Harnessing the Power of the Positive: Bringing the Happiness Factor to Life at Work

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Some of the greatest things about being human are our differences and our similarities. We are unique individuals with unique needs, yet we take life’s journey together with the goals of being productive, adding value to the world, and, most importantly, finding happiness.

Each of us navigates the path to happiness differently in terms of outlook, attitude, and the choices we make. The field of positive psychology, which has been growing over the last decade, shows a strong correlation between mindset and success, but it’s not just success at the individual level that is notable. Happy companies and happy nations have healthier people and hardier bottom lines than those with a more pessimistic outlook.

A couple of years ago, I happened upon a remarkable website that is dedicated to the science of happiness and the impact that being positive has on our lives, both personally and professionally. Led by Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, the Authentic Happiness Program (www.authentichappiness.org) has spearheaded some amazing research in the six years since its inception, demonstrating how a positive mindset leads not only to happier people, but also stronger institutions and improved health.

The focus on the positive has been getting global attention by practitioners in the fields of health and business as well. In Scotland, for example, they have been exploring a new kind of medicine – happiness – and its ability to predict the health of a nation. According to studies by the British Heart Foundation, happiness has a protective effect on biological pathways, and research in the United States has shown that something as simple as using more positive words than negative has a strong link to longevity.

Michigan’s Ross School of Business has also embraced the concept of positivity and its effect on the workplace, instituting the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship in 2002 to help organizations transform their workplaces through positive organizing and leadership.

How do we claim happiness for our own and start realizing its benefits in the workplace and at home? Provided below are some techniques that I have found personally helpful:

Know Yourself. Examining your strengths and your mindset is critical to personal and professional success. Are you a positive force to be around, are you engaged at work, and does your temperament support a cooperative team environment? Do you openly appreciate good work done by those around you? Does your energy spur others to their best performance? Are you able to transcend problems to bring about positive change?

Build Open-Mindedness. None of us are islands unto ourselves. We need the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of others to properly weigh our decisions. When someone proposes something that you would typically say “no” to immediately, step back for a moment and look at all angles of the proposal. Find 3 things that are of merit in what’s been presented and identify 3 ways that it might work. You may be surprised with the possibilities that being open-minded presents to you and your team.

Don’t Harsh Your Own Mellow…or Anyone Else’s. Negative vibes are speedy travelers and quickly bring down everyone around them. The fastest way to see your positivity go out the window is to engage in ‘stinkin’ thinkin‘, that negative self-talk that defeats even the most resilient among us. Make it a point to eliminate negative words and phrases from your vocabulary and encourage positive interactions with those around you. It takes a bit of conscious thought and practice, but it makes a world of difference that you and your team will notice.

Be Solution-Minded Rather than Problem-Minded. Rather than finding a problem and complaining about it, which rarely solves anything, seek to find positive solutions instead. Require yourself and your staff to come prepared with a creative yet reasonable solution any time a problem is encountered. Problems are an inherent part of business, but nurturing a team of problem-solvers is a much more positive and proactive way to manage the inevitable day to day challenges we all face.

Encourage Creativity. Creativity is the act of coming up with a solution that is both original and useful. Everyone is born with the ability to be creative, but in the workplace, creativity is rarely explored to its full potential due to perceived pressure and time constraints. Basically, people don’t feel that they have the time or energy to “be creative” due to the demands of their jobs. The downside is that the inability to foster creativity in the workplace drains productivity, makes team members feel undervalued, and prevents companies from bring their best ideas to market in a timely manner.

Creativity thrives in environments that are open, supportive, casual, and positive, and suffers when under pressure and scrutiny. Surprisingly, people tend to be more creative when they are told to be creative, so give your staff both permission and time to think outside the box on a regular basis.

Appreciate Yourself and Your Team. There is a lot to be said about having something to look forward to, whether it’s a reward for a job well done or treating yourself and your team to a special outing “just because.” The act of scheduling something fun on the calendar for your team creates positive anticipation and a feeling of appreciation, so don’t underestimate its impact. Just as important – don’t forget to schedule rewards for yourself outside of work. All work and no play is a recipe for dissatisfaction, so give yourself something to look forward to on your personal calendar, whether that happens to be a weekend bike hike, kayaking down a lazy river, taking an art class, or spending a solo afternoon doing something you love.

There are myriad ways to inject positivity into your life, your business, and the lives of those around you, and the suggestions listed above are just a sampling. I encourage you to explore the concept of authentic happiness on your own and have provided a number of resources below as a starting point for your journey to the positive. The rewards can be positively uplifting!

Authentic Happiness

Delivering Happiness: The Book and Zappo’s Culture

APA Press Release on Being Positive

APA Press Release on Happiness

Positive Psychology Center

Bloomberg Article: How Positive Psychology Can Boost Your Business

University of MI Article: Breakthrough Leadership

The VIA Survey of Character

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