Want to get more done? Be Happy…

When’s the last time you proactively focused on being happy? Or at least consciously having a positive outlook?

Most of us tend to react to what’s in front of us and unless you’re just one of those naturally ‘sunny’ people, the odds are that your daily challenges will eventually bring out negativity and stress, which likely leads to even more negativity.

But beyond being no fun to hang around with (Debbie Downer?), that negativity can start impacting you in a lot of ways that might not be obvious (performance, creativity, health, relationships). There’s a real upside to happiness, but what does that really mean (and what can you do about it)?

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What is Happiness?

It’s important to remember that happiness is relative – scientists describe it as ‘subjective well-being’. It’s essentially the experience of positive emotions. Positive psychologist pioneer Martin Seligman defines it as a combination of Pleasure, Engagement and Meaning.

Other researchers will define it more simply as ‘positive emotions’ or positivity rather than the more subjective ‘happiness’.  What ever you call it, here are the 10 most common positive emotions:

Joy     Gratitude     Serenity     Interest     Hope

Pride     Amusement     Inspiration     Awe     Love

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Want to live longer? Be healthier? Be more creative? Focus on positive emotions!

This broader (and more accurate) view of the concept helps explain why those who just pursue pleasure will ultimately find the experience unfulfilling. However by incorporating all of these positive aspects, studies have clearly shown significant differences between people who are generally positive vs. generally negative. Happiness improves physical health, extends lifespans signficantly, reduces # of sick days taken, speeds recovery from illness, makes you more open and creative. And this isn’t just a mental thing, the body chemistry associated with positive emotions actually changes the way your body and your mind work.

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Examples – Students told to think about the happiest days of their lives before a test significantly outperformed those who were neutral or negative.  Doctors who were primed for happiness (with candy) made complex medical diagnosis much more quickly and creatively than their peers (twice as fast…).

Conversely when you focus on the negative, when you’re thinking about the awful consequences of failure, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The negative emotions cause stress which invokes a fight or flight response – great for survival situations, but bad for anything that requires thinking or creativity.

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Try this – use shots of happiness to improve performance

Whenever you need a strong performance, find a way to boost your positive emotions before you perform. Here are a few suggestions from Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage on quick, simple ways to do this:

  • Meditation – as simple as taking 5 minutes a day to simply focus on your breathing and being still. This helps still your negative ‘voice’ and engages your higher level of thinking.
  • Find something to look forward to – anticipate or plan something you really enjoy.
  • Commit conscious acts of kindness – pick one day a week and do 5 kind things for others.
  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings – Pictures of loved ones, spending time outside on a nice day, listen to music, watch less TV (especially news) – anything that will bump up the positive.
  • Exercise – find an activity that you enjoy and do it on a regular basis, there’s a huge benefit to moving and getting the blood flowing.
  • Spend money on experiences (not stuff) – studies have shown that you’ll get much more lasting pleasure from doing things rather than owning things.
  • Exercise one of your strengths – when you’re doing things you’re good at, you naturally feel better. Go to www.viasurvey.org for a strength assessment (or just come up with a short list of things you’re really comfortable with…).

In a team environment, it’s critical to keep an overall positive atmosphere. In fact, studies show there should be a ratio of 2.9 Positive Interactions for every negative one (positive feedback, encouragement). This is known as The Losada Line (after the researcher) – if you’re above this ratio you’ll see stronger performance from the entire team.

All of this might sound a little out there, but there’s a lot of science to back it up. And it’s a lot more fun to go through life with a positive approach than a negative one.

What do you think? Have you seen a benefit to being more positive? Do you know someone who’s done this (or needs to do it)? We’d love to hear your thoughts below – leave us a comment.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

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