Being happy is difficult but not impossible.

Take my cousin Jessie. Let’s get to know her a bit.

She’s a primary school teacher, works with screaming kids day in and out and comes home to 2 more screaming young boys. She sometimes tells me she fears she might develop a hearing problem, but it’s ok because she’s dedicated to help the special needs kids she teaches with whatever problems come their way.

She loves skiing and her two sons are now quite professional as well, so they all go on skiing trips every year. Her goal is to make it to the Olympics. She also enjoys cooking so most of the family’s meals are homecooked with lots of love. She says it can get exhausting to cook all the time but she’s really good at it and takes great pleasure in seeing her family well fed.

It seems like Jessie has a lot on her plate but she’s a funny and super positive person, always looking at the bright side of things and always approaching life’s challenges with an almost out of the world calm. There’s always a solution, no matter what life throws at her.

So what makes Jessie happy?

Let’s take a closer look at her daily life:

Jessie drives to work every morning, holds classes like Math, Literature, Drama and Physical Education to name a few after which she comes back home after lunch where she splits her time between family matters and work that still needs to be done for the day.

Besides the Physical Education classes that she holds outside, she works mostly inside, in different classrooms depending on the taught subject and then from her home.

At home she also chooses to work from different places around her house depending on the task at hand…for example, I often see her laying in her favorite reading chair when she grades papers.

Most of us, just like Jessie, have a family and work about eight hours or more per day and most of the time this work happens somewhere indoors.

Statistically, we spend 90% of our time indoors according to the US Environmental Protection Agency and that’s about 1296 minutes indoors and only 144 minutes outdoors per day.

This makes me wonder…

How much of our happiness is affected by the built environment we inhabit most of the time and how much is affected by other factors?

Spending so much time indoors will undoubtably have the built environment we inhabit affect our overall happiness, but don’t stress yet as I’ve got some good news for you folks:

Research shows we can affect our happiness independent of the spaces we inhabit, as long as we have the freedom to choose between a variety of activities we engage in throughout the day.

But what is happiness?

This concept of Happiness or Subjective Wellbeing has been widely explored by Wellbeing and Positive Psychologists and has been described as the individual’s positive perception of their life.

And what influences this positive perception of life?

Renowned psychologists P. Desmet and Hassenzahl use a pie chart to illustrate what makes people happy:

The Genetic Set PointUp to 50% of one’s happiness is inborn.

Circumstances – are an individual’s current state, such as their financial well-being, or their health or their relationship status or even where they vacation. Material goods is said to fit within this category as it represents only 10% on the impact of one’s overall happiness.

Activities – these are the actions people undertake and accounts for 40% on the Happiness Pie Chart.

Does that mean that we can intentionally affect our Subjective Wellbeing? 

In their studies, psychologists Sheldon, Boehm and Lyubomirsky prove that variety in activities is inherently rewarding and stimulating for behavior and thoughts alike.

Variety has been confirmed as the factor that prolongs Subjective Wellbeing.

The results of their studies and research conclude that:

“attending to variety in one’s actions may be a powerful happiness enhancing strategy”

and that:

“variety is, indeed, the spice of happiness.”

So how do we engage in a variety of activities throughout our day?

And what kind of activities are we talking about?

We often cannot alter the physical environment we live most of our lives in, but if we can, we should have the built environment not only be a functional space to inhabit but catering it to people by giving them options to choose what they want to do within that environment.

Imagine being able to work with anyone, from anywhere and anytime based on the activity you are working on!

This is what ABW (Activity Based Working) is and in relationship to the built environment, it pertains to the idea of an office that offers a variety of work settings, built specifically to enable and enhance performance for the type of work that one engages in.

Today’s knowledge workers are expected to perform a variety of work tasks and one work setting (desk) alone simply cannot cater for the best results.

As no two people or no two companies are the same, so are the recipes for achieving Subjective Wellbeing and Business Success.

So think about the different activities you are engaging in throughout the day. Do you have a good enough mix? Do the spaces you inhabit best support these activities?

Have you found the secret recipe of activities for your Subjective Wellbeing?

Ps: I’ll share few tips on how to do that in the second part of this blog 😉 Coming up soon…

For more like this:


  • Workplace of  the future: How MSD Lebanon achieved this in 10 months (Case study + video)
  • Leadership: The key to ensure a successful transformation towards Activity Based Working (3 min video)
  • Transformation: Starting point for making any transformation to a new way of working a success? (2 min video)

For more about this project please contact Sorina Catuna

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