I hope you have all arrived well and healthy in the new year and new decade. I started my new year with two courses in positive psychology with two giants in the world of psychology: Martin Seligman and Barbara Fredrickson. What a relief from studying all kinds of psychological disorders for my last university exam to being able to switch to research in psychology that focuses on engendering, strengthening and spreading happiness in people’s lives.
What I am finding most interesting, is that in both of their work, these psychologists have shown that while we should not ignore the negative bias built into our human defense systems – as Fredrickson says: what good would happiness do us, if we did not have the natural instincts to run if a truck is barreling towards us – it is important for humans and our physical health, mental health and well-being to cultivate a focus on happy moments and emotions in our lives in order to make us the best version of ourselves, which, incidentally and possibly not surprisingly, is also happier and healthier. I find this particularly interesting not only because it does not negate the need for negative bias, but, as a half-American in Germany, I have been faced with the situation several times, that my coachees and trainees find my positive demeanor challenging to grapple with at times, suggesting I might be uber-optimistic. 🙂
This work focuses on developing what humans want, not on curing what humans don’t want – mental disease and disorders – and is particularly important when looking at how people can build a life for themselves that they are satisfied with and which makes them happier and more resilient. Resilience, the ability to deal well with changes and be satisfied and motivated with one’s work are major factors in today’s busy times of change, and factors that can help leaders and teams get from merely treading water to broadening their horizons. As Fredrickson says, negative emotions help us escape threats and dangerous situations, but they lead to a very narrow set of choices of what she calls action urges: to fight or flee. Whereas Fredrickson and her students have found that positive emotions, such as joy, interest, awe, hope, etc. (there are ten she works with in total), lead to a wide set of action urges, opening up opportunities to individuals, such as: playing and learning, exploration, being inventive, among others.
If you are working a fast-pace environment, where your team needs to adapt to new situations regularly, these are exactly the kinds of actions you as a leader and your team will want to be engaging in, in order to identify new opportunities, new solutions, walk the path unknown. So it makes good sense to engage in positivity practices in leadership as well as with your teams. Part of starting an upwards spiral in engendering more positivity in your life, according to Seligman and Fredrickson is keeping a happiness journal of some kind. Seligman’s research has shown that individuals who note down 3 things that went well every day before going to sleep, not only sleep better, but are more satisfied with their lives, as they become more accustomed to seeing the positive in their lives. Fredrickson encourages people embarking on this path to create positivity portfolios, with pages dedicated to each positive emotion, and objects, memories, situations, references that help remind oneself of that emotion, in order to be able to reference that portfolio when ones feels a downwards spiral in mood approaching.
These are only a couple out of a whole plethora of options there are in order to support your team as a leader in being able to give their best, and be in great ‚fighting form‘ for whatever business throws at you. There are plenty of ways that people can be influenced in order to see the negative in this world. As a leader, it might be worth considering how you and your team can help each other see the positive, and benefit your well-being and your team’s success.
A good way to kick-off this process in changing your perspective is through business coaching for individuals or teams, or a training on encouraging positivity in your team. Feel free to get in touch with me!
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotions broaden and build. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1-53.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.
- Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions.
- MEP Seligman, TA Steen, N Park, C Peterson – American psychologist, 2005