Key drivers of happiness and the influence of alcohol

drinking culture happiness happiness index happiness loan matt phelan opportunities psychological safety self-belief sober curious Jun 22, 2024

Happiness insights and reflections on sobriety, from Matt Phelan

I recently had a great conversations with Matt Phelan, co-founder of The Happiness Index, a business that measures happiness and engagement in the workplace. The conversation provided a unique perspective on how happy employees correlates with business success - and what the key drivers of employee happiness are. Inevitably the conversation turned to alcohol and the influence it can have on those key ingredients. It perhaps provided a unique perspective on how giving up alcohol can influence psychological safety, self-worth, and opportunities.

Time-honoured sources of happiness 

My favourite quote from the entire conversation was Matt's comments that "Everything that makes you happy, wasn't invented in the last 1000 years" - alluding to the fact that today we humans have the same fundamental needs that our ancestors had, back in the day when were running around the plains, waving clubs and hunting mammoth. It also relates to the almost universal problem that we look outside of ourselves for sources of happiness, instead of realising that they sit at a more fundamental, core level.   


The connection between alcohol and psychological safety

Psychological safety was one such ingredient of happiness. The feeling of being able to express oneself without fear of negative consequences, is crucial for personal and professional growth. We discussed that alcohol can often undermine this safety by lowering inhibitions in ways that lead to regrettable actions and diminished self-worth.


Self-worth and opportunity

Self-worth (the degree to which we hold ourselves in esteem and consider ourselves to be valuable) is also a key ingredient of happiness. As is 'opportunity' and in particular, the freedom to see and take opportunities. Repeatedly, through my coaching, I see how alcohol impacts self-worth and I commented that from personal experience I know that the world of a drinker becomes much smaller; never bigger. That when our world revolves around alcohol we become blinkered and lose interest in growth and opportunities - let alone see those opportunities when they come along, or have the energy to seize and pursue them. Matt entirely aligned with the view that giving up drinking can lead to an increase in self-esteem and a clearer vision for one's goals and aspirations. Without the clouding effects of alcohol, individuals can better recognise and seize opportunities, ultimately enhancing their overall happiness.


Regret and self-belief

Matt and I had a personal reflection on the degree to which our past drinking behaviours  bring up feelings of regret, with Matt emphasising the importance of self-belief in overcoming these regrets. By focusing on personal growth and the positive changes that come with sobriety, individuals can transform regret into motivation for future success. This was really a conversation about how any emotion, however negative, can be turned into a productive energy.  Even desperate feelings of embarrassment can be converted into emphatic feelings of " I never want to feel like that again" and be used to drive behaviour change.


The intellectual and emotional journey of sobriety

Matt discusses the intellectual and emotional aspects of giving up alcohol. The decision to quit drinking often involves a profound internal journey, requiring a deep understanding of one's relationship with alcohol and the reasons for wanting to change. This journey can lead to greater emotional resilience and a more fulfilling life. This is, of course, a view that I am entirely aligned to, as a Coaching practitioner who facilitate this journey for my Clients and indeed, walks this journey with them. 

Reactions and perceptions of sobriety

In a light-hearted part of tour conversation, we reflected that when someone decides to give up alcohol, the reactions from others and societal perceptions of drinking culture can be challenging - and that different 'typologies' of people emerge. From 'The Angry', who take your non-drinking as an afront. To 'The Whisperers' who wait for a discrete moment to enquire as to 'how' and 'why' you pursued sobriety, to the 'Sober Curious' who have clear intent to rethink their own drinking and are seeking affirmation and solidarity. Matt and I agreed that while some people may question or even criticise our decisions, the positive impact on happiness and personal growth far outweighs these external judgments.

Rethinking the role of alcohol in happiness

A key concept that Matt introduced in the discussion is the idea of a "happiness loan." I love this idea. It requires that we ask of ourselves and alcohol "what price are we willing to pay over the long-term, for perceived happiness now and in this minute?". This prompts individuals to reconsider the role of alcohol in their lives, evaluating whether it truly contributes to their long-term happiness or simply offers fleeting, short-term gratification at a greater cost.

Conclusion: the positive impact of giving up drinking

In summary, from Matt's insights and the broader discussion, we concluded that giving up alcohol can have a profoundly positive impact on psychological safety, self-worth, and the ability to pursue opportunities. By removing the hindrances posed by alcohol, individuals can enhance their overall happiness and achieve greater success in both their personal and professional lives.

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