How to be HAPPY?

…By James Wright.


I’m an old timer at RedBalloon with 5 years, 6 months and 6 days (as I write this) under my belt. When I started we were just 23 people, now we are 60. As we have got bigger, older and wiser I would definitely say we’ve got happier as an organisation too. At the core of this, I am sure, its a case of happy is as happy does. So far during my time at RedBalloon we have delivered well over 1m experiences to our customers; it gives me goosebumps to know how many people we make happy everyday; the givers and recievers of our gifts.

For the last decade and a bit we have been ‘Changing Gifting in Australia forever’ and we are fast approaching our target of delivering 2m RedBalloon experiences by 2015; it’s a purpose, our Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).

The 2m mark was the point at which we determined we would have changed gifting forever and reduced Australia’s desire for and reliance on ‘stuff’ as a gift along the way.

It’s not long before we hit the 2m, the big screen in our office that counts in real time how we are going is currently on (INSERT NUMBER). The ‘changing gifting’ mantra has been something everyone at RedBalloon, our suppliers, corporate partners and customers have all rallied behind.




About a month ago the Leadership team revealed our new purpose; ‘we are causing a Happiness Revolution’. We needed something new to play for as we approached 2m on the big ticker.

The new target is 5m “Good Times” by 2020. On achieving our 5m target RedBalloon will have delivered an experience to more than a quarter of the Australian population. By anyone’s standards will have definitely caused a Happiness Revolution.

But why have we chosen Happiness as our new purpose and where does happiness come from?

RedBalloon is passionate about giving people more good times; delivering a little slice of happiness both through the act of giving and recieiving a gift and ultimately the experience that the recipient chooses to enjoy.

We are in the business of fun! What we do for our customers is an opportunity for them to cause and enjoy some happieness in their own and other peoples’ lives.


18 months ago I went to a small community cinema in Sydney’s Darlinghurst to watch a movie called “Happy” directed by Roko Belic ( Belic had embarked on a film project to investigate the source or cause of happiness, our most prized human emotion.

Happy Movie

Happy Movie

Who doesn’t want or aspire to be happy?

Being in the business of selling Happiness for living and helping businesses develop happier employees and customers I figured it was an important movie for me to go and see, not just for my own benefit but for the benefit of my family, friends, partner, colleagues and of course customers. I wanted to learn more about being happy.

The film begins with a look at positive psychology and the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow.

Being in Flow is simply doing what you most want to do. That’s got to cause someone to be Happy. For Csikszentmihalyi being in flow means being present, it is a state of timelessness; where nothing else but that act, the now is involved.

For example and put very simply being in flow in the workplace would be having a job that you love, where you never watch the for clock to strike 5pm (nod to RedBalloon). People are in a state of flow when they are engaged in work that plays to their strengths, that they get passionate about, that gives them a sense of purpose, contentedness and acheievment. It’s why we’ve got a Big Hairy Audacious Goal at RedBalloon it gives RedBallooners easy access to being in Flow.

Being in flow means being in engaged in something that gives you energy rather than tires you out. Another example might be someone with a hobby of gardening, baking or painting that whilst engaged in the act they are exerting physically energy but even after many hours ‘at it’ they are recharged and enthused by their experience and proud of their results.

The Happy Movie found that peope with access to ‘being in flow’ in their lives recovered from stress faster than those that didn’t experience flow. Activities that can deliver flow include work, sports, music, hobbies and gaming, religion and spiritual exercise and learning. Do you have easy and regular access to something that causes you to be in Flow?


Flow makes me think about a friend of mine, Nick, whom is currently undertaking his Pilot’s license. Nick has the spare room of his house kitted out with a homemade, but very professional looking, flight simulator. He regualrly flies from Sydney to the US or London in real time, navigating weather patterns along the way from the comfort of his own home.

Nick’s partner Bruno bought him flying lessons for his wedding present. Nick will unlikely ever own a plane yet finds himself in flow when at the controls in the spare room or practising for the Pilot’s exam over Sydney’s western suburbs every weekend. I don’t get it, why Nick would want to spend his time doing this, but I do get that it makes him happy. He will not shut-up about the experience of learning to fly and the joy that realising a childhood dream brings him. (Shameless link to flight simulator and flying lessons???)

It gives me pride and comfort that so many of the hundreds of thousands of people every year that enjoy a RedBalloon experience might be experiencing flow in the process and that tasting the thrill of flying, sailing, diving or crafting for the first time might open up something they be in flow in for the rest of their lives.


The Happy Movie goes on to investigate material happiness. Does money make us happy.

In the US the movie makers found that money as a lever for happiness stopped working or being an efficient way to deliver increased happiness after people earned upwards of $50,000USD. The film suggests that increasing material posessions may in fact contribute to our feeling less wealthly and less happy as a result. In the movie they visit areas of the world in complete poverty but where levels of happiness are incredibly high. The conclusion was that $50,000USD was broadly enough provide for one’s basic needs and that after this earning or having access to any more money was not the cause of increasing happiness. How you spent your time, who you spend you time with and how you think about the world was much, much more important.


I work on the corporate team at RedBalloon and spend my days working with businesses to help them understand what experiences turn their people on and devising ways in which they can incentivise and recognise performance and oustanding behaviours with RedBalloon experiences as the ultmate gift or reward. There’s a heap of science and research to demonstrate that programs using experiences rather than cash deliver better results in terms of business outcomes. But assuming that the business is paying a decent wage, they are also contributing to their employees happiness by rewarding with experiences; giving them the opportunity to spend time doing something they have always wanted to do, creating opportunities for them to connect with colleagues, share experinecs with friend and family or take some time out for themselves.


Corporate Team

Corporate Team

The Happy movie concludes that we can train and develop ourselves to be happier; by creating a life for ourselves that builds in opportunities to learn, to love, to share, to give of ourselves, to be grateful, to show compassion. We visit cultures and communities around the globe and witness the effects of high levels of human connection, gratitude and respect are causing heightened levels of happiness, particilaurly where circumstance and material wealth are less than traditionally favourable.


One of the most uplfting parts of the film is learning that we can simply choose to be happy. Current research indicates that the source of happiness is 50% – genetic, 10% – circumstances and 40% – intentional. When you jump out of bed in the morning; just pick Happy and wear it.

This is reinforced by the interview with a once very traditionally beautiful woman, who got into a horrifc car accident and was permamnently and serverly injured, especially her face. Rather than trying to understand why … “why did it happen to me?”, she made the choice – “I don’t need to understand, just move on”. That woman was able to find courage to continue with her life and take care of her child, even though she lost her husband. She found courage to live, to move on, even though it was not easy, and now she is married again and her new husband calls her pretty.


Experiences as gifts, rewards or self-indulgence are just a small part of of puzzle to maintaining maximum amounts of happy in our lives. The most important choice we have in our personal quests for achieving Happiness in our lives is not to focus on the external (image, status, money and stuff), but intrinsic values (personal growth, relationship, community, meaning, changing the world).

7 Steps to Happy (a summary of life at RedBalloon and the Happy Movie)

  1. Discover and do things that allow you to be in ‘flow’
  2. Get and stay connected; physically and emotionally
  3. Sleep more
  4. Drink lots of water
  5. Don’t work too many hours
  6. Try new things regularly, variety delivers growth
  7. Give your time generously and share what you have with others

Happy Christmas.

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One Comment

  1. Ibrahim Eissa El-Bai
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Wonderful topic.

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