Saturday, February 02, 2013

Happiness, Success or Both!

“When I am successful then I will be happy” – right? All the research points to the opposite being true: when you are happy you will be more successful.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues have spent over 15 years looking at how positive emotions enhance our capabilities to be more open to ideas, more creative and able to relate to people. She calls it the “broaden and build theory” (you can read a lot more about it in her book “Positivity” published by Oneworld, Oxford).

Take, for example, recognising between individuals in racial groups different from you own. Chances are testing would show you are a lot worse at this compared to recognising individuals of the same race as yourself. Except if – you were feeling positive at the time. When specifically stimulated to feel positive emotions, people’s ability to discriminate between individuals of a different race improved to be the same level as for their own race*.  They simply broadened their ability to see more about the person in front of them.

Think about what this implies for your ability to create a positive relationship with new people. How, and when, could a greater capability to see the person in front of you help in life?  These situations might come to mind:
  • Being interviewed
  • Interviewing someone else
  • Meeting a new customer
  • First meetings of all sorts
  • Difficult staff conversations
  • Handling difficult customers
  • Negotiations
This is just one instance from a lot of research that shows increasing your level of positive feelings before doing an important task will increase your chances of doing it well.

So how do we turn the positive feelings on? Well it’s not simply “thinking positive”. You need to actually create positive emotions in yourself. Many ways have been demonstrated and they can be small, simple and fast.

Some of the simplest include: writing down 3 good things that have happened to you today or 5 things you are grateful for, doing an unexpected act of kindness for someone, looking at a happy photo of people or places you love, savouring a happy memory, having a quick (positive!) conversation with a friend, reading or watching something you find amusing. Over time you will start to notice which of these actions work best for you i.e. give you a burst of positive feeling which in turn opens up your capability to think and interact more openly.

So go on and try one before your next important task. They only take a few minutes, they will make you happier and so more effective in life.

*Cohn M.A. and Fredrickson B.L. (2009) Positive Emotions.  In Lopez S.J. and Snyder C.R.(eds) TheOxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 2nd edition,  Oxford, p. 13-24.

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