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?
- 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?
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.