by David Bork

How would you like to have happy employees who use their full potential as they complete the tasks of their jobs and meet the challenges inherent in them?

Positive Psychology is not exactly new but it seems to be coming on the management scene, driven by a force that cannot be stopped.

“Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describe positive psychology in the following way: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.”

Over the last ten years or so, general interest in positive psychology has grown. Today, more and more people are searching for information on how they can become more fulfilled and achieve their full potential. In 2006, Harvard’s course on positive psychology became the university’s most popular class. In order to understand the field of positive psychology, it is essential to start by learning more about its history, major theories and applications.“ 1

It seems that traditional psychology, meaning psychology with its principal foundations in the 20th century, is focused on the wrong thing. Measurements are made of subjects, the data analyzed then the report is focused on the norm, the average. Whether above or below, the comparison is generally to the average. Those working in the field of Positive Psychology suggest that this leads to a negative approach. This is apparent in therapeutic psychology. Therapists are oriented toward your psychosis and problems, be they relational or situational. The emphasis is on something being wrong rather than on what is right. Imagine if therapists were to first focus on all the things that are going right in your life — say the 80 — 90% of your life and THEN discuss the 20 — 10% of your life where matters are not so smooth.

  • We see this negative focus in the news reports — turn on CNN and you can get an overdose of all the bad news in the world, every hour on the hour.
  • Breaking news on every station is dominated by violence, horror and tragedy…and that is depressing.
  • We come home after a day on the job and are often consumed by what didn’t go right with our day.
  • We turn on the news and we are “hammered“ one more time by the negativity. It is time we change this paradigm.

The entire topic is more than can be addressed in one column. This, this is the first of a series to focus on the “Happiness Advantage.“

One of the proponents of Positive Psychology is Shawn Achor, author of the “Happiness Advantage.“ 2 Achor studied with some of the pioneers in the field of positive psychology and served as the head teaching fellow to help teach and design the famed “happiness“ course, the most popular course at Harvard at the time. One of the first things you should do is go to Achor’s TED speech. 3 In a few minutes he describes his work, using rapid fire delivery, laced with devilish humor.

Achor will tell you that 90% of the science of long-term happiness is grounded in how you see the world. The challenge of Positive Psychology is to change the lens through which we view our lives and the world. What are some ways we can do this? Achor suggests the “21 Day Gratitude List.“ It is quite simple: Make a grid that looks like this, with 21 rows.

Date Three things for which I am grateful Observation

Each day, list 3 things for which you are grateful. Do this every day for 21 days. As you progress and begin to see a pattern, make a note in the “Observation“ box. This exercise is designed to help you see if there is any merit to Positive Psychology. You will be the judge.

Achor postulates that if we can get people to have a positive focus, they will have a better attitude about their jobs and how they go about executing them. If a work group has a positive attitude, they are far more likely to find better solutions to the issues in their work.

Traditional thinking suggests that if you work hard to produce product, you will be successful….and then, when you are successful, you will be happy. I have long held that attitude is a choice. You can choose to have a positive attitude.

While this subject applies to everyone, I want to tie it into Family Business. Think about the prevailing attitude in your family. What would be the impact of having a family working together, all with a positive attitude? It would be wonderful. In The Little Red Book of Family Business I wrote,

“If you regularly come home from work and exclaim, “Wow! I had a great day today,“ then go on to discuss what you did and why it was so interesting, challenging and stimulating for you, then everyone in your household will develop a positive attitude about what you do and where you do it. They might even want to help out. If, on the other hand, you regularly come home to grumble and complain about problems at work, family members might think you are a saint for going there every day, but they won’t see it as a place they want to work. Be aware that wherever you go, you are teaching attitude.“ 4

It is imperative that families pay attention to their family culture. Positivity or Negativity can be elements in a family. Our goal is to find ways to choose the right one for us.

  2. The Happiness Advantage“ by Shawn Achor, ISBN 978-0-307-59154-8
  3. Shawn Achor on TED:
  4. “The Little Red Book of Family Business,“ by Bork, ISBN 978-0-9637028-1-4 (Also available in Turkish from Capital Magazine.)

Positive Psychology; An Introduction

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