Danish by birth but French by adoption, Malene Rydahl is a former marketing and communications executive of major international companies. Today when she speaks around the world it is to share her expertise on happiness, well-being and performance in business. And her speech is music to the ears…
What does happiness mean for you?
I define happiness as the alignment between what I am, what I think, what I say, and what I do. It is a basis, the basis of well-being. Happiness is often confused with pleasure, provided by joyful moments. Personally, I focus on this basis of alignment, which we can rely on when things happen beyond our control, whatever the circumstances.
Happiness is said to depend 50% on genetics, 40% on what we do, and 10% on what happens to us. After a year of a global pandemic with unprecedented consequences, do these proportions remain the same?
Definitely, although it can be difficult to accept. Consider two people who experience this situation under the same circumstances. Their attitude and reactions to it – the 40% that are self-reliant – well, it changes everything! It pushes us to innovate, to test our ability to bounce back, to open up new perspectives, to find time for other things, to grow other resources. We keep a certain lucidity on what we have lost, of course, but we must approach all the hardships, unwanted situations, as a learning experience. And if I learn, I grow, and I open my horizon. All that is conscious. Thus, we do not experience events the same way: we are no longer a victim.
It is a fundamental part of understanding life to realise that you ultimately have very little control over things. On the other hand, we have complete control and freedom of the attitude we adopt in front of what happens to us.
Let me also share a piece of advice: multiply your sources of happiness. If you sanctify your work, or your relationships, or other things, the pressure you put on it creates extreme fragility. And if you lose this source, you have nothing. By planting several seeds, we can water, maintain, and receive happiness from several sources.
Are the other skills we can develop to approach happiness?
There are several, but for me, the first step is to know yourself. You are the person you spend and will spend the most time with on earth! It’s a relationship that must be harmonious. When you know yourself well, it’s then easier to show empathy, without judgment, even when faced with values opposed to your own. This creates a feeling of understanding, which generates quality relationships, in all areas, because people feel noticed, understood and accepted. I would also say that it takes a good ability to show gratitude, an exercise to be practiced on a daily basis.
Finally, the last point would be the meaning. The feeling of being part of something or contributing to a project, which gives you meaning. It’s important to know why we get up in the morning.
There is a french expression that says “happy fool”. Is intelligence an obstacle to happiness?
I have in mind the book ‘Too Smart to be Happy’, by Jeanne Siaud-Facchin, whose title is eloquent. Is it too complicated to be happy when you think too much, when you analyze everything, when you feel everything too strongly? My response to this is that once happiness is aligned, it is no longer about IQ. A life path where you are aligned means you’re not afraid of being yourself: you know who you are. This authenticity – since you’re not “playing a role anymore” – is fundamental to me. We also know that having quality relationships is another element that is determined to have the most influence on the quality of life.
So intelligence is not the issue. More than IQ, it is about EQ (emotional quotient): the ability to manage our emotions and to be able to welcome those of others. For me, this element differentiates the happier from the less happy people. Our ability to have a harmonious relationship with ourselves, to accept ourselves, to encourage ourselves, being able to rejoice and not take people and things for granted.
Telecommuting has many advantages but it can reduce the pleasure of work and cuts us off from the energy and compassion of others.
Trust is a major element in your talks. In the time of Covid-19 and working from home where trusting employees is essential, what advice would you give to managers?
I’m going to refer to the work of Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, who published the book “The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth”. The idea is to succeed in creating a space where employees feel free, confident and authorized: to be themselves, ask a question, express an idea, share a concern, admit an error, without being afraid of being judged, or laughed at, by the rest of the group. This psychological space is based on trust, empathy, and self-knowledge. By preventing from existing the one who asks “the stupid question” or the “strange idea” we exclude this person. As a result, it is the feeling of well-being in general, but also innovation and performance, which will decline in the company!
While working remotely, we must maintain the social and human link. In a Zoom meeting, you can’t say “I wanted to tell you that my cat has passed away.” Off-topic, too intimate or intrusive. The digital cuts off the little phrases said in front of the coffee machine that will warm the heart. An exchange that can be very short but allows you to feel connected with the other. Telecommuting has many advantages in terms of efficiency, but it can reduce the pleasure of work and cuts us off from the energy and compassion of others.
2021 is starting with some signs of hope. What advice would you give to live it with serenity?
I would say to approach it with a realistic optimistic frame of mind. The idealistic optimist is the one who says: “it’s going to be fine, everything’s great” while underestimating the difficulties that one can encounter. On another hand, the realistic optimist will also say “it’s going to be fine” but with at least a little plan B in mind, different scenarios, providing a better ability to cope. Realistic optimists manage to imagine with realism what could happen while keeping a positive spirit. To approach 2021 and beyond, with hope!