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Is Career Happiness Up to You?

written by Sherri Fisher 5 October 2008

Sherri Fisher, MAPP '06, M.Ed., Director of Learn and Flourish LLC, is a coach, best-selling author, workshop facilitator, and speaker. She works internationally with smart people of all ages who have learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Sherri’s evidence-based POS-EDGE® Model merges her expertise in strengths, well-being, motivation, and applied neuropsychology.

Full Bio. Sherri's articles are here.


How much?

How much of your happiness is up to you? Three-and-a-half slices worth.

You are probably familiar with Ken Sheldon, David Schkade, and Sonja Lyubomirsky’s pie chart depicting where our happiness comes from. If the pie has eight slices, it’s four slices of heredity, half a slice of life circumstances and three-and-a-half slices of intentional choices that you make.  If you like dessert, those three-and-a-half slices sound pretty appetizing, don’t they?  There’s Key Lime pie, and blueberry and cherry, and let’s not forget apple. Or steak-and-kidney. (Maybe not.)  If you are a pizza person, you can take heart, since one’s perfect pie is full of choices to pop on top of it.  

So the answer to the question in the title of this piece is that to a very great extent, your happiness, or well-being (a more chronic level of happiness) is in your hands. This site is searchable for numerous ways to do just that. We believe that you should want to be happy, and that flourishing is possible.

One of the very important places we see the valuable results of this is in our careers. Boehm and Lyubomirsky’s 2008 meta-study looks at whether happiness promotes career success. It probably will not come as a surprise to you that happy people are more successful and happier at work, according to many measures. Happy people, for example, are already primed to make and pursue new goals, are more likely to exhibit adaptive behaviors in the workplace, and to both acquire and retain employment. These are all desirable outcomes at work, for both employers and workers.

Since you have lots of control over whether or not you become happier, (three-and-a-half slices worth with whatever toppings you choose) let’s look  at what sorts of outcomes positive emotion may predict.  For one thing, happiness protects against job burnout. This is one of the most widely cited reasons that teachers say they leave teaching.  Not only is happiness protective at work, it is also correlated with higher job satisfaction, which is correlated with staying on the job longer. In education this is important because teacher length of service predicts student achievement.

Happy workers also are reviewed more favorably on less objective measures, such as decision-making, interpersonal skills and commitment to their work, and as well on their perceived investment in the organization for which they work. Teaching happiness strategies to teachers, then, could keep them on the job longer.  This would be a win-win-win-win, for teachers, students, schools and communities. Interpersonal skills reap even more happiness rewards.

As Chris Peterson reminds us, Positive Psychology can be summed up in three little words: “Other people matter.” As a result, happy workers are more likely to help out at work, even on tasks unrelated to their jobs, and are less likely to exhibit withdrawl behaviors such as absenteeism or quitting. Why would you want to work with a happy person? 

Happy coworkers  

  • Are more likely to be collaborative as opposed to competitive (think competing together)

  • Are less contentious (get to the job with you and sooner)

  • Are more cooperative

  • Persist at difficult tasks longer

  • Are more optimistic about likely outcomes

  • Are likely to rate coworkers more favorably

  • Are more likely to find mutually beneficial solutions when conflicts do arise

In other words, happy coworkers are more likely to exhibit collective efficacy, according to Goddard and colleagues, that is, the belief that the performance ability of the whole group will make it possible to organize resources and execute tasks necessary for success. In school settings this translates into measurably higher student performance.

Remember Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build hypothesis? Positive emotion broadens the thought-action repertoire. This can lead to increased flexibility and originality of thinking, key elements of the creativity needed for out-of-the-box thinking and leadership.  Contrast this with ruminators, who perseverate on their feelings without taking action. Rumination is correlated with negative explanatory styles, dysfunctional attitudes, hopelessness, pessimism, self-criticism, dependency, and neuroticism. Ruminators love a partner. Don’t get hooked!

There are many tools based on Positive Psychology that have been developed for use in various workplaces. You want to be happier—It provides multiple benefits at work, among other places in your life. You want happier colleagues, too.  Since you are spending half or perhaps more of your waking life with these people, develop an Aristotelian Friend and become happier together. You and other co-workers benefit. Consider bringing the Social-Emotional Leadership framework to your workplace.

It’s time to intentionally start trying out different combinations on your happiness pizza. Which ones will work for you?

Bon Appetit!



Boehm, J. K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Does happiness lead to career success? Journal of Career Assessment, 16, 101-116. The online version of this article can be found at: http://jca.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/16/1/101

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.

