THE BLOG

7 Positive Psychology Happy Habits for Work and Life

04/13/2015 03:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015

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As a positive psychology coach and educator, people share with me all the time, "I just want to be happier." Whether we are looking for greater harmony in our family relationships, more meaningful friendships, greater purpose and satisfaction at work, or more engagement in our community, the end goal is usually the same -- happiness.

I fell in love with positive psychology because unlike traditional psychology, which aims to take us from dysfunctioning to mere functioning, positive psychology endeavors to bring us the steps beyond to thriving, flourishing, and happiness. The field offers numerous research-backed tools for doing just this.

These are seven of my favorite positive psychology happy habits for enriching our work and lives overall:

  1. Focus on Strengths: Too often we think, "What's wrong with me and how can I fix it?" instead of "What's right with me and how can I use it?" Even organizations make this error, drawing attention to ways the company and its employees are underperforming rather than maximizing how they're excelling. However, countless studies have demonstrated we are at our best when engaging our strengths. Two pioneering strengths assessments, the VIA Survey of Character Strengths and Clifton StrengthsFinder, provide tools for individuals to identify their strengths and leverage them for greater happiness at home and work. Father of positive psychology Dr. Martin Seligman and his colleagues found that when we use our strengths in new and different ways regularly, we experience higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression. Furthermore, the VIA Institute on Character, in partnership with MAPP graduate Michelle McQuaid, conducted the VIA Strengths at Work Survey and discovered that 70 percent of professionals who use their strengths at work each day report feeling engaged, influential, and that they're flourishing in their workplaces.
  2. Express Gratitude: Rather than yearning for what we don't have, we do more good for our health and happiness by expressing gratitude for all we do have. Whether thanking a higher power, friends, family, colleagues, or strangers, gratitude has lasting positive impacts. Studies by leading gratitude researcher Dr. Robert Emmons have found that those who practice gratitude experience greater joy, pleasure, happiness, and optimism. Moreover, a gratitude survey by The John Templeton Foundation discovered that 88 percent of professionals indicated expressing gratitude to their work colleagues makes them feel happier. Saying "thank you" to others, counting your daily blessings, writing a gratitude letter, and recognizing a colleague's contributions can have critical impacts on happiness.
  3. Be Kind and Generous: Occasionally, we can get caught up in being busy and forget to take time for kindness. In Give and Take, Dr. Adam Grant shares research on how giving to others has a significant impact on our personal and career success and happiness. Grant suggests such things as seeking opportunities to do a favor for someone, practicing random acts of kindness, volunteering in your community, and helping colleagues craft their jobs to their strengths. Simple kindnesses matter too, like smiling at a stranger, paying a compliment, or holding the door for someone.
  4. Forgive Yourself and Others: Sometimes we become engrossed in anger at others, situations, or ourselves for misdeeds, misfortunes, and mistakes, taking a toll on our physical and emotional health. Leading forgiveness researcher Dr. Fred Luskin suggests we must fully acknowledge and allow ourselves to process hurt before we can move forward. Dr. Jack Kornfield, renowned Buddhist psychology educator, says that forgiveness is not just about the other, it's about not inflicting pain on ourselves. He shares, "It's not worth it to live day after day with hatred. Because for one thing, that person who betrayed you could be in Hawaii right now having a nice vacation -- and you're here hating them! Who's suffering then?" We must also forgive ourselves for perceived flaws. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Bréné Brown wisely suggests giving up who we think we're supposed to be to embrace who we really are.
  5. Reframe Thinking Towards Optimism: It's easy to catastrophize when we experience a personal or work adversity. However, we have immense control over how we perceive situations. In The Resilience Factor, Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatté discuss how we can boost resilience by thinking more optimistically about adversities. David Mezzapelle, author of Contagious Optimism and 10 Habits of Truly Optimistic People, refers to this approach as positive forward thinking and says, "Positive forward thinking means finding the silver lining in the difficulties of yesterday and today, and going forward with the confidence that tomorrow will be better." Thinking optimistically is correlated with greater happiness with life and work.
  6. Set Regular Goals: We have many things we want to accomplish in a day, week, month, or year. Setting short- and long-terms goals for our personal and professional life is critical for productivity and happiness. MAPP graduate Caroline Adams-Miller discusses the positive psychology of goal-setting in Creating Your Best Life. She suggests creating goals that are challenging, specific, measurable, value-driven, intrinsically motivated, and that engage flow. This helps us build self-efficacy, utilize potential, connect goals to our values, feel engaged, and gain motivation and reinforcement from within rather than externally.
  7. Connect With Others: Consider the happiest times of your life. Were you alone during those times? It's unlikely. Nearly without fail, when people share their happiest moments, they were spent connecting with others. In Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Dr. Matthew Lieberman illustrates how vital our social connections are to our happiness. He shares, "becoming more socially connected is essential to our survival. In a sense, evolution has made bets at each step that the best way to make us more successful is to make us more social." Call your parents, go on a date with your partner, go to dinner with a friend, go to lunch with colleagues, spend un-plugged time with your child, talk to the person behind you in line at the supermarket -- create connection to create happiness.