Designing happiness with Weatherhead graduate Jen Margolis
Posted 3.6.14Designing happiness with Weatherhead MPOD alumna Jen Margolis, co-founder of happiness incubator Thrive in Cleveland
A lunchtime dance party. A farm-to-table tasting with a mystery chef at Countryside Conservancy Farmers Market. A cocktail party staffed by ninjas. These are a few of the unique experiences to which a start-up called Thrive has recently treated Clevelanders.
Thrive bills itself as a “happiness incubator” offering experiences that surprise, delight and build a sense of community. But as co-founder Jen Margolis, MPOD ’07, explains, it’s not all fun and games.
“You know how some companies have ‘chief fun officers’ nowadays? That’s not this,” says Margolis. “These experiences are rooted in science from the field of positive psychology.”
Current research into the nature of happiness suggests that although our genes and external circumstances (like having our basic needs met) play a role in our level of happiness, we can also consciously pursue experiences and acquire habits that increase our level of happiness.
“Our definition of happiness at Thrive is the intersection of meaning and pleasure,” Margolis says. “And meaning often comes from challenging experiences. That’s why we make sure our experiences provide the opportunity to do three things: share, stretch, and smile—in other words, connect to others, learn or do something new or unexpected, and experience pure pleasure.”
An example was Dia de Noquis, an evening of gnocchi-making that Thrive organized based on a South American tradition. Participants shared family stories and traditions and learned mindfulness and happiness practices, all while learning how to make homemade gnocchi together. After the feast, they took some home to give to someone they care about.
New Thrive initiatives include Thrive@Work, which allows companies to co-design happiness experiences and practices for employees that increase their well-being and team cohesion.
“A lot of companies have been requesting something like this, but we had to take a little time to get our heads around the model,” says Margolis. “The focus of Thrive@Work is about designing experiences, habits and spaces that connect passion, meaning and purpose to work while building strong social connections and boosting well-being.”
As Thrive’s only full-time employee, Margolis compares running a startup to “drinking from a fire hose.” Her partners include co-founder Scott Simon, who works in commercial real estate, as well as writers, engineers, architects and consultants—several of them fellow graduates of Weatherhead. That such a diverse group of professionals have all found purpose in side careers as “happiness designers” speaks to what Margolis says is a global movement that has spawned companies, magazines, even happiness indices. The government of the United Kingdom, for example, is developing ways of measuring national well-being alongside other social and economic indicators.
Yet enhancing one’s own happiness is a very personal quest. Margolis points out that it takes 45 days to form a habit—even one that will ultimately make you happier—but that experiences like those Thrive provides can help jump-start the process.
“It’s the difference between what you know—for example, telling yourself you should be eating lots of kale—versus talking to a farmer who grows it and then cooking and tasting some delicious kale creation,” Margolis explains. “We have more power over our happiness than we ever thought. We can make choices to thrive.”
Learn more about Weatherhead's Master of Science in Positive Organization Development (MPOD).
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