Posted in Company culture | by: Kira Deutch

4 Ways to Use Positive Psychology at Work

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 backwards? According to positive psychology, that’s exactly what’s been happening in the world of happiness research. Rooted in neuroscience, this branch of modern psychology believes that it’s not our reality that determines our level of happiness, it’s the way in which we view the world. By learning about a few positive psychology principles, we can rethink what we’ve been taught about being happy, and ultimately, retrain our brains to hone in on the spectacular things in our lives.

To get started, we have to adjust the way we view success. According to positive psychology pioneers Dr. Martin Seligman and Shawn Achor, success is never the starting point for happiness: it’s happiness that actually makes it possible in the first place. 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.


Incorporating more happiness into your life isn’t easy. However, there are a few subtle changes you can make that will boost your mood and brighten your day. Without digging into a library of psychology books, here are four things you can do today to transform your mindset at work — and beyond.

“When well-being comes from engaging our strengths and virtues, our lives are imbued with authenticity.” – Martin Seligman

1) Tap into your strengths

The VIA Strengths@Work Survey found that 77 percent of people who work at places that leverage their abilities believe they are “flourishing, engaged, and able to make things happen at work.” To incorporate more of your strengths in your own job, try to pinpoint the things you love doing during the day. Think about how you can use those interests to make you stand out in your current role. Then, 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.

“When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.” – Tal Ben-Shahar

2) Surprise people with gratitude

88 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 (formerly ZenPayroll) 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.

“Happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy – it must come as the unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself.” – Viktor Frankl

3) Put your 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 are bogged down by a specific task, take this positive thinking down to a smaller scale and try to envision how the task will contribute to the greater good. Reframing what you’re working on can help you transcend any negative emotions, and reaffirm that you’re working on something that’s bigger than just yourself.

“There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare

4) Relive 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.

What are some things you do to feel happier at work? Slip on those rose-colored glasses and let us know how you get into a more positive frame of mind!

About Kira Deutch

Kira Deutch is on the content team at Gusto, where she focuses on telling stories that empower small businesses across the country. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups. You can get in touch with Kira here.