"What does it mean to live a life worth living? Philosophers, artists, and everyday people have wrestled with this question for centuries, but only in the past few decades has the field of psychology taken it up,” shares Stella Grizont, positive psychology expert and speaker.
Around the turn of the 21st century, Martin Seligman, at the time the president of the American Psychological Association, lamented the “exclusive focus on pathology” in his field and proposed an alternative approach he termed “positive psychology.”
According to Seligman and his collaborator Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, positive psychology is “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.”
If we think of traditional psychology as helping people overcome their mental health issues to improve their functioning, positive psychology aims at empowering people not just to achieve functionality, but to thrive.
“Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with people,’ positive psychology asks, ‘What’s right with people? And how do we amplify that?’” says speaker and executive coach Stella Grizont in a recent webinar, “The Science of Happiness: How to Build Resilience and Flourish at Work.”
We can apply the principles of positive psychology to all facets of life, including the workplace. Just as there’s a difference between just surviving and living your best life, there’s a difference between just doing your job and flourishing at work. As an employer, you can use positive psychological concepts to help your employees boost their sense of well-being, which, in turn, will lead to measurable benefits for your company.
Why It Matters if Your Employees Are Flourishing
According to Shawn Achor's research in his book, The Happiness Advantage, employees who flourish with high well-being are:
- 30% more productive than their counterparts.
- Three times more creative.
- 40% more engaged.
We’ve written extensively about why employee engagement is so critical. Businesses with higher rates of employee engagement see less absenteeism, lower turnover, more sales, and greater profitability. So, it’s in your company’s best interest to help your employees thrive at work and in their lives.
What’s Holding Your Employees Back?
Disengaged employees tend to blame external forces, such as their manager, their workload, company culture, and perceived lack of growth potential. But while these factors may indeed play a role, learning to flourish at work is, what Stella Grizont describes, an inner skill.
Companies have long nurtured their employees’ hard skills relating to their job duties, and their soft skills, relating to their interpersonal relationships. Inner skills, Grizont discusses, are a third group of competencies related to:
- Managing your thoughts and emotions.
- Developing healthy boundaries.
- Communicating your needs.
- Clarifying what you want.
- Creating meaning and finding purpose.
- Leveraging your strengths.
- Making decisions with confidence.
- Expressing your leadership point of view.
Grizont talks about how developing these crucial inner skills is critical for flourishing at work. But too often, employees sabotage their own abilities to make progress in these areas. This is because they’re distracted by the “three Cs”: three harmful types of thought or behaviors that tend to drown out positivity in the mind.
In the Work Happiness Method™, her signature wellness and engagement program, Grizont outlines the "three Cs" are complaining, criticism, and comparison.
Mind Trap #1: Complaining
We often become annoyed by other people’s constant complaints, but most of us have difficulty noticing when we do it ourselves.
"The problem with complaining is that it triggers our negativity biases. When we complain, we focus on things we see as wrong or threatening. Complaining makes us victims, rather than problem solvers who can take positive steps to improve our situations," says Grizont.
How to Empower Your Employees to Break Free of Complaining
Grizont suggests leading your employees on a seven-day “complaint vacation,” during which time you and your team refrain (to the best of your abilities) from complaints large and small. This brief break from complaining will make all of you aware of your thoughts and will encourage you to reframe your statements in neutral terms.
During your complaint vacation, it may be helpful to focus on the things for which you’re grateful, rather than the things that bother you.
“Gratitude is the easiest door to open when you’re not in the zone,” Grizont says.
Mind Trap #2: Criticism
Criticism is a form of disapproval for a perceived fault. All criticism—self-criticism, especially—is not necessarily connected to reality.
Martin Seligman coined the term “learned helplessness,” referring to a sense of powerlessness that arises from a persistent failure to succeed. Learned helplessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We tell ourselves it is our fault when we fail to succeed, that it is due to some inadequacy on our part, and that we are incapable of reaching our goals. And this mindset, as a result, makes us incapable of achieving our goals.
For example, after applying for a promotion a few times and not being selected, an employee may decide they simply don’t have what it takes and stop trying. Meanwhile, disengagement will set in as they lose hope in ever advancing.
How to Empower Your Employees to Break Free of Criticism
The opposite of learned helplessness is learned optimism. It’s possible to change how we see the world so that negative experiences and setbacks are not always our fault.
You can teach learned optimism to your employees. Instruct them that there are three ways to talk back to your critical voice:
- Tell yourself what happened was an unlucky situation, not a personal failure.
- Learn to see setbacks for what they are: temporary bumps in the road.
- Resist the urge to draw conclusions about other aspects of your life from individual setbacks in specific areas. Failure to get a promotion, for example, doesn’t say anything about how you are as a parent, a coworker, or a friend.
Mind Trap #3: Comparing
Comparing yourself to others can be useful for setting goals, but comparisons can become unhealthy when we use them to judge ourselves.
Making matters worse, we usually compare ourselves to the finely crafted public personas of others. We have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes in their lives or their minds. (Yet, we’re perfectly aware of the disorder in our own private lives.)
How to Empower Your Employees to Break Free of Comparing
We get caught up making comparisons to other people when we haven’t thought about what we want for our lives. Without a personal vision to steer towards, we’re constantly looking around us at what other people are doing.
Grizont recommends an exercise she calls a “vision generator” (which you can download here and share with your employees).
The vision generator encourages participants to imagine waking up five years from today with all their desires and goals actualized. What would that mean for their work, their finances, their relationships? What challenges did they overcome, what gave them the greatest sense of fulfillment, and how have they transformed?
“It’s not a to-do list,” Grizont clarifies. “It’s an expression of you in your most alive state.”
Discover How Positive Psychology Can Transform Your Workplace
Positive psychology is a new and exciting field with the potential to revolutionize countless lives.
In this article, we’ve provided a broad overview of how the principles of positive psychology can help your employees be happier, more confident, and more fulfilled at work. For a deeper dive into the science, methods, and benefits of positive psychology—for employers and employees—watch the complete webinar with Stella Grizont.