Searching for happiness is one of the things that makes us unmistakably human.
In a way, that constant yearning for the better is the most primal and meaningful quest we’ll ever embark upon. But what if in our never-ending search, we got it all wrong?
According to positive psychology, that’s exactly what happened.
Without making you dig through a stack of psychology books, here are four ways you can use positive psychology to make you and your team happier at work.
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Wait, what is positive psychology?
Rooted in neuroscience, positive psychology is a branch of modern psychology that believes that it’s not our reality that determines our level of happiness, but the way in which we view the world.
By learning about a few positive psychology principles, you can rethink your definition of happiness, and ultimately, retrain your brain to hone in on the spectacular things in your life—like the amazing business you’re building.
Let’s start with the idea of success. Many folks believe that if you’re successful, you’re automatically happy. Not so fast.
When we’re happy, dopamine rushes through our bodies, our hearts get lighter, and everything feels a little more manageable. But then something really special happens: those positive feelings activate the learning centers in our brains. Our abilities become electrified, and our creativity is unleashed.
In fact, Shawn Achor found that a positive person is 31 percent more productive and three times more creative than someone with a more negative outlook on life.
Happiness doesn’t come easy to everyone. However, there are a few subtle changes you can make that can have a real impact on your day.
Positive psychology exercises that will increase your work happiness
1. Do more of what you’re good at
The VIA Strengths@Work Survey found that 77 percent of people who believe they use their abilities in their jobs report that they’re “flourishing, engaged, and able to make things happen at work.”
To incorporate more of your strengths in your business, try to pinpoint the things you love to do. Is it training the team, building the product, meeting with clients? Or is it thinking about what your business could look like 10 years from now?
Once you have that list, restructure your day so it includes more of those things.
Focusing on what you’re good at will inject more joy into the flow of your day.
2. Surprise your team with “gratitude visits”
Eighty-eight percent of people polled by the John Templeton Foundation said they felt better after giving kudos to their coworkers—something we’ve practiced at Gusto ever since our first company all-hands meeting.
Martin Seligman discovered a similar effect among people who followed his prescribed “Gratitude Visits.” After surprising someone with a thank you, Seligman’s participants walked away noticeably happier, weeks and even months after their initial visit.
To conduct your own version of a “Gratitude Visit,” first think of a person at work who did something you really appreciated. Write a letter to them about why their action made an impact on you, and then meet up with them and read it aloud. Surprise is of the essence—try not to tell the person why you want to chat.
This exercise has a compound effect: it makes you experience the positive emotion again while strengthening your relationship with the person you’re thanking.
3. Put your boring tasks in perspective
In Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, he writes about shifting the way you view your job so it becomes more of a calling instead of something holding you back. When you imbue your job with more meaning, it can actually heighten your level of productivity.
If you’re bogged down by a specific task, try to envision how the task will contribute to the greater good. Let’s say you’re cleaning up your store at the end of the day. What is the real goal? Is it to make it a more comfortable space for your employees and customers? Is it to make them feel proud of the place they work and visit? Is it to do justice to the product or service you’re selling?
Reframing what you’re working on can help you transcend negativity and reaffirm that you’re working on something that’s bigger than just yourself.
4. Replay the positive parts of the day
Thanks to our evolutionary negativity bias, we’re more affected by bad news than we are by good news. Martin Seligman’s “Three Blessings” exercise helps us counteract that bias by teaching our brains to scan for the good things that happen instead.
At the end of the day, jot down three things that went well, along with the reasons why. It may be weird to do at first, but going through your day with a positive lens conditions us to seek out those things more and more.
Robert Emmons conducted a study on people who went through a similar positivity exercise and discovered that participants were 25 percent happier than non-participants, exercised more, and even slept better.
Sure, some of the exercises above will feel strange at first. They’ll probably feel strange for your team too. But stepping outside your comfort zone is the best way to see things from a different, more spacious, rose-colored view.