Every month, Marcel Khan, chief executive of Thunderbird Fried Chicken reads a book (so you don’t have to) and applies insight into the sector based on what he’s learned between the covers and beyond. This month: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Finally. Hot time, summer in the city. Except something doesn’t quite feel right.

The spring into summer has felt more like a stumble. The energy isn’t quite there. The temperature, variable as ever in this green and pleasant land, feels tepid. And it’s hard not to relate this feeling to the current temperature in business.

It’s all just a little flat. No meeting is complete without reference to the fact that it’s currently ‘a tough trading environment’. And, dare I say it, things often feel joyless.

I personally never think of our industry as ‘food & beverage’: it’s always been hospitality to me. And hospitality without pride and joy is just wrong. I’ll leave the pride for another day: this month I’m focusing on joy.

The common thread around joy and happiness goes a little something like this:

  • · Work hard and you’ll be successful
  • · If you are successful, then you’ll be happy, and you’ll find joy
  • · If you focus on your goals and ‘bring them home’, joy will follow

Shawn Achor is a Harvard University lecturer. His book ‘The Happiness Advantage’ turns this formula on its head and argues that joy and happiness fuel success, not the other way around. Achor’s view is that when people are positive, the brain becomes more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive.

He outlines seven principles to bring ‘the happiness advantage’ to life. And to arrive at these principles, he went in deep. Using stories, case-work, and work with over 1,000 executives and leaders from classrooms to boardrooms in 42 countries, Achor thought up a system to re-spark or re-program our brains into becoming more positive, in order to gain a competitive edge at work.

The principles, although somewhat hokey in terms of their titles, are practical and actionable. They’ve been tried and tested to demonstrate how Achor’s ‘happiness advantage’ improves performance and optimises potential within leaders and organisations.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip the detail. Instead of outlining the steps, I’ll dig into the over-arching ideas behind them:

1. Positive psychology at work is magic dust. It places happiness at the centre, and success will revolve around it.

2. Positive change is always possible – Achor’s method utilises seven key principles. There’s nothing to suggest you can’t create your own system. One thing that’s true is that happiness is relative: everyone perceives it differently. That’s why it’s important to figure out your own principles.

3. Joy and happiness create a ripple effect. The more joy and happiness we embody, the happier others around us are. In short, emotions are contagious. Word of warning: this is true for both positive and negative emotions.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with some incredible leaders in the industry and my favourite ones had a smile on their face more often than not. My best example of this is probably Nando’s Robby Enthoven. I haven’t seen him in a while, but in my memories he always wears a smile. He embodies joy, positivity and an infectious optimism. I was fortunate to learn from him and many others.

Today’s job of leadership isn’t just about strategy, vision, direction and support. The job is also very much to spark joy within the best industry in the world. And if joy is indeed infectious, that means – through bringing out the best of our teams – our amazing hospitality sector will set off that spark of happiness within our customers and out into the wider world. Not a bad industry to be in, if you ask me.

The other day, someone described me as ‘that bouncy f*cker’. I’m not sure if it was meant as compliment or insult but I’ll take it.

(NB. This month’s column comes with a recommended soundtrack: Joy As An Act Of Resistance by Idles. As the album fades, the last words you hear vocalist Joe Talbot rage are “keep going! Keep f*cking going…”. ‘Nuff said.)

Marcel has been reading ‘The Happiness Advantage’ by Shawn Achor, so you don’t have to.

Marcel Khan spent six years as operations and brand development director at Five Guys, and before that he was regional MD for Nando’s UK for almost a decade. He is now chief executive at Thunderbird Fried Chicken.