By Jena Pincott
Of course, they're doing something they find meaningful. But what else makes them so darn positive?
They're remembering a famous ad campaign.
There are multiple realities -- and happy people choose the most helpful and positive one, writes researcher Shawn Achor in his new book, Before Happiness. He likens it to the HSBC advertisement in which there were three identical photos of the back of a bald head, each bearing a different caption: STYLE, SOLDIER, SURVIVOR. What assumptions do you hold? The same goes when the boss walks into the room, Achor explains. Some of us think "stress" or "threat" or "I am powerless." "Someone who has learned to add vantage points may still see some of these descriptors, but he or she would also see additional ones, like 'human being,' 'mentor,' 'opportunity to impress' or 'key to promotion,'” Achor writes. When Achor and his colleagues trained workers to think of their stress response (pounding heart, shaky hands, etc.) as "helpful" (it increases clarity and mental toughness) instead of "harmful," they performed better at work, reported fewer psychological problems and had closer-to-optimal levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
They're giving their cubicle a makeover
They roll out bamboo mats … grow wisteria … and hang princess wallpaper with (removable) starch paste. It turns out that a portion of workplace happiness depends on the freedom to personalize your surroundings, found a study at the U.K.'s University of Exeter. Office workers were not only more upbeat and motivated when they decorated their own workspaces, but -- heads up, bosses -- 32 percent more productive than in the usual grayish setting. Use the findings to petition for more green in your workplace (leafy plants increase job satisfaction -- and air quality).
They're exercising their "aerobics instructor" face.
Smiley people are sometimes faking it, suggests Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who learned the art of forced cheer during her stint as an aerobic instructor back in the 1980s. In her book, Lean In, she recalls that after an hour of beaming broadly, she genuinely felt happier. (Science backs this up.) One more thing: Achor writes that a powerful way to ensure that you come across as positive is to take a close look at the person talking with you, because we mirror one another unconsciously. Is her expression anxious? Disengaged? Tired? If so, he suggests that you change your own face "and see if the other person follows the new script." Chances are, she will.
They're always giving a minute -- or 10 -- away.
They have 230 emails, 23 voicemails and 13 items on their priority to-do list. So when the junior associate asks for help with her report, what do they say? "Sure." Because -- conscious of it or not -- offering to lend a hand to others at work actually makes us happier, reports a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (as long as you're not giving so much time away that you can't complete your own work). "Work altruists" are 10 times more likely to be motivated at work, found Achor -- and, no surprise, they're likelier to get promoted, too. Plus, an experiment at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School showed that when people helped others for just 10 to 30 minutes a day, they actually felt less time-constrained -- it's part of the afterglow of feeling more capable, confident and useful. At the end of the day, after all the signatures are in place and the numbers crunched, it's the human connection that gives work meaning. Which is also why…
…They're doing the one thing that's almost as good as not working.
Taking five minutes to recap the Dancing With the Stars finale, bonding over the vending machine's newest addition -- however you do it, socializing with colleagues is the only thing proven to make us almost as happy as we are when we're not at work, reports a study at the London School of Economics. And if one of those colleagues is also your best friend, found a Gallup report, you're much more productive and motivated than if that friend worked at a different company. One big reason: Those with a best friend at work are 47 percent more likely to have received praise or recognition within the past week.
They're not doing "salary math."
When people break down their earnings by the hour, they derive less happiness from pleasurable experiences, found a study at the University of Toronto. (Participants reported that even pastimes like browsing the Web or listening to music weren't as enjoyable after thinking about their hourly wage.) Subconsciously, it's hard to shake the feeling that any time not getting paid is wasted. And while people work more when they are motivated by thoughts of money, found a study at the Wharton School, they don't want to socialize as much -- which puts a damper on happiness.
They never think about their Wheaties.
"You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits," President Obama told Vanity Fair writer Michael Lewis. "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." Multiple studies confirm: To preserve stamina, judgment, emotional self-control -- and, by extension, happiness -- reduce the number of choices you need to make every day, because even little ones sap your strength. (Psychologist Roy Baumeister, a leading researcher in this area, compared the willpower required in decision-making to a muscle that weakens with use.) So, experiment. No more dithering about where to meet, what to wear or eat or any other non-vital choice -- especially when the pressure's on. (Develop habits or decide the night before.) Then see if you don't have a little more energy and willpower to keep that aerobics-instructor smile on your face.