06/06/2014 10:40 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014

One Simple and Critical Key to Better, More Successful Days


Often, when I start an engagement with a new client, they are surprised at my focus on "happy."

Yes, happy. That state of pleasure, contentment or even joy, often driven by that attitude of gratitude.

I hear the cynics. And I see it in my clients: "Happy? Really? I'm just trying to get through my day." I get that. Life can be tough, every day a grind, and it can be a challenge to achieve all that we want and need to achieve. And for my executive clients, they are laser-focused on productivity and excellent performance. So happiness? It just seems like a luxury.

So why do I insist on a focus on happiness? Because I want you to be you on your best day, every day. And happiness is a critical ingredient of that version of you.

Let's consider the opposite. Think of yourself on a bad day. Imagine you're mad at someone. Or your jeans don't fit. Or your date canceled. Or your boss/child/significant other said something that really hurt you. Or your coffee spilled all over your car. Or you're your enormous project just hit a major snag. Whatever it is -- big or little -- you are unhappy.

Now consider the following:

• How focused are you at work? Are you able to concentrate on the tasks at hand, or are you texting your adversary, or plotting your revenge? Are you still pissed about the steamed milk all over your carpet upholstery and looking for other ways that this day is awful, and how your life stinks?
• How patient are you with your family? Can you listen and be present, or are you flying off the handle at the slightest infraction?
• How motivated are you to do what you need or want to do? Are you up and at 'em, or are you sitting there stewing or headed to the bar for a drink?
• How engaged are you with the people around you? Can you be a source of levity, motivation and fun, or are you withdrawn or complaining about your situation?
• How optimistic are you about your future? Do you look forward to what's happening next and move toward your goals with zest and diligence, or are you fretting about how nothing will ever turn out right and therefore paralyzed?

Yes, imagine the effect of your (un)happiness on your focus, patience, motivation, engagement and general outlook. The unhappiness doesn't do much for your productivity.

Here are some basic tips to enhance your happiness so that you improve your chances of success and can motivate yourself:

Focus on one happy thing. If you get bogged down, rest your mind on one happy thing -- just one -- and allow it to remain there.
Look for what's working for you, rather than nitpicking what's wrong. Especially if you're a perfectionist, it's easy to look for the defects in any thing or any situation. Work harder to find what's working. Ask yourself a simple question: "What's good about right now?"
Smile. Smiling physically -- even if at first it's not authentic -- can tip your balance for the better, encouraging your mind and your heart to follow.

I'm not saying you need to be over the moon 100 percent of the time. Take whatever uptick your life allows. Be you on your best day by noticing something good -- at least one thing everyday -- and taking a moment to be grateful for it (and as many other things as you can imagine). See how much more effective you can be.

Karen Elizaga is a top executive coach, founder of Forward Options, and author of Find Your Sweet Spot: A Guide to Personal and Professional Excellence.