The Science of Happiness: 5 Ways to Improve

Are the happiest people blessed with luck that bestows a better life and fewer worries? Or, should we attribute their emotional fulfillment to character strengths and mind power? Happiness research, a field known as “positive psychology,” is chockfull of relevant findings. Some of the latest research suggests that people who focus on purposeful living are more likely to enjoy good mental health and longevity, as compared with those whose primary goal is achieving happiness. If you’re highly satisfied with your life, you’re less likely to suffer from psychological or social problems, physical illnesses, stress and work issues. Everyone, at one time or another, experiences bad luck and the problems life throws at us. But is it possible that some individuals are genetically wired to be happier? And if you’re not among them, what can you do to improve your level of satisfaction? Hardwired for Happiness It turns out that mood and temperament do, indeed, have a significant genetic component. In a 1996 study, University of Minnesota psychologists David Lykken and Auke Tellegen surveyed 732 pairs of identical twins and found them to be closely matched for levels of adult happiness, regardless of whether they’d grown up together or apart. While everyone experiences ups and downs, your mood revolves around innate emotional baselines, or “set points.” Current research suggests that 50% of our capacity for happiness is genetically predisposed. Still, more than 40% of how we experience satisfaction and well-being depends on our motivations, goals and behaviors. Even with an inherited range of happiness, we can do a lot to become more satisfied with life. Surprisingly, only about 10% of...

Put Positive Leadership into Action

Executive coaches and leadership consultants who encourage positive thinking often encounter cynical, hard-driving executives with a close eye on the bottom line. But positivity coaches have come a long way since author Norman Vincent Peale preached his positive philosophy of faith and miracles. Today’s positive-psychology movement is founded on empirical evidence. Social scientists have documented the benefits of optimism, emotional intelligence and happiness in multiple work settings, including the executive suite and diverse corporate departments. Positive leadership is no longer seen as a feel-good ideal with little bearing on business results. Mounting evidence reveals that leaders who focus on their people’s positive contributions, while concomitantly achieving tough goals through measurable tasks, enjoy higher performance outcomes. While positive leadership is gaining traction among CEOs and executive teams, it’s often poorly understood and implemented. University of Michigan management professor Kim S. Cameron, PhD, offers a cogent definition of the term in his new book, Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013): “Positive leadership refers to the implementation of multiple positive practices that help individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise.” As you’ll soon see, positive leadership is a bit more complex than expressing a positive attitude, celebrating progress, encouraging team spirit, fostering positive relationships and espousing inspirational values. The Problem-Focused Outlook Unfortunately, positive practices are truly rare in today’s businesses and organizations. Two key factors explain our natural resistance to them: 1. Physiologically speaking, our brains have a built-in negativity bias. We’re hardwired to pay more attention to issues that...