To be happier at work, our knee-jerk reaction is to tackle the most obvious causes of stress and anxiety: micromanagement, poor communication, inefficient tools, lack of ownership and better work/life balance, etc.

However, improvement in these areas will only serve as a temporary relief. According to Martin E.P. Seligman, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, the absence of negative emotions is not the path to happiness.

In a New York Times article, Dr. Seligman suggests that to achieve and sustain true happiness, we have to create it.

Let's take a look at the four ways to incubate workplace happiness every day.

1. Identify signature strengths

According to Dr. Seligman's research, focusing on what you're good at lowers rates of depression and heightens satisfaction. By intentionally pursuing and using our signature strengths, we experience more positive emotions, and more positive emotions lead to a positive outlook and attitude.

Dr. Seligman isn't alone. In a Gallup report, employees who learned to use their strengths were 7.8 percent more productive, six times more likely to be engaged at work, and their teams (that received strengths feedback) averaged 8.9 percent greater profitability.

2. Find the good

Redirecting your attention can be so powerful, that it's recommended as a therapy for dealing with chronic pain. Janice M. Singles, Psy.D, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, recommends positive thinking as a way to combat unrelenting pain. In a nutshell, patients who can identify their negative thoughts and change their thought patterns experience pain relief. (Mind over matter.) If not, repetitive and negative thoughts can escalate the pain.

For the day-to-day, I've heard strategies such as writing down positive thoughts before bed to re-wire your brain to be more optimistic. I'm not sure of the scientific validity, but common sense-wise, it's believable that optimism could be a byproduct of forcing yourself to reflect on "the good." Dr. Seligman takes this theory a step further by encouraging people to also describe why those things went well. Worst case, implementing this process will turn your attention away from negative, destructive thoughts.

I guess there is some rationality to the phrase, "fake it to you make it."

3. Make a gratitude visit

My favorite quote on the subject comes from William Penn, "The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles."

Positive psychologists like Dr. Seligman, define gratitude as more than a simple "thank you." Rather, gratitude is a deep appreciation for someone/something which produces lasting positivity. For example, in a study by McCraty and colleagues (1998), a focus group was taught to "cultivate appreciation and other positive emotions," resulting in a 23 percent average reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. Proving that people with an "attitude of gratitude" are less anxious.

In another study by Dr. Seligman, Steen, and Peterson (2005), participants were instructed to write and deliver a thank you note. This was no ordinary thank you note, though. It had to be for someone who had done something wonderful (yet hadn't been thanked properly), specifically mention benefits for which participants were grateful, and be hand-delivered to the recipient. Compared to a control group, those who participated in the thank you challenge reported more happiness for one month after the exercise.

4. Respond constructively

Show an honest interest in others. As opposed to dismissive/passive comments like "okay," or "fine," Dr. Seligman suggests expressing genuine concern by engaging in prolonged discussions. The benefits, studied by Shelly Gable, a social psychologist, are improved and more meaningful relationships.

Like many other learned behaviors, happiness can be unpacked and broken down into habit forming exercises. These suggestions may seem unremarkable, but their side-effects can be life-changing.

Published on: May 24, 2017
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