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  • Workplace Positivity by Dr. Maria Gottschalk

    Do you derive happiness from your every day work life? Do you embrace the smaller successes – or do you find that you push yourself harder and harder to achieve more and more – without ever feeling a sense of accomplishment? A subtle under current of negativity can not only prove destructive to your psyche – it can affect your ability to energize yourself in the quest to reach your full potential. We know that to achieve valued business outcomes we require an engaged and happy workforce – but how do we combat the lurking levels of frustration that can exist there? One theory posed to increase our “happiness quotient”, examines the internal “lens” through which we view our work life experiences and how we build resiliencyto deal with negative events.

    In “The Happy Secret to Better Work” (Scroll down to view the TED Talk), Shaun Achor explains how the tenets of positive psychology can help us capture greater levels of workplace happiness – helping us to “flourish”. It is an interesting movement – which proposes that we should not only study what makes us psychologically unhealthy – we should examine what drives us to become healthier and happier, as well. With its roots in the works of humanistic psychology, and championed by preeminent psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive. (also see the works of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky)

    How we “digest” our life experiences, both negative and positive, can be instrumental in influencing levels of happiness. As Achor explains, reported happiness can not always be fully explained by life events themselves – it is how we view those life events that proves instrumental. Many of us have a tendency to become focused upon negative information and events (possibly an evolutionary necessity). As a result, we may under-represent our successes and fail to draw energy from them. On some level, we give up our power to be happy – by resting its fate entirely in the external world – when in fact, our “internal script” can be quite influential. Shorter-lived emotions can contribute to a broader “affect”, or tendency to feel either positive or negative.

    Interestingly, how we traditionally seek happiness at work, may not align with how our brains function. We usually seek success in order to find happiness. But in actuality, this process should be reversed – we should seek happiness first, then success will more likely follow. The reason? Happiness increases the release of dopamine within the brain – which can activate our learning centers – helping us to absorb the information around us. We learn more and work more intelligently, bringing us closer to realize our potential.

    Achor explains that we must be mindful not to “move the goal post” for happiness farther and farther off in the distance after each work life accomplishment (this is so common). As he aptly explains, “Don’t push happiness beyond the cognitive horizon”. While it is unrealistic to assume that we might never experience disappointments and negative feelings, a more positive outlook can help us move through these experiences.

    Feelings of happiness can be subtly increased through a process of behavioral and cognitive changes, including recognizing your own successes, journaling, nurturing gratitude, exercise, meditation and random acts of kindness. Through these activities, we can possibly begin to process our lives as more positive, building resiliency and finding success.

    Here are few ideas:

    • Be mindful of the present. We can develop a tendency to pay more attention to negative past events. As a result, we might overlook the opportunities to feel positive in the present moment.
    • Celebrate small successes. Try not to ignore or downplay the smaller steps that lead to larger accomplishments (as these larger events may be few and far between). Pause and reflect on these moments, no matter how small.
    • Play to our strengths. Finding a career, or a role, that emphasizes what we are good at can greatly increase feelings of positivity. We can often make adjustments to our work lives to accommodate this end – so ponder this.
    • Recognize performance. If you manage others – try not to miss opportunities to reward excellence. Develop a habit of reaching out to validate accomplishments on a regular basis.
    • Show gratitude. Don’t be stingy with “thanks-yous” and compliments in the workplace. Let others know you appreciate their contribution to your work life – and build on this positive energy whenever possible.

    What do you think? Do we focus to heavily on negative events and emotions? Have you applied the tenets of positive psychology to your work life?