• Nick Hague and Paul Hague

Dealing with unhappiness

The United Nations publishes a happiness index and it makes interesting reading. Four Viking countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland) lead the world with average satisfaction scores of between 7.5 and 7.8 out of 10. Sweden is close behind. It seems that the mindsets, possibly helped by strong welfare states, make Nordics happy. In general there is a strong correlation between prosperous countries and high happiness scores. However, out of the 156 countries listed in the 2019 survey, 139 have a happiness score of below seven. On the Net Promoter Score these would be "detractors".

At the bottom of the list with happiness scores of less than 4 out of 10 are South Sudan, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Tanzanian, Rwanda, and Yemen. This is unlikely to surprise anyone.

So, we can determine that wars, oppression and economic depression do not foster happiness. That is the macro view. But what about the micro view? What is it on a personal level that makes people unhappy?

Hague senior volunteers as a Samaritan. The Samaritan charity receives calls from people in despair, some of them at the end of their tether and wanting to end their lives. A typical call is around 30 minutes and some are much longer. During this time the feelings of the caller are explored and it usually becomes apparent as to the cause of the unhappiness. It would be easy to say that by far the majority of callers have a mental health condition. This begs the question as to the cause of the problem because herein may lie a solution if there is one. Some of the mental health problems could be the result of systemic changes such as an alteration to body chemistry. Isolation, loneliness, drug abuse and fear of illness can all grind down our mental well being. Or we could be hit by a traumatic event such as abuse, bereavement, financial problems, or family disputes . They all take their toll.

There are no quick solutions for most people in dire mental straits. What builds up over time cannot be erased in a call although the ability to talk about the problem most definitely helps. Bad luck, bad processes, bad personal decisions are agents of despair and those of us in a strong mental position must surely say "there but for the grace of God go I".

Globally we are facing problems that are unprecedented. We would be ostriches if we didn’t take time to consider the causes of unhappiness because almost certainly those previous happiness scores will be decimated next time around. As we see it, there are two reasons for unhappiness. One is a systematic breakdown that erodes happiness over time. Think of it like the constant pressures from wind, rain and ice, slowly but ceaselessly carving out the geomorphology of the land. The other cause is a catastrophic event. Think of these as the tectonic shifts, geological faults and volcanoes that shape our landscapes. The drivers of unhappiness can change from tectonic to systemic. At the present it wouldn’t be hard to see systemic factors taking over. Most of us are suffering some loss of quality of life during the coronavirus lockdown and it is sure to affect the happiness index.

The personal difficulties we are facing are mirrored or are greater in our businesses. We may be unable to provide the same quality of products or even produce any products at all. The coronavirus will affect all our systems – our pricing structures, availability through our supply channels, our ability to provide customers with the support they need. We can imagine that it isn’t going to help our customer experience scores.

These are difficult times and in difficult times it is worthwhile returning to basics. We should remember six pillars that always need to be in place:

1. We must stay committed to the cause. Delivering customer satisfaction isn’t easy in these hard times but we must try because it is fundamental and forever.

2. And then we must understand exactly what our customers’ needs are so we can fulfill and deliver against them. These will surely be changing in these difficult times and we must do our best to respond.

3. We must do this easily and seamlessly so our customers appreciate we are doing what we can in the circumstances.

4. Speed is of the essence because anyone reaching out to us now surely wants a quick result.

5. It is such a time of change and we know that customers’ needs are changing almost by the day. If we can, we must anticipate these changing needs.

6. And so it follows that we must evolve and respond. We must be as inventive as we can to find new solutions for our customers and help them in their time of need.

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