Goddard, R. D., Hoy, W. D., & Hoy, A. W. (2004). Collective Efficacy Beliefs:Theoretical Developments, Empirical Evidence, and Future Directions. EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER, 33(3). 3-13. Abstract.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.

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Nicholas Hall 5 October 2008 - 3:54 pm

Sherri, I love the image of a pizza! We can choose whatever toppings we want, even on the same pie! Great! I’ll skip the anchovies, and I’ll pile on more of exercise, gratitude journals, and time with family. 🙂

A program that focuses on building the happiness and psychological capital of classroom teachers would make a great longitudinal study.

Thanks for the article!

Christine Duvivier 5 October 2008 - 5:23 pm


This is a great article, thanks! You write so clearly and make it fun to think about in very tangible terms. And thanks for taking on the issue of a competition, which we are told is healthy but so often is not.

FYI– I’ve been finding that Appreciative Inquiry is another fantastic way to build happiness in the workplace.


Sherri Fisher 6 October 2008 - 10:56 am

Hi, Nick-
There is already a pilot program doing just what you suggest re: building happiness and psycap of school teachers. See many of John Yeager’s posts about the Culver Academies. The program includes “basic training” as well as follow-up and sustainability coaching.

Since this is an applied program, rather than a research one, we (Flourishing Schools) will be able to back into the kind of negative data that schools collect (absenteeism, discipline issues, complaints, termination, change of duty…) and see overall changes.

Positive data collection is something that schools are just beginning to look at. Appreciative faculty review (as opposed to the usual kind which has a heavy focus on what needs to be improved)is also part of the Flourishing Schools approach.

Unlike the anchovies on the pizza (someone could say great–more for me!), we can all try out our pizzas/our way without having to keep the “toppings” from someone else.

🙂 Sherri

Sherri Fisher 6 October 2008 - 11:03 am

Hi, Christine-
Glad you like the pizza analogy!

I agree about the value of AI in the workplace. It beats the negative view, especially during difficult change processes.

See also my article about using it in the SpEd process https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/sherri-fisher/20080405702 .

🙂 Sherri

Margaret 6 October 2008 - 4:25 pm

Sherri – I LOVE the pizza slice analogy (now I’ll be able to remember the percentages b/c I have a visual of a pizza pie)! Your “happy coworkers are more cooperative” is becoming increasingly important as more organizations move to a more matrixed, highly collaborative structure in order to implement complex & integrated projects, products, etc. Warm regards, Margaret

Sherri Fisher 6 October 2008 - 7:17 pm

Hi, Margaret-
Glad you found this so helpful. I love concrete visuals, too, as they are great teaching tools, and I am a teacher at heart!

Thanks for writing 🙂

Jo 7 October 2008 - 8:26 am

Great overview Sherri. Now to highlight people who are exhibiting collective efficacy in the current climate. The more we highlight people “doing it”, the more people will do it!

Sherri Fisher 7 October 2008 - 8:57 am

Hi, Jo-
Roger Goddard, at the University of Michigan, has been studying collective efficacy for a few years now. Look him up. Some of his journal articles are available directly from his webpage. There is a measure for collective efficacy, and he has authored books as well.

I agree that “real people” stories are compelling. Some of my other articles are about real people. (click on author, above and then my link).

I have a client boarding school whose residential staff are using a variety of PP research-based tools to improve relationships within their team. One of the general goals is to improve well-being. It would be difficult to have collective efficacy in an environment without the well-being and relationship skills on which it must be built and sustained.

Do you have stories to share?

Please do!

🙂 Sherri

Jeff 7 October 2008 - 6:18 pm

Hey Sherri,
Long time, no see. The slice of life bit was excellent because it puts the happiness responsibility back on personal choices.

I’ve been working with children as a special ed teacher and I wondered if you have ideas on using PP in a time-tested way for classroom management. I’m a new teacher more or less and I find that student problem behavior is challenging to deal with.

Sherri Fisher 7 October 2008 - 10:34 pm

Hi, Jeff-

Nice to see you back! If you can give me a specific example I can probably be more helpful. There are endless ways to do this, so what are.. the Dx, the IEP goals, the classroom problems, your goals. Where do you experience the disconnect re: behavior? What is the setting (inclusion, RR, substantially separate…)?

Also, do you know your strengths (being, knowing, doing) and how they are perhaps inadvertently preventing you from getting more of what you want in the classroom?

Do you have a master teacher/mentor? They know tons of tricks if they have been in SpEd for say, the last 10 years. Some may fit into PP frameworks but are not being called that.


Jeff 8 October 2008 - 10:35 am

Hi Sherri,

Maybe we could email, that’s probably a better forum for this kind of discussion. I’ll drop you a line when I have a spare moment, ok?



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