Trouble at Work? Put on a Happy Face

After months of careful preparation, your experiment failed. You recently received negative feedback from your PI. Your submission to a prestigious journal was rejected. You work alone most of the time and feel isolated from the rest of your floor, department, or Institute. On a broader scale, you might be nervous about finding a job in this market. You might feel you don’t have much to offer an employer and think that you will be unsuccessful in finding meaningful work.
How can you overcome negative feelings about your work? As suggested in a recent article entitled, “Thinking Happy Thoughts at Work Exit Disclaimer,” you have the power to change your mood and increase your happiness.
In this piece, columnist Sue Shellenbarger describes the impact that happiness coaching is having in the workplace. A relatively recent phenomenon and an application of positive psychology, happiness coaching encourages us to take responsibility for our moods and to express a more positive attitude at work. Some hands-on examples you can use to take a more positive approach to work are:

  • Write e-mails to your co-workers thanking them for something they have done.
  • Meditate daily to clear your mind.
  • Do something for somebody without expecting anything in return.
  • Write in a journal about things you are thankful for.
  • Look for characteristics you admire in people and compliment them.
  • Focus on the process of your work, which you can control, rather than outcomes, which you can’t.

While skeptics have questioned the effectiveness of happiness coaching, the author shares recent research that demonstrates what a powerful impact purposeful happiness, or “learned optimism” (Seligman, 2006) can have at work. One significant outcome that might interest scientists is an increase in creativity and innovation experienced by those who focus on having a positive attitude at work.
If you have been feeling negative about your work, explore one of the better-known books in positive psychology research, many of which include self-tests and exercises to assist you with increasing your happiness at work and in life. Some of the following titles are available for check-out from the OITE Library in Building 2:
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Martin E. P. Seligman, 2004.
Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal for Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Tal Ben-Shahar, 2010

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Tal Ben-Shahar, 2007 (based on most popular course at Harvard University, Positive Psychology)
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin E. P. Seligman, 2006.