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Happiness and wellbeing: you can have both, but they’re not the same thing

"Wellbeing needs to remain central to leadersip", writes Paul Hutchings, founder of fox&cat. In this article Paul and his network explain the difference between wellbeing and happiness. And how problems (of all things) can make us happy

We all want to be happy, right?

But what if I told you striving for happiness won’t help?

Instead, focus on wellbeing and you’ll be happier too.

In this article we’ll talk you through what happiness and wellbeing are, why focussing on wellbeing is better, and how you can help your agency team flourish whatever the circumstances…

What is happiness?

Happiness is that wonderful positive mental and emotional state that we all like to experience. Happiness is subjective. We all experience it differently.

But there are some basics we all need: warmth and shelter, food and water, connection with other people in our community (or tribe), and connection with the world around us – purpose and enjoyment.

Tick these boxes and all’s well.

Or is it?

Let’s sidestep for a moment and look at something else that makes us happy.


How problems can help you feel happy

Yes, you heard right. Problems (or challenges) can help you feel happy.

We humans are very sophisticated problem solvers. And when we solve problems, chemicals are released in our brains that make us feel good. Great while there are challenges to face, but what happens when you have none? Or the challenges you do have lack purpose?

The happiness-causing chemicals stop flowing and you become bored, feel underchallenged and are easily distracted.

Fact is, problems and challenges motivate and engage us, helping us to grow, find solutions and innovate.

When I got a poor time in a recent half marathon, I felt like failure. But I quickly began to analyse how to alleviate my negative feelings. Should I do the race again (with more training so I get a better time), sign up for a different distance instead (I might do better at the 10k), or do something completely different (a triathlon, getting on Bake Off, or finally finish that book I’ve been writing)? Repeating, building on, or doing something different are all possible next steps but whatever I choose, I already feel happier.

In the past (millions of years ago) if you could problem-solve well, it meant you were more likely to survive (like escaping the sabre-toothed tiger before he got me!). You’d be rewarded with praise from others and feel the internal joy of your success, then feel motivated to keep solving problems.

And it’s the same today. We’re still hard-wired to thrive on problem-solving and it makes us feel happy.

We often see happiness as the result of successful wellbeing and it’s the goal most of us strive for, but it’s actually the other way round. Happiness is one of several things that contribute to your wellbeing…

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is the much broader state of being comfortable, healthy and happy. Susan Hammond, Mental Health and Wellbeing Copywriter, and our newest member of the fox&cat network, describes it as holistic – accounting for the whole person including body, mind and soul:

“The very word indicates it’s a way of being. As well as implying you’re physically healthy, wellbeing is characterised by the presence of positive mental states, emotions and moods. Good wellbeing means you have space to breathe.”   

How to improve wellbeing in your agency

Everyone is responsible for their own wellbeing. But with the pressures of agency life your staff are highly prone to the associated negative feelings. So you need to provide suitable work-related strategies to help your team flourish.

Wellbeing is dependent on four key areas: happiness, self-actualisation, resilience and healthy relationships. By ensuring a focus on each you’ll be able to build a stronger, more successful team…

  1. Happiness (enjoyment, purpose): Your staff should all enjoy their work and be striving for the same goal. So be clear on your company vision and values when finding people to join your team, when assessing performance and when considering promotions. When you have the right people doing the right job enjoyment will flow naturally.
  2. Self-actualisation (accomplishments, wisdom): As noted above, we’re all problem solvers and by nature achieve things. It’s important to recognise these achievements so your staff feel they’re accomplishing something worthwhile, even though it’s easy to forget in a fast paced agency.
  3. Resilience (coping, problem solving): Life is hard and our ability to cope with the challenges of modern life while constrained by “being human” means we need a way to survive. By helping your team develop essential life skills they’ll build resilience and thrive in all circumstances.
  4. Healthy relationships (open, honest, balanced): We’re all connected, and no-one should suffer or succeed alone. Life is easier when we have strong, meaningful relationships fuelled by shared values, passions and experiences.

For these reasons, wellbeing should be central to your leadership. Alex Kyriakidis, who helps create and deliver fox&cat wellbeing initiatives, comments:

“There’s no one size fits all when it comes to wellbeing so it’s important to spend time listening and understanding the needs of your business and your teams. This allows you to go beyond the tick box and to create something that will make a lasting impact on the wellbeing of staff as well as positively impacting the cultural health of an organisation.”

How fox&cat can help

At fox&cat we fully understand agency life and can create a bespoke package to help you manage pressure – including wellbeing and team building events.

We use our adaptTM planning framework to understand the root causes of pressure in your business, then provide client service, training, leadership support and wellbeing initiatives. For more on how we can help your team to be happy, healthy and successful here’s our website.

Fox&cat works with brave, forward-thinking agencies who accept that things aren’t perfect and never will be. With those who want to make positive and lasting change. And with those who aren’t afraid to tackle pressure as a holistic issue. If that’s you do get in touch.

24th May 2021



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