A Conversation with Nataly Kogan, Founder and CEO of Happier

November 1, 2018 Jess Huckins

Nataly Kogan

Despite reaching the highest levels of corporate success by her mid-20s, Nataly Kogan felt unfulfilled. She had a wonderful family and was building her life in the United States after immigrating as a refugee from the former Soviet Union as a young teen, but she still felt like she could be happier.

A self-professed “research geek,” she dived in to the science and learned that happiness isn’t simple, nor does it come from the outside. Rather, it’s a skill – one we can all learn and develop in our lives and careers. She founded her company, Happier, to share methods for finding more joy in everyday moments and being more resilient in the face of difficulty.

Tonight, she’s visiting Workhuman®’s Framingham office – and you’re invited, via Facebook Live (click the link to RSVP).

Read our Q&A with Nataly below, where we discuss grit, emotional well-being, and the role leaders play in building happier organizations.


Workhuman: What are three things that make you happy?

Nataly: I say happier. Being happy is this state that doesn’t change, so I like to think of what makes me a little happier. Hanging out with my husband and my daughter with no agenda, which is rare, but it may be the highlight of my life. We just get to be. Also, making art and going for a walk outside on a non-freezing Boston morning.


Workhuman: If you could offer one piece of advice to people looking to be happier, what would it be?

Nataly: Begin an intentional daily practice of gratitude, which can be nothing more complicated than taking a minute every morning or night and jotting down a few things you are grateful for. There are more than 11,000 studies that show if you do this tiny, little practice consistently, it has enormous payoff, not just in how happy you feel but your overall emotional and physical health.

“Begin an intentional daily practice of gratitude.”

There are many people who don’t want to journal. That is absolutely OK; you don’t have to. You can text your gratitude to a friend. You can write an email to your co-workers, or to yourself. You can jot down gratitude on a sticky note. You can take a picture of what you’re grateful for. As long as you pause and capture your gratitude in some way, it’s working.

We have access to this magic pill with no side effects that is completely free and has these scientifically backed and proven benefits. Why isn’t this required for living?


Workhuman: You wrote in the Washington Post that the traditional ideal of grit comes with high emotional cost. What do you tell people who are caught in this cycle?

Nataly: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. You’re probably working super hard because you care about what you’re doing, you want to accomplish meaningful things, or you want to take care of your family financially. People are caught in this cycle and then they start being harsh to themselves and that just adds to it.

We live in a world that worships grit. But unless you pair your hard work with also taking time to nourish yourself, you will get to a point when you cannot push through because you’re a human being. You’re not a robot, you’re not a machine, you’re not a computer. You must learn how to have kindness toward yourself when you don’t reach all your goals, because that’s life.

By denying your needs for mental, emotional, and physical nourishment – there’s going to be a breaking point. If you pause for a moment, you recognize you’re not actually giving your best self. You’re not doing your best work. You’re not doing your best for the cause or company you care about. You’re not being the best mom, friend, daughter, spouse. I am able to do so much more and have more meaningful impact on my work and on people when I take more time to rest, when I am not harsh to myself.


Workhuman: A lot of people believe that being kind and compassionate to themselves is self-indulgent and will reduce their productivity.

Nataly: It’s literally the opposite. People who treat themselves with compassion, particularly when they’re going through a challenge or after they fail, are much more likely to work harder. If a colleague, friend, or child comes to you and they’re struggling with something and you scream at them, do you think that’s going to motivate them to improve? No. Why do we think different logic applies to ourselves? Self-compassion increases motivation, productivity, and the likelihood that after a failure we’re going to work harder to improve.


Workhuman: How can leaders make their organizations happier places to be?

Nataly: Leaders can have tremendous impact by modeling behavior that builds employee satisfaction, engagement, and happiness. Many leaders – myself included – despite good intentions, end up doing the wrong things that hurt their teams.

One of the key determinants of whether we’re happy at work is psychological safety. Do we feel like we can come to work and trust that our colleagues and our leaders will be there to listen to us when we’re doing well, and when we share our struggles, and when we share our crazy ideas? Many leaders want to have psychological safety but think, ‘I should not burden my team with talking about anything difficult that I’m dealing with.’ Or, ‘I need to always be positive, and happy, and smiling, and confident.’

“One of the key determinants of whether we’re happy at work is psychological safety.”

Leaders who are authentic and empathetic, who share some of their own challenges and make time for the team to share theirs, are more effective leaders that lead happier teams. Leaders, you have the power and you can have such amazing impact, but you have to get educated on the research and on the skills. And you need to model them.

This is why I do the work I do. If I’d had the knowledge and skills I have now as a leader earlier in my career, I could have helped so many more people truly thrive and be their best selves.


Workhuman: Have you seen positive business effects in organizations that build their cultures around supporting employee emotional well-being?

Nataly: Definitely. Companies with happier employees and with positive, human-centered cultures are more productive and profitable. Happier employees take 10 times less sick leave, and there’s less turnover. Happier employees are significantly more productive and innovative. Culture is not fluff, and employee happiness is not fluff. It’s the greatest unrealized asset in any company.


Workhuman: How can co-workers support each other while maintaining productivity?

Nataly: One of the greatest determinants of whether we are engaged and satisfied with our jobs is whether we are connected as human beings and have positive interactions with our colleagues. The best way we can support each other is intentional kindness. It can be pulling out a chair when a colleague comes to a meeting, or grabbing their favorite beverage. Or if you see them stressed out, actually giving them space to share that with you and not requiring them to get over it right away. When you do something kind at work, it has a huge impact. You feel good, the recipient feels good, and so you’re improving that culture and your connections.

“The best way we can support each other is intentional kindness.”

We are meant to be kind. So why don’t we do it more often? I don’t think it’s because we’re bad people, it’s because we get really busy. I have yet to meet someone who does something nice for their colleague and doesn’t feel good.


Workhuman: It’s true. Giving someone a compliment makes you both feel good.

Nataly: Yeah, because it reminds you that you work with someone you like. When you express gratitude to a colleague or you do something kind for them, you’re like, ‘Oh, I work with people I like. That’s awesome. I like my company.’


Workhuman: What can people expect when they tune in to the live stream of your talk this evening?

Nataly: Three things. The first is inspiration and emotional connection. The second is science-based, practical how-tos that you can incorporate into your life without having to go on a retreat or buy a journal. And third, a call to action around these science-based practices that helps you feel empowered to be a force of good in the world, in your company, and in your team as a leader.


Nataly’s keynote begins tonight at 5 p.m. ET. RSVP here and get a Facebook notification when we go live. If you can’t make it, register anyway – you can watch the recording after!

About the Author

Jess Huckins

Jess Huckins is senior content manager, sales enablement at Workhuman. She enjoys investigative journalism and true crime, fantasy football, outdoor cooking, and adventuring in the wilderness with her three dogs.

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