Redefining (Caffeinated) Happiness

Today I was browsing POPSUGAR’s home page and came across an article with the tagline The Surprising Way Companies Are Keeping Millennials Happy. I was expecting to read about flexible hours, pet-friendly workplaces, relaxed dress codes, and technology allowances. However, I quickly learned that the thesis of this article, which is actually entitled “The Secret to Boosting Workplace Productivity Depends on this 1 Thing,” grinds down to one thing: coffee.


Simply put, our generation spends more money at retail coffee establishments than any of our predecessors. The article noted that “gourmet coffee beverage consumption among 25- to 39-year-olds jumped from 19 percent to 41 percent between 2008-2016.” Basically, our generation’s refined palates abhor infamously cold, weak, and bitter office coffee, and will leave their office buildings to seek more tasty alternatives. To combat this not-so-untrue stereotype, some companies are physically changing their break rooms to mirror the appearance of coffee shops and are providing slightly more expensive products in smaller bulk orders. It concludes by stating that good coffee is not only a staple in the workplace, but can significantly enhance a young and talented employee’s decision whether to remain at that company.


While I completely agree that our generation is changing the face of the coffee industry by making this a social and trendy activity, I question POPSUGAR’s definition of “happy.” Because it seems to me that happiness and productivity are not at all synonymous, especially in the work place. Perhaps a caffeinated employee is more productive because she can tackle more projects during the work day. Then, still buzzing from her afternoon java, she can leave the office to go convene with friends, play sports, volunteer, spend time with family, watch television, or engage in an array of activities. But, once she sits down at the end of the evening at what is supposed to be bedtime, her head is still spinning from all of the premium, free coffee you consumed, compliments of Company X. She can’t fall asleep because she’s so wired. The next day, having barely slept, she rolls into work and brews herself another cup of coffee to prepare for the day that lies ahead. On and on, this vicious cycle continues: coffee, work, coffee, work, coffee, home life, restless sleep, and work again.


The daily grind is bound to catch up to her sometime. When it does, it won’t be pretty—and she probably won’t be happy. She’ll be stressed, exhausted, shaky, and overwhelmed with professional responsibilities and professional requirements. She’ll probably have a stomachache, since she’ll be too busy to eat a solid meal with so many daunting tasks in front of her. Caffeine will allow you to pack a lot of activities in your schedule. But at what cost?

I guess what I’m asking you is, does coffee truly make you happy?


Photo credits, from top: Image 1 | Image 2 | Image 3 | Image 4


  1. Wow–I had no idea how important quality coffee can be for employee retention. I sympathize with your sentiment about mistaking happiness for productivity, but I don’t completely agree with the critique of coffee consumption as a whole. Regarding the happiness/productivity clash, nice coffee machines in break rooms sort of seem like another way for firms to chain employees to their desks for as long as possible. A mid morning walk to a nearby coffee shop wasn’t just part of my routine because I didn’t enjoy the break room’s keurig. It gave me a chance to have a conversation with my coworkers and enjoy some fresh air. When it comes to the vicious cycle of caffeine dependence that you laid out, how prevalent do you think this flavor of addiction is? If our tastes are shifting from bland, utilitarian break room coffee to cold brew kegs from hipster shops, could that indicate that we are coming to find happiness in a well-made cup instead of seeing it as a tool for energy?

  2. As someone who drinks coffee very rarely, I can’t say that I understand the effect of caffeine (since I don’t feel anything from drinking it); however, it’s always interesting to hear people around me drink 2-3 cups a day because that’s “the only way” they can get enough energy to get their work done. However, I do wonder if caffeine really does affect us enough to be super productive or if it’s all a placebo effect where we believe it’s helping us be productive through what we assume the effects should be from the marketing (external and internal) our coffee products. Also, while I definitely think the cozy vibe of a cafe can put people at ease at the office, especially in one where the environment is particularly stressful, I wonder if it actually affects the productivity of some workers because it provides such a contrast to their plain cubicle area and might make them want to take more breaks.

  3. michaelahoff · ·

    Coffee really does make me happy, but those stats about the rate of gourmet coffee drinking doubling is pretty crazy. Caffeine specifically makes me happy, because I don’t like being drowsy, so I deviate a bit from the gourmet trend in my generation because I usually go for the straight black. Of course, as noted, short term happiness and long run happiness are not necessarily correlated, just like productivity and happiness have an at times conflicting relationship.

  4. skuchma215 · ·

    Your point definitely holds true for a company I worked for in the summer. This start-up had just moved into a new office downtown and spared no expense on everything coffee related. They had two Nespresso machines, two regular espresso makers, and two giant coffee machines that would grind several varieties of beans into Lattes, Americanos, Macchiatos, etc. You name it they had it, as long as it was coffee related. In an office of only 50 to 75 people, this was definitely overkill. Most people at my office had there last cup as late as 4 or 5, and we’re clearly highly caffeinated throughout the day. Personally coffee did not make me “happy”, but I could definitely work twice as fast.

  5. Fun blog to read! I think that the article may leave out other aspects about what the coffee breaks provide you in your work day… as someone who is not very reactive to the effects of caffeine and can DEFINITELY fall asleep even a few afters after consuming it, I think the idea of a coffee break add a social and cultural trend to a business. My morning coffee is a routine, its part of my day and time to myself before commencing the day. Some people may find happiness in morning yoga or reading the paper, but leaving time to sit and enjoy my cup of coffee puts me in the right mindset for the day. Does enjoying that instead of jumping into the “grind” of the day make me happy? 100%. I think that additional coffee breaks during the day allow people to mentally step away from work, re-charge whether with the caffeine or simply mentally and commence in social conversation with co-workers and colleagues. People may stay at companies where coffee rooms are not simply a Keurig and more of a coffee shop, because this area now adds a spot in the office to take a second away from intense work, be social, build relationships with co-workersbreaks, which in turn builds good business relationships and fosters a healthy corporate culture. (It probably doesn’t hurt the business either, that the caffeine makes more those workers a little more productive after their break :).

  6. kdphilippi18 · ·

    As some of the other comments mentioned, I think the influence of coffee on happiness depends on the individual, however, I’d agree that it definitely matters a lot with some individuals. I think what is most appealing to millennials is the convenience of these new break rooms. When companies are willing to cater to the needs of their employees, it shows that a company is willing to listen and invest in their employees, which is key for attracting millennials. I would also argue that it is beneficial for the company because it decreases the amount of time employees are spending leaving the building to go to these coffee shops and increases their interaction and collaboration with other employees. I would be interested to know if these coffee shop-like break rooms increase or decrease discussion among employees.

  7. For me coffee = happiness. However, I do not think that highly caffeinated employees is the only things that drives increased productivity.

    For the last few months I have been spending some time with a client in silicon valley. Lot’s of free food, drinks, and of course coffee, are available to employees throughout the day. My experience has been that these communal kitchens quickly become a gathering place for employees. In these settings, casual work conversations can quickly turn into new ideas, projects, and breakthroughs.

    Google calls this the Casual Collide. Check out this and other ideas for a collaborative work place:

%d bloggers like this: