A while ago I stumbled upon a great initiative, called Action for Happiness. It is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. Their ideas are based on scientific research and the acronym GREAT DREAM is used to communicate their 10 keys for happier living. The 10 keys are: Giving, Relating, Excercising, Awareness, Trying Out, Direction, Resilience, Emotions, Acceptance & Meaning. Being a Scrum Master and Agile Coach, happiness is something I’m always curious about. I see Happiness as one of the key elements we as coaches should care about in our teams and  ourselves. so I was immediately interested in the movement and have now decided to investigate potential matches or clashes between The concepts in the GREAT DREAM and Agile way of working (and Scrum in particular). Hopefully learning more about improving Happiness & Agility in the process. Let’s start by looking at the first letter of the acronym: Giving

Agile & Giving as a key to Happier living

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  – Winston Churchill

The principle of Giving in the GREAT DREAM stands for doing things for others. At face value, from the viewpoint of a Scrum Master (or Agile Coach), this is a straight up match. The Scrum Master role is all about facilitating, helping the team & organization. Doing things for others! Facilitating sessions, team growth, coaching people and the wider organization, etc. For the other roles involved, giving is also embedded in the way the Scrum roles are described: a Product Owner should satisfy Stakeholders’ needs (prioritize valuable items to be implemented). Scrum development team members are encouraged to help each other when surfacing impediments during any of the events: sharing knowledge and offering help during the Daily Scrum; collaborating in the other sessions looking for continuous improvement at team and personal level; helping the Product Owner to refine the backlog and manage Stakeholders; etc. In a Scrum team, giving acts an important ingredient in building social capital and growing as a team. 

“Kindness & caring seem to be contagious: when we see someone do something kind or thoughtful, or we are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires us to be kinder ourselves.” As a Scrum Master we have an important role here: leading by example. If you radiate kindness & thoughtfulness in everything you do, it may spread from one person to the next, ultimately even ‘infecting’ people you have never even met.

What does the research say?

1. Impact on team collaboration

Helping increases happiness: “If people are altruistic, they are more likely to be liked and so build social connections and stronger and more supportive social networks, which leads to increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing.” High-performance (Scrum) teams are what we strive to help create as Agile Coaches & Scrum Masters. But for any situation where team-work is needed, this will apply and help improve the team collaboration by building stronger social bonds.

2. Impact on your mental state

“Giving literally feels good. … Giving to others activates the reward centres of our brains which make us feel good and so encourage us to do more of the same.” Again, in High-Performance Teams, feeling good ties in to better ways of having constructive conflicts, creating a positive atmosphere and high energy. 

3. Impact on your health

Giving does you good: “Giving may increase how long we live. … Volunteering also appeared to predict maintenance of cognitive functioning… it may be that volunteering is one intentional activity that people can engage in as a strategy to increase wellbeing and maintain optimal cognitive functioning in old age.” Note here that the last two sentences refer to studies about volunteering, so it may not be valid to expand their conclusions to ‘giving’ in a broader sense, like paid work.

Volunteering is key

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein

In the previous research notes, the act of volunteering (doing unpaid work of your own volition) was linked to better cognitive functioning and increasing wellbeing, and I felt obliged to note that these findings may not extrapolate to giving in general. However, the word ‘volunteering’ does seem to be essential to reap the benefits of giving: when someone is helping or giving under pressure (because they have to, feel obliged to, etc), the benefits evaporate and may even be detrimental to wellbeing and happiness (i.e. leading to burn out in caregivers).


“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or on the darkness of destructive selfishness.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The act of Giving seems to have a fair bit of relation, or even impact, on our role as Scrum Master or Agile Coach. Not only in our own interactions with the teams & the wider organization, but also on our own mental and physical wellbeing, leading to our own better performance doing the work we love. But remember, work from intrinsic motivation, or else its effects can be reversed! So if you’re like me, keep on giving from your personal motivation to make our workplaces a bit better and you’re on the way to Agile Happiness.

Image taken from the “Giving” poster by Action For Happiness. Read more about the act of giving and its impact on Happiness & wellbeing at the Action For Happiness website.

Previously published on sjoerdly.tumblr.com

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