Have you ever worked with someone who just seemed to have everything go her way? Her projects are successful; she gets one promotion after the other, and she’s just plain happy. So, why is she so successful?
Turns out being happy not only feels good but can also be an important part to achieving job success.
In an article from “Psychology Today” Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social psychologist at the University of California, Riverside writes the following:
“The most persuasive data regarding the effects of happiness on positive work outcomes come from longitudinal studies – that is, investigations that track the same participants over a long period of time. These studies are great. For example, people who report that they are happy at age 18 achieve greater financial independence, higher occupational attainment and greater work autonomy by age 26. Furthermore, the happier a person is, the more likely she will get a job offer, keep her job, and get a new job if she ever loses it. Finally, one fascinating study showed that people who express more positive emotions on the job receive more favorable evaluations from their supervisors 3.5 years later.”
Wow, that’s great news if you’re a naturally happy person, but what if you find being happy a challenge? In Kathryn Britton’s article, Six Tips for Taking Positive Psychology to Work she sites a study by R. Emmons and M.E. McCullough that found that people who focused on increasing their feelings of gratitude are healthier and feel better about their lives. So how do we increase our level of gratitude? Britton offers these suggestions:
- Pay attention to good things, large and small. This often requires intentional thought because bad things are more salient to us than good things. For example, I have a friend in his 80’s with arthritis in his hands. He becomes aware of it whenever he knocks something over or has trouble picking something up. I suggested that whenever he finds himself saying, “My poor crippled hands,” that he follow it with “My magnificent legs that let me walk every day without cane or walker.” That does not mean ignoring the painful or disabled. It means balancing it with occasional thoughts of how lucky we are to have so many working parts! We have to work a little to give the positive thoughts space in our brains.
- Pay attention to bad things that are avoided. I recently tripped over a small stump and fell flat on my face during a practice hike to get ready for our trip to the mountains. When I picked myself up, I was very grateful to have only a deep bruise on my thigh, no broken bones. It will take a while for the gorgeous 8 inch bruise to go away, but I can still hike. Thank goodness!
- Practice downward comparisons. That means thinking about how things could be worse, or were worse, or are worse for someone else. I don’t particularly like the idea of making myself feel more grateful by thinking of others who are worse off than I am. But it doesn’t have to be interpersonal. You can use downward comparison by remembering your own times of adversity or being aware of adversity avoided. The poet, Robert Pollock, said it thus: “Sorrows remembered sweeten present joy.” Here’s a work example. I have two friends who recently moved into the same department in the same company. One is relieved and happy because the situation seems so much better than before. The other is dissatisfied because the teamwork characterizing the old job is no longer there. The first has an easy time with downward contrast. The second will have to work a little harder to find reasons to be grateful.
- Establish regular times to focus on being grateful. Gratitude is a character strength that can be enhanced with practice. So practice. Marty Seligman describes two exercises in Authentic Happiness, the Gratitude Visit and a form of keeping a gratitude journal.
- When facing a loss or a difficult task or situation, remind yourself to be grateful both for what you haven’t lost and for the strengths and opportunities that arise from facing difficulties. Negative moods are catching, but positive ones can be as well. The character, Pollyanna, helped other people see the benefits in their situations by teaching them the Glad Game. Sometimes, having someone else see what is good in your own life makes it visible to you.
- Elicit and reinforce gratitude in the people around you. Tennen and Affleck found that benefit-seeking and benefit-remembering are linked to psychological and physical health. Benefit finding involves choosing to focus on the positive aspects of the situation and avoiding the feeling of being a victim.
So now you know her secret. Sure she may be talented too, but she’s happy and that is her competitive edge. Find ways to increase your own happiness: focus on gratitude, celebrate little victories, look for the positive in every situation, what ever works for you and get ready to experience your own career success.