The Happiness Committee

The Happiness Committee

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

The Happiness Committee

The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

~Mark Twain

I was happy to get out of the office. I, along with a co-worker, was taking a management course that would require us to be out of town for two days a week for a month. Our office consisted of about sixty people, many of whom had known one another for more than fifteen years. We shared one another’s triumphs and sorrows. This had been a particularly difficult year. We had suffered through regulatory changes and personal challenges. The morale at work was at an all-time low.

One of the homework assignments from our class was to conduct a study, following specific guidelines, to assess the level of workplace satisfaction. I didn’t need a process for that. All I had to do was spend some time in the office to see that satisfaction was low. People were unhappy and it seemed like we could not recover from one blow before another one hit.

I recalled a story that I had read in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive by Mandie Maass titled “First Class Attitude.” It was about two women who found themselves stranded at an airport, for hours, with a gate full of tired, disgruntled people. Determined to keep a positive attitude, they did everything they could to make the other passengers feel happier. They had no power to change the situation with the planes, but they could help change attitudes. I convinced my co-worker that we should assess the happiness of our workplace, and if possible, make it a more positive place to work.

We had to finish our project in two weeks so we moved quickly. The first thing I did was get permission from one of the vice presidents to move forward. Securing that, I sent an e-mail letting everyone know what we were doing and asking them to think about what could be done to make our office a happier place to work. I gave them the parameters we had to work with so that they would understand the scope of this endeavor. These suggestions would be voiced during a series of Happiness Meetings.

We recruited people for the Happiness Committee. This committee was a small group of supervisors who understood our limitations, had authority to make decisions, and would advise on which suggestions could be executed. We also enlisted a trio of scribes to write down the suggestions during the Happiness Meetings.

The following day, one department at a time, we gave each person an opportunity to list things that they thought would brighten the workplace for them. Our scribes wrote everything down. Suggestions ranged from putting a new coat of paint on the walls, to planning some fun activities, to onsite training. I was surprised and pleased at the thought they had put into their suggestions. Up until this point, I was uncertain as to how much cooperation and enthusiasm we would get.

The work of the scribes was typed into a document, listing all of the suggestions, and reviewed by the Happiness Committee. Any items deemed inappropriate, or just beyond the scope of the Happiness Project, were eliminated. A ballot was compiled of the remaining suggestions. An e-mail was sent out to let everyone know that they would vote for their five favorite suggestions.

The next day, I got on the intercom to let each department know when to vote. When people began to line up to vote, I noticed that there was already a change. The familiar chatter was back. People were smiling. I was getting excited. Was this going to work?

After the voting, the ballots were tallied and the top twenty suggestions, by number of votes, were compiled. Once again, these were reviewed by the Happiness Committee. This time, their job was to determine what could be done about each suggestion and what the timeline was for getting it done. It was time to let everyone know.

We had thought about this and decided to use it as an opportunity to begin fulfilling the items on the list. One of the top ten items was for the office to get together, periodically, for a potluck breakfast or lunch. Just some fellowship among coworkers. We planned the Happiness Café. All employees would be invited to breakfast. They would be given menus from which they could choose and their breakfast would be prepared to order. The best part? The supervisors served as the waiters and the cooks.

Dressed in white aprons, all the supervisors lined up as the rest of the employees took their seats at the Happiness Café. Employees were delighted to have their supervisors waiting on them. Supervisors tried to outdo one another with their customer service. I was a cook and, even from the kitchen, I could hear the noise and laughter. I took a minute and peeked through the door. It did my heart good to see all the happy faces. My coworkers. My friends.

Once everyone had a chance to eat, I had announcements to make. I read the list of the top twenty suggestions and let everyone know what actions were planned and the estimated timelines. Everyone applauded. I also announced that a permanent committee had been formed, a mix of supervisors and other employees, to make sure the suggestions were carried out and the momentum of the Happiness Project continued. This new committee would be called the TEAM Committee.

To introduce the new committee, I shouted out, cheerleader style, each letter of TEAM. As I did, each member ran out holding that letter high overhead. Once all were in place, everyone applauded and cheered. What can I say? Sometimes corny works.

Not only did every item on the top-twenty list come to fruition, the TEAM Committee is still in place today. The CEO has handed out letters of commendation to the committee for its work. These are very hard to come by so they mean a lot.

My coworker and I went back to class the following week and listened as everyone reported on their projects. When it was our turn, jaws dropped. We hit it out of the park. Neither our classmates nor our teacher could believe how far we took our project.

Our work had not only increased morale in the office and caused workplace improvements, it had boosted our morale also. I learned that making other people happy is one of the best ways to make yourself happy, just like the two women in the story “First Class Attitude.”

~Debbie Acklin

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