely.
- Reformulating (or “reframing”) the problems so that the right problems can be identified and resolved.
- Tackling the path with the knowledge that this is about a process and it is therefore normal to find hindrances, but it is essential to persist, focus on the process itself and see what happens.
- Asking for help: in a perspective of “radical collaboration”, in fact, the best ideas can come from other people.
Going forward, in a very pragmatic way, the authors define a method for the “self assessment” of your situation using four main dimensions: work, play, love and health. But I will leave the rest to your curiosity: you can buy the book or enrol in the course at Stanford.
However, by following this or other methods at some point you should have a better understanding of what happiness means to you, and what goals you need to move towards in order to achieve it.
Governance and happiness: keeping the plan under control
We have made it clear what we need to be happy - our goals - and we have perhaps already started to work on different plans to achieve them. The work does not end there: at this point, Governance is fundamental so all our efforts are not frustrated.
By Governance I mean the constant verification that the actions of the plan are being implemented and that these behaviours are actually bringing us closer to the objectives. It may well be that our actions are distancing us from our objectives - and in this case it is good to know this immediately so that we can take appropriate action.
Even in a process as intangible as the pursuit of happiness, measuring and steering the course play a key role.
One could say that happiness is a project, and should be treated as such, working on it with the methodical attitude and constancy that we would apply to a job that we care deeply about. This means carefully planning the most relevant actions to achieve our most important objectives by assessing their impacts, setting periodic checkpoints to measure the progress of the plan, adjusting any subsequent moves accordingly.
Finance and happiness: how much influence does economic stability have?
The most romantic types among us would not like me for this statement: in the context of such a pragmatic approach to happiness, one’s economic situation undoubtedly plays an important role.
The achievement of our objectives is inevitably linked to situation of our assets (what we start out with or our debt exposure), our income (income capacity, spending habits, savings capacity) and our financial situation (coverage of cash requirements).
Even in the case of aims that are in themselves independent of our finances, an unbalanced situation in this sense can create tensions and thoughts that inevitably disturb our focus on those aims - slowing us down or preventing us from achieving them.
On the other hand, an economic situation kept generally under control guarantees the possibility of planning the best possible actions directly dependent on financial resources, and at the same time gives us the serenity of mind we need to proceed motivated towards any type of objective.
Having our assets, income and financial situation under control is a prerequisite for achieving many if not all objectives.
LISA: a personal advisor for happiness
We said earlier that happiness requires aims, an action plan with the appropriate governance, and financial viability. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone to help us, set our goals, monitor the situation - perhaps even give us some strategic advice along the way?
Essentially a personal advisor - let’s call her LISA (Lifetime Improvement Support Advisor) - who sincerely cares about our happiness and does everything to support us, without needing anything in return. Someone who can monitor our financial situation and quickly calculate for us the impact of all our actions on the overall plan. A personal advisor who is always with us - in our pocket, so to speak - to highlight virtuous behaviour and warn us about harmful actions, allowing us to have a concrete, active planning of our lives.
«LISA, look at these fantastic shoes... If I buy them now, will I be in trouble at the end of the month?» «No, because this month you received an interest payment on your investment that covers this extraordinary expense!»
«LISA, to go to the Caribbean next summer and spend €2,500 all-inclusive, what do you suggest I do?» «I suggest you set aside €150 a month: shall I go ahead and set the goal?»
If LISA existed, she would naturally be our bank - or rather, a bank that really has an interest in helping its customers “remain on course to achieve their goals”. Indeed, with PSD2 and Open Banking, other parties other than banks could also offer this service (in the noblest sense of the word).
The problem in any case is that it is difficult to imagine that there could be a bank with the obsession or value focus of wanting to help its customers to be happy, without demanding anything in return. This is impossible and would not even be appropriate: after all, a bank is still a profit-making company that has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders.
Banking and happiness: an oxymoron... or perhaps not?
Looking at the matter more closely, it is not true that the bank would gain nothing in return: it would receive the customer’s trust, his or her deposits and the customer’s willingness to evaluate his or her bank as the first choice for further value-added services, such as investment management.
Fortunately, times are also changing: banks (and indeed companies in general) are beginning to pay more attention to factors previously considered secondary - environment, equity, inclusion, society - all factors that are not strictly economic, but which, as is now well-known, have a direct impact on financial performance.
All banks should be aware that helping their customers to realise their ambitions, their dreams, will lead to a relationship of trust and reciprocity that, in a perspective of lifetime value, will also have a positive impact on that customer’s results for the bank.
No one should care more about the 360° satisfaction of their customers than banks.
If you think the reasoning is utopian, I cannot blame you: all the indicators (history, confidence, reward systems, scandals, regulatory pressures, economic crisis, rates, profitability etc.) tell us that the happiness of the customer and the bank seem irreconcilable.
But if you think we really should reason differently... I have good news for you: LISA exists - and if you contact me, I’d be delighted to introduce her to you.
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This article is part of the series #TechedgeTalks: views and thoughts from our Industry Leaders on the main market sectors. Don't miss the next one - subscribe to our newsletter